Israel's Good Name

Archive for March, 2014|Monthly archive page

Tel Dor

In Coastal Plain, Israel on March 30, 2014 at 3:35 AM

Following my visit to the Carmel Caves at the Nachal Me’arot National Park, I got on a bus heading south and ended up – quite accidentally – at Tel Dor. I had intended to find my way to Cafarlet, an impressive Crusader castle on the side of the Coastal Road (Road 4) but, alas, I overshot and found myself looking at the hilltop ruins of Tel Dor from across a picturesque little bay some 30 kilometres south of Haifa.

Tel Dor from across the bay

Tel Dor from across the bay

Set in such a beautiful place, nestled between tall coastal grass and the relatively calm Mediterranean Sea, the sun played a frustrating game of hide-and-seek as I toured the archaeological site. Climbing up the tel, I came upon the hilltop remains of the storehouses and public buildings which serviced the port, and the acropolis.

Tel Dor ruins

Tel Dor ruins

Continuing to the end of the small peninsula, I came upon the meagre remains of a small Crusader stronghold, the Merle Castle, built and owned by the de Merle family of French nobility. In 1187, Merle Castle was conquered by Saladin and by the end of the century, the Templars took command of the stronghold.

Merle Castle remains

Merle Castle remains

While the castle ruins are few and far between, there are fascinating rock-cuttings in the bedrock near sea level. Here, a chamber is carved into the porous rock, with several curious entry points:

A chamber cut into the rock

A chamber cut into the rock

And at the far end, where rock and water clash in the harbour area, there are numerous interesting cuttings made, some underwater even. Deep troughs, large squares and more gouged out of the rock, used perhaps by the Athenians as their important port city in the Levant.

Cut rock in the harbour area

Cut rock in the harbour area

After a little snack I turned back to the ruins, looking down at the remains of a large Roman temple which sat at the water’s edge. The Romans built up Dor, or Dora as they called the place (i.e. Doric columns), by Pompey’s lieutenant Gabinus, creating an autonomous port city similar to Gaza and Yafo (Joppa) in those times.

The Roman temple

The Roman temple

When rule was transferred over to King Herod some 2,050 years ago, Dor became overshadowed by neighbouring Caesarea whose harbour was deeper and thereby a better choice for a port. By then Dor became a less important regional city and, excluding the Crusader stronghold and the site of French emperor Napoleon’s camp after retreating from their 30-day siege on Akko in 1799, became a place of the past.

Cool little island flocked with seabirds

Shetafit Island flocked with seabirds

Walking along the coast, the ruins quite literally fallen into the water similar to the ruins of Ashkelon, I passed by the docks and the continuation of public buildings (such as a bathhouse). At the northern end of the site, climbing back up the tel, I retraced my steps and then walked south-east towards the scattered remains of the residential areas of Tel Dor.

Climbing back up the tel

Climbing back up the tel

Here is one section of residential area, perhaps from the Roman period:

Residential area

Residential area

Leaving the tel and pressing onwards, heading northbound for the Crusader fortress Cafarlet, or HaBonim. Walking through an abandoned basketball court adorned with graffiti I looked back at Tel Dor and noticed yet another residential area overgrown with vegetation.

Another residential area

Another residential area

Consulting Google Maps on my phone I attempted to navigate my way towards the railway tracks, and then the Coastal Road. However, after getting distracted by marsh-loving birds I found myself on the banks of a fish pond, a small lake. Wandering around the fish ponds and the semi-abandoned agricultural farms of Kibbutz Nachsholim, stopping to bond with some friendly donkeys, I eventually reached the railroad.

Walking through the reeds

Walking through the reeds

Climbing all over the rocky hill where the Coastal Road slices through towards Haifa, not entirely sure where I was to find the fortress, I kept walking and walking… Up next, Cafarlet.

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Carmel Caves

In Coastal Plain, Israel on March 23, 2014 at 4:32 AM

Just two days after the day trip to the Upper Galilee with my sister, I arrived on base and was told that I can have the day off. A tad dismayed that I had to travel two hours to get the news, I decided to salvage the day by going on a little adventure along the coast between Atlit and Caesarea – close by and chock-full of interesting sites. The first place I decided to visit was the Carmel Caves, part of a national park I’ve been wanting to see for years and one that I’ve passed by literally hundreds of times. I got a ride from a friend to Atlit Junction and then took a bus the rest of the way. When I reached the Nachal Me’arot (River of Caves) park I could already see the raw cliff sides over the banana fields.

Cliff wall at Nachal Me'arot

Cliff wall at Nachal Me’arot

I entered the park and inquired as to the length of the cave route. To my surprise, the lady behind the counter told me it would take about 45 minutes in total, maximum. To the base of the cliff chunk I went, looking up at this distant section of Mount Carmel. Essentially a large triangle jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea, Mount Carmel is a small mountain range containing several national parks including Nachal Me’arot which slices through the mountain. Climbing up the stairs to the caves, passing by a strange sign warning visitors not to linger on the steps, I reached the first cave, the Tanur Cave.

The tall Tanur Cave

The tall Tanur Cave

A tall, shallow cavern, the Tanur Cave has been excavated and marked off in levels of historical periods. Essentially a chimney cave (“tanur” meaning “oven” in Hebrew), early man settled within its confines to find shelter. The next cave, right beside the Tanur Cave, is the Gamal Cave. Named “camel” in Hebrew, this cave is bell-shaped and has been decorated with plastic cavemen and their few belongings. Outside the cave I noticed a rock with numerous fossils of invertebrates in a large chalky rock, alluding to the flooding presence of water in the region:

Fossils

Fossils

Continuing on along the cliff edge, I headed for the largest of the caves, the Nachal Cave. Here is looking back at the Gamal Cave:

Looking back at the Gamal Cave

Looking back at the Gamal Cave

Entering the Nachal Cave, a 70 metre (230 foot) long tunnel paved and lined with speleothems, better known as cave formation such as stalagmites and stalactites. An audio-only and then audio-visual show played within the cave and the colour theme for illuminating the cave was quite groovy. Here is a little section of cave wall lit up bright red:

Illuminated cave formations

Illuminated cave formations

At the far end of the cave, nearly cut off from the light of day, I sat down to watch the short projected film about the early humans living in the cave. The way they filmed the cavemen, the way the story unraveled reminded me of an interesting 80’s movie called Quest for Fire, a film adaptation of a Belgian novel about three cavemen who travel in search for fire. After the presentation I took this somewhat blurry photo of the way back through the cave – the groovy lights showing us the fascinating interior:

From within the Nachal Cave

From within the Nachal Cave

I think as far as caves in Israel go, my favourite is still the watery tunnel at Nachal Kziv. However, this cave delivered more in regards to stalagmites and stalactites. I have yet to see the Soreq Cave near Bet Guvrin… Upon leaving the Nachal Cave I crossed the dry stream-bed of which the park is named after and approached the opposite cliff wall – the “Finger” Cliff.

The ''Finger'' Cliff

The ”Finger” Cliff

The “Finger” Cliff, as well as some sections of the aforementioned cliff face, are made up of fossilised reefs. Looking up at this jagged rock column I noticed a small cave, visible in the above photo in the cliff wall to the right of the central tree. I climbed up the grippy rocks, similar to walking on the coastline, and entered the little cave. Here is looking out from inside the grotto:

Looking out from the small grotto

Looking out from the small grotto

Not wanting to go on any extended hiking trip at the moment, partly because I was wearing my uniform and partly because I had a day full of sites to visit, I left the park and then took a bus to my next destination, which quite honestly was an accidental find. Up next, the coastal ruins of Tel Dor.

Army Trip: Jerusalem Tour

In Israel, Jerusalem on March 17, 2014 at 4:32 AM

Another break in the traditional chronological format of my blog, this past Monday I went on a unique little educational army trip to the capital city, Jerusalem. As I’m currently attending a Hebrew language crash course, or “Ulpanit”, I was accompanied by a small group of new friends: fellow classmates and teachers alike. Leaving our base near Ben Gurion Airport, we entered the Holy City and began our tour with the old neighbourhoods of Mazkeret Moshe and Zichron Moshe (if I’m not mistaken). Walking through the quiet residential areas we learned the history of these streets, and who lived on them, from our Educational and Youth Corps tour guide.

Outside Rabbi Aryeh Levin's house

Outside Rabbi Aryeh Levin’s house

We learned how these neighbourhoods were inhabited after a realisation that there simply wasn’t enough room for the Jews in the Old City. In all the times I’ve been to Jerusalem, including the eight blog posts I’ve written about this holy city thus far, I’ve never seen nor heard about these little neighbourhoods. Then again, there’s a lot I haven’t seen in Jerusalem.

A sealed well

A sealed well

Bordering these neighbourhoods to the north is the famous Machane Yehuda shuk – a large marketplace which really comes to life every Friday. We stopped there for a few minutes and I got a falafel.

Machane Yehuda shuk

Machane Yehuda shuk

Getting back into our Mercedes-Benz minibus, we headed for the Old City and disembarked near the Jaffa Gate. Outside the walls, overlooking Mamilla Mall, we posed by a globe sculpture, symbolic of our collective status as immigrants.

Class picture

Class picture

We then continued into the Old City entering via the Jaffa Gate, being told that the angled lines in the stonework below was intended to resemble the roof of a house – a story of homesickness.

Jaffa Gate wall

Jaffa Gate wall

Within the Old City, our guide took us through the Armenian Quarter, snaking our way through narrow corridors and under graceful arches.

Walking through the Armenian Quarter

Walking through the Armenian Quarter

We climbed up onto a large rooftop and I realised that I had already done this exact segment years back when I was in regular Ulpan. We were pointed out the rooftops of various religious buildings around us, including the Dome of the Rock’s golden dome. In middle of our geographical lesson we were distracted by a small group of Arab youth who were leaping about performing some form of amateur parkour before a larger group of tourists.

Arab rooftop parkour

Arab rooftop parkour

Next we found ourselves in the Cardo, the ancient main thoroughfare which was once lined with merchants and traders. Today, only some of the walls, pillars and floor can be seen – a far cry from a bygone glory.

The Cardo

The Cardo

After the Cardo, inching ever closer to the Kotel plaza, we sat down to hear about a memorial hearkening from the days of the Jerusalem’s reconquering. Throughout the raging battles for the Old City during the Six Day War, soldiers and civilians alike fell in battle but were unable to be buried due to the “siege” laid out by the surrounding Jordanian army. With no other options available, the living were forced to bury the dead temporarily within the city. After the paratroopers broke through and reclaimed Jerusalem, the bodies were transferred to cemeteries outside the Old City. A memorial replaced the grave and has remained there to this day, occupying a small corner near the Batei Machseh plaza.

Learning about the memorial

Learning about the memorial

Shortly after we ended up at the Kotel and then headed out to our minibus to be whisked off to lunch at the Israel Air Force’s Talpiot Program cafeteria at the Hebrew University. After lunch we attempted to re-enter the Old City where we ended, at the Kotel, but instead spent a while circling the Old City and driving through East Jerusalem. Eventually we disembarked and entered through the Dung Gate and then descended into the earth for a quick run at the Kotel Tunnel tour.

An excavated vault of the Great Bridge from the time of the Temple

An excavated vault of the Great Bridge from the time of the Temple

The subterranean excavations are, for want of a better word, fascinating. The incredible richness of the history of the Temple Mount can scarcely be appreciated with just a glance at the prepared archaeological findings. Every little while there is yet another deep plunge into the days of yore, the ancient stonework illuminated in a mellow yellow light.

A deep achaeological pit

A deep achaeological pit

I think I’ve done the Kotel Tunnel tour twice before this trip and yet each time feels new. Our interesting tour guide, replacing the soldier who departed earlier, led us into the long causeway that runs the length of the Western Wall – the full wall, not just the small iconic section seen above ground.

Kotel Tunnel tour

Kotel Tunnel tour

First, we were educated in the fine masonry of the Western Wall – the impeccable and vastly huge ashlars which were laid down and fit nearly perfectly one atop the other. In this picture, the guide and I stood at the two ends of the largest of the building stones which can also be seen above – a block that weighs an immense 570 tonnes (1.25 million pounds):

The length of the 570 tonne stone

The length of the 570 tonne stone

Continuing down the tunnel, hugging the Western Wall, we arrive at the place directly opposite the place where the Holy of Holies once was – a holy place, of course. With that our guide bid us farewell and encouraged us to pray while we were here. Upon prayer completion we headed out of the tunnel, back up the numerous sets of stairs and out into the Kotel plaza. There we photographed and were photographed, even providing excellent photos for a large group of schoolgirls from England. With the sun setting we got into our minibus one last time and headed back to the base. Gotta love free army trips!

Hunin Fortress

In Galilee, Israel on March 9, 2014 at 6:32 AM

After leaving the Manara Cliff we headed just a tad further north, still along the top of the mountain ridge, to the outskirts of Moshav Margaliot where ruins of a Crusader castle are to be found. Called Hunin Fortress today, the small castle was built just after the success of the First Crusade during the years 1106-1107. Then, the castle was referred to as Château Neuf (in French) or Castellum Novum (in Latin).

Southern face of the Hunin Fortress

Southern face of the Hunin Fortress

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the Crusades, particularly their presence here in the Holy Land, after purchasing the phenomenally written book “The Crusades” by Thomas Asbridge. Unfortunately, even after reading about Château Neuf in the book, I didn’t realise that the Hunin Fortress was, in fact, the same castle. Regardless, this book has really fanned the flames of my interests in history – so much so that I’ve been planning trips to the numerous Crusader ruins yet unseen by my two eyes such as Le Destroit, Belvoir and Château Pèlerin.

Side entrance

Side entrance

We pulled over at the side of the road and walked right up to the castle, entering via the small side entrance above. Smaller than the castles at Montfort and Yehiam, the structure is in relatively good shape, despite having a traditional history of being conquered and reconquered with sporadic bouts of destruction. The Ayyubid sultan Saladin, the great arch-enemy of the Crusaders, may have made the most headlines in his dismantling of the Latin Christian kingdom but it was his predecessor, Nur al-Din, who actually conquered and destroyed the Hunin Fortress back in 1167. The Crusaders painstakingly rebuilt the castle in 1178 in fear of Saladin who was bent on the ruination of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem but, alas, Saladin ended up conquering and then destroying the castle in the years 1187 and 1218, respectively. In that same year of 1187, Saladin essentially recaptured the Holy Land from the Crusaders after a resounding victory over King Guy of Lusignan and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (as well as several Military Orders of Knights such as the Templars and the Hospitallers) in the decisive Battle of Hattin which actually took place near Mount Arbel. Here is a modern painting by Syrian artist Said Tahsine (1954) depicting the capitulation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem after the battle, a day which eventually led to the capture of the Hunin Fortress:

King Guy surrendering to Saladin

King Guy surrendering to Saladin

Using the Israel Antiquities Authority’s webpage (and this image within) about the site’s preservation operation, I am able to learn the identities of the unmarked ruins which we explored. The standing remains are the main vaulted structure and the surrounding wall ruins, including a dry moat dug into the rock-bed – which is now largely filled in with vegetation including fig and pistachio trees. The rest of the castle is lost to the ravages of war and destruction but here is the interior of the main room, called the Gates Structure:

The Gates Structure

The Gates Structure

From there, along its northern wall, three halls can be seen – called the Eastern, Central and Western Halls. This is the Eastern Hall, the only one with the vaulted ceiling still intact:

The Eastern Hall

The Eastern Hall

And here are the Central and Western Halls, the ceilings caved in and the ground littered with fallen masonry:

The collapsed Central and Western Halls

The collapsed Central and Western Halls

Outside, after leaving the main structure, I climbed up on the grassy roof and looked out towards Mount Hermon – seeing the IDF outpost Mitzpe Adi on the neighbouring hill and the remains of a wall just below:

Wall ruins, Mitzpe Adi and Mountain Hermon in the distance

Wall ruins, Mitzpe Adi and Mountain Hermon in the distance

Climbing back down, we had our last looks and photos and then headed back into the car. We drove down to Tel Hai and Kiryat Shmona and then south down Road 90 – Israel’s longest road spanning the length of the country from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat. Turning left at Machanayim Junction, we pulled into Free Sandwich for some delicious schnitzel sandwiches. Owned and operated by my senior NCO commander and his wife, the little restaurant has my favourite schnitzel sandwiches, with excellent salads to go along – I highly recommend it. After eating we headed home and plans for my next trip began to formulate…

Manara Cliff

In Galilee, Israel on March 2, 2014 at 4:23 AM

Following our stops at the Galil Mountain Winery and Tel Kedesh, my sister and I arrived at the upper parking lot to Manara Cliff – but not after a little look-see at the Hussein Lookout. Named after fallen Israeli lieutenant colonel Hussein Amar, a battalion commander in the Golani Brigade, the lookout over the Hula Valley was established and dedicated in his memory following his death in battle in 1996.

The Hussein Lookout

The Hussein Lookout

Located on the Naftali Mountains overlooking Kiryat Shmona, Israel’s northernmost city, Manara Cliff offers a great view of the Upper Galilee and Golan area, including Israel’s highest mountain, Mount Hermon. Visiting as we were in the winter, the weather was overcast and the sky looked gloomy. Parking at the upper lot, we entered and found the site pretty deserted – only a few attraction workers and some Yeshiva boys from New York were around. We located the Manara Cliff’s flagship attraction, its cable-car, and waited for it to arrive. The longest cable-car in Israel, at 6,036 feet (1,840 metres – over a mile long!), the ride begins (or ends, depending on where you start) at the top of the 2,460 foot (750 metre) cliff. Since I didn’t get a really great shot of the actual cable-cars, I found one online:

Manara Cliff cable-car (photo by Igor Svobodin, Panoramio)

Manara Cliff cable-car (photo by Igor Svobodin, Panoramio)

Speaking of cable-car… as far as I know, Israel has just four cable-cars – Rosh HaNikra, Haifa, Masada and Manara Cliff – so that leaves me with just Masada’s to ride now. Despite having ridden the Haifa cable-car up and down the corner of Mount Carmel, where it juts out into the Mediterranean Sea, I haven’t documented it in my beloved blog so here is a photo that I took back in August 2012:

Haifa cable-car

Haifa cable-car

As we waited for the cable-car we took stock of the view, buffeted by the brisk winds. Here is the Hula Valley looking all hazy, far below:

View of the Hula Valley

View of the Hula Valley

When the cable-car made its way to the top we hopped on – quite literally – and down we went. At first we descended quickly but then it slowed down, the majestic beauty sprawled out the scratched glass windows.

The way down

The way down…

Such a long ride it was that there was even a halfway stop, where attractions such as rapelling are to be enjoyed. We stayed put and kept descending until we hit the bottom, basically in Kiryat Shmona – about a ten minute ride. As we dropped down the last hundred feet or so, we watched screaming Yeshiva boys riding these little railed sleds along the gentle mountain slope.

Alpine sledding

“Alpine sledding”

Disembarking, we headed to the ticket office and got tickets for a go at the “alpine sledding”. Seating ourselves comfortably in the little craft, we began our ride. Up, up, up it went, just like a roller coaster… and then the plunge. We whipped around bends and screamed too as we almost flew off the tracks into the jagged rock walls – or so it seemed. About a minute passed from start to finish but it was a good, exhilarating ride. Here is a shot of a particularly picturesque section of the track, the trees and the Naftali Mountain ridge:

Alpine sledding tracks

Alpine sledding tracks

With that checked off we hopped back into the cable-car for the calm ride back to the top. On the way, I noticed something funny, kestrels (small birds of prey related to falcons) perched on the wires, scouring the ground as they rode up and down the cliff, an effortless alternative to hovering in the air searching for prey. At last, we cleared the final ledge of the Manara Cliff and our cable-car slid into the station. We exited and then subsequently exited the park, heading for our next destination – the ruins of Hunin Fortress (or Château Neuf, as the French Crusaders called it).