Sunday, March 3, 2013

Caesarea, Haifa, & Megiddo.

Me at Megiddo...with tree growing out the top of my head :-)

This is definitely a comfort class tour - been a long time since I've traveled like this. I have to admit, it has taken some readjustment on my part to get used to the slower pace of travel. With the exception of our last morning in Jerusalem, the standard time to meet up with Uri has been 8:30a. Every night, I've set the alarm and every morning, I'm up well before it.


Last night, I had a big dinner so I skipped breakfast this morning. I checked out and was at the front entrance of the hotel well before 8:30a. It was another beautiful morning in Tel Aviv so I wanted to get outside as soon as I could. I have to say, I could get really spoiled living in this climate.....which of course, is only this luscious during the winter season. According to Uri, weather in Tel Aviv is unbearable in the summer months. I can only imagine.

Uri had picked up a larger van and I got the front seat which is great for my photo taking. In the 2nd row of seats were George and Marian - it was nice to see their familiar faces. In the row right behind me were two new faces belonging to an older couple - Gary and Georgie from Adelaide, Australia. They seemed friendly right off the bat - typical Australians.

It was morning rush hour so Uri inched his way out of town. For the next three days, we would be exploring the region around the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights.

Ruins of the ancient aqueduct at Caesarea.


About an hour after we left the Renaissance Hotel, we arrived at Caesarea National Park. Contained within the park are the ruins of the ancient city by the same name which was built by Herod the Great about 25–13 BC as the port city Caesarea Maritima. The ancient city served as an administrative center of Judaea Province of the Roman Empire, and later the capital of the Byzantine Palaestina Prima province during the classic period. Following the Arab conquest in the 7th century, the city had an Arab majority until the Crusaders came along in the 12th century. In 1952, a Jewish town of Caesarea established near the ruins of the old city which were then designated a national park. Of course, we were there to see the ruins.

Our first stop was at the famous aqueduct which sits right alongside the Mediterranean Sea. I have to say, the length of the aqueduct is impressive! From the front angle, I could see the trough that the water would have travelled along. According to Uri, a single aqueduct was not sufficient to carry enough water to meet the needs of the ancient city so a second one was built parallel to the first one. Only a small section of the second aqueduct remained.




Back in the van, we continued on towards the ancient city ruins. Along the way, Uri make a quick stop so we could see the remains of the Crusader fortress. The slanted walls of the fortress gave it away as Crusader.




Uri got our entry tickets and we entered into the complex. While the others headed for the restrooms, these marble statues caught my attention. Roman skill at carving marble to create beautiful models of the human body never ceases to amaze me. The Romans also perfected the art and skill of carving stone to accurately capture the muscles of the human body.  They also could make slick stone look like delicately draped fabric. Just simply beautiful.


I went on ahead of the gang, making my way to the amphitheater.


Arched walkway that leads into the amphitheatre.

Not quite as large as some other ones I've seen, this one was relatively well preserved though it had quite a bit of reconstruction work done. Uri told us that the amphitheater is still used for concerts - that last one held here was a Deep Purple concert. The venue can hold up to 3000 people.


The tops of the lower tiers are original, those of the upper tiers are reconstructions.

Looking back down on the stage.

In an open area near the amphitheater were quite a few marble columns and roof supports from the ancient city. More evidence of the sophistication of Roman artisans.  I'm so amazed at how many ruins there are in Israel. For some reason, I didn't expect it.  As someone who loves ancient history, I'm grateful that they've  taken care to preserve these artifacts.



Not only were the Romans great engineers, they were phenomenal sculptures as well. I don't think you'll find anyone to dispute that thought.


Of all the column headers, my favorite was this relatively crudely carved sleepy looking lion.

From the amphitheater, we made our way via a concrete path to the main complex of Caesarea. Directly in front of us was the Hippodrome which of course was used for sporting events like chariot races.


We continued our walk along the path to the ruins of Herod's palace.  He had beautiful seaside palace.  If I were him, this would have definitely been the place I would have loved to have spent most of time at!  The views are great and the weather (at least in winter) divine!


Remains of columns that would have once supported the roof of the palace

Herod's Palace's front yard had two large pools which are now filled in with vegetation.


Remains of the mosaic floor of two rooms of the palace. As in Islamic art, human figures or even that of animals, is typically not allowed in Jewish art so the design of the mosaic is geometric.  Uri did explain what the deep beyond, just beyond the palace but I can't remember what he said.  I was too busy taking in the wonderful views.



View of the Hippodrome area from Herod's Palace.


The Hippodrome is just on the other side of these ruins.   Viewing stand seating on the right.

When the Ottomans arrived, they also put their stamp on Caesarea including building a mosque.

From Herod's Palace, we headed to the park's auditorium to watch a short film on Caesarea.

Then, we were done with our visit.

Back in the van, we continued our journey. I couldn't get over the landscape in this part of the country. It was desert in Jerusalem all the way to the Dead Sea. Here, it was green farmland and there was a of it. No wonder the vendors in Mahane Yehuda had such an abundance of fruits and vegetables for sale!


We also passed by another section of the ruins of the ancient aqueduct of Caesarea.


Patches of yellow flowers everywhere.  Uri said it was mustard and I think he's right.

About 35 minutes after we left Caesarea, we arrived into the port city of Haifa, Uri's home town. We were on our way to the Baha'i Garden which was located high on a hill overlooking the town. We made a quick pitstop at a local pharmacy so George and Marian could pick up some supplies.

We drove up through the hilly streets of Haifa, eventually reaching the gardens. All we had time to do was to view them and the city below, from a vantage point above.

It was a spectacular view - a very well tended garden with terracotta colored paths and white marble balustrades.


At the far end of the garden stood the Baha'i temple with its copper (not gold) roof which shimmered like gold.


According to Uri, Haifa is Israel's third largest city and it definitely has the buildings to support that title!  The shipyards and docks in the far, far distance are evidence that Haifa is a port city.

It was a short visit to the gardens - we were there for barely 15 minutes. No time to actually step foot in the garden.  Next time I come, I will set aside time for a stroll through the garden, especially if I come with my brother.  I think he will enjoy visiting Israel.


Back on the road, we soon left the flat landscape of the farms behind and headed into the surrounding hills of the Upper Galilee. About 40 minutes after we left the Baha'i garden, we had arrived into Daliyat El-Carmel, a small Druze village.


Druze is a relatively small Middle Eastern religious sect characterized by an eclectic system of doctrines and by a cohesion and loyalty among its members that have enabled them to maintain their close-knit identity and distinctive faith. They numbered more than 250,000 in the late 20th century and lived mostly in Lebanon, with smaller communities in Israel and Syria. They call themselves muwaḥḥidūn (“monotheists”).

We would learn more about the Druze later but for now, it was lunch time and we would be eating at Restaurant Halabi Brothers which is a Druze family owned and run restaurant.


There was no parking space in sight but Uri said not to work. The restaurant owners would move two of their cars, parked out front, so we could slide our van into the same spots. I thought Uri was joking but I watched two men get in their cars and drive off to free up the spot for us. Uri said they do this every time he comes by. He seems to be very fond of this one family - I think they've been good to each other.

Lunch at the Halabi Brothers' restaurant.  Nothing fancy but it was tasty.

I don't think you can have an Israeli meal without olives.

Clockwise from the left:  Georgie, Greg, Uri, George and Marian.

Lunch was the typical Middle Eastern spread of pita, hummus, cheese and a variety of vegetables as starters. The main course was mixed grill which is usually chicken and lamb kebab but I asked to substitute my chicken for more lamb. I have to say, really tasty lamb kebabs - flavorful and juicy. I ate every bite!! During lunch, the owner of the restaurant, Mr. Halabi joined us. He sat across the table from Uri so most of the conversation took place between the two of them.

My super tasty kebabs and French fries!


After lunch, we followed an older gentleman who was another member of the Halabi family to what looked like their family's living room located upstairs in an adjacent building behind the restaurant.

There, Mr. Halabi, in broken English, attempted to tell us more about the Druze. The one thing that struck me is that it is a very closed society - the Druze do permit conversion, either away from or to their religion, and no intermarriage. Mr. Halabi did say that some bits of Druze conduct have relaxed recently. For example, when his daughter goes off to work in Tel Aviv, it used to be that she would have to return to their home at the end of the day. I was thinking that is one hell of a long commute!! These days, she stays in Tel Aviv during the work week and comes home for the weekend. Maybe there will come a day when she can live full time in Tel Aviv and visit her family home occasionally.

It was a very brief explanation by Mr. Halabi after which he took us down to the family owned store. I hadn't intended on buying anything but everywhere I had gone to in Jerusalem, the stores had Druze glassware for sale. Remarkably, it's very tough glass. Anyway, I figured if I'm buying directly from the Druze, then at least I'm not paying a middle man.....at least I feel like I am so I bought a small vase from Mr. Halabi. Georgie also bought a shawl.

After our lunch, we continued our journey through the beautiful region of the Upper Galilee. The landscape all around is colored in beautiful shades of green. Purple and yellow flowers carpet areas and there's the occasional grouping of poppies. The fruit trees, mainly almonds, are all in bloom. It really is a very pretty time of year to be in Israel.



We wound our way through the rolling landscape and it wasn't long before we arrived into Tel Megiddo National Park, the site of the Megiddo ruins which are 26 civilizations worth of ruins built one on top of the other.

Entrance to the complex.  I was in the front passenger seat - did a lot of drive by photography :-)

View of the surround farmland.  I never thought of Israel as being an agricultural land but it is.

Uri and our trusty Chevy van.

Path leading up to the ruins.

The sign at the entrance briefly explains the history of the tels in Israel. Megiddo is known for its historical, geographical, and theological importance, especially under its Greek name Armageddon.


Map which is always more useful if you can actually take it with you as you are walking around.  Just a thought :-)

Fist set of ruins.  More to come.....a lot more!

Megiddo was a site of great importance in the ancient world because it was strategically located at the head of a pass through the Carmel Ridge overlooking the Jezreel Valley from the west - it basically at the intersection of a trade route connecting Egypt and Assyria. Because of its location, Megiddo was also the site of several historical battles. The site was inhabited from approximately 7000 BC to 586 BC by at least 26 different civilizations all of whom obviously recognized the value of the location of Megiddo and the wonderful views of the Jezreel Valley and the mountains are not to be ignored either.

Excavations at the site are still ongoing. We started our walk at the ruins of the entry gate into the ancient city.

As with many ancient cities, Megiddo had an entry gate.  The placard illustrated what the gate would have looked like.

Here's what the entry gate looks like today.  Glad to have had the picture to help visualize it.

View of the farmland from the entry gate.

From the entry gate, we followed a path that led us around the site - there were remains of homes, cisterns, baths, etc.



 


You know, after a while, one set of ruins starts to look like another.  I think I'm getting my fill.  It didn't help that I was getting a bit frustrated trying to figure who to distinguish the 26 layers of civilizations from each other.  I am not good at this stuff.


Woohoo!  A cistern!  This type of ruin I can recognize :-)



We stood here and Uri pointed at the hillside and started to talk about the 26 civilizations. In the picture below, you can see how far down the levels archeologists have had to excavate to discover ruins. By looking at the striations in the earth from the parts that have been cut in to, archeologists have been able to identify each of the 26 civilizations that have inhabited Megiddo.  Me, I still can't figure the layers out.  I think I need a photo overlay that has the boundary lines, between the various civilizations marked out. 


Then, we got to the altar.  That's the circular grouping of rocks in the middle of the photo.  I don't know exactly how archeologists figured out this was an altar....presumably some offerings were nearby?


And more ruins.


There were also ruins of a very large stone lined, circular shaped pit with vertical walls. Two sets of steps led down into and up from the pit. Archeologists uncovered straw in the pit and this led them to conclude that the structure was a silo dating back to about the 8th century BC.


Nearby the silo was located the ruins of a former horse stable. Reconstructed water troughs and metal statues of horses give one an idea of what the place would have looked like back all those centuries ago.


There were also a few of the original troughs in place. I couldn't resist posing in front of one of the horse statues for a photo which Georgie kindly agreed to take for me.  That's the photo that opens up this posting.


One more photo of the ruins at Megiddo before putting my camera away.


It was a brief visit to the Megiddo ruins but I have to admit, unless you are an archeologist or a ruins buff, you can only take visits to places like this in small does. After a while, one rock begins to look like another.

We headed back down to the entrance and made a quick stop in the park's small cafe where I bought a small can of Coke (cost 12 shekels) to quench my thirst. Back in the van, after a quick moment of Uri having driven off without George and Marian - he did go back to get them), we finished up our sightseeing day with a short drive to the Kibbutz Lavi where we would be spending the night.

I have had this preconceived notion of what a kibbutz would look like - lots of farm houses with some communal structures like the synagogue and school. Everyone would be working in the fields. I had to scratch that thought completely as we drove through the kibbutz. It looked and felt more like a small town except there were no commercial establishments. You can imagine my pleasant surprise when we pulled in front of the hotel. On the outside, it looked a bit like a community center but on the inside, it was a hotel through and through. Nothing fancy. I would say that level wise, it would be comparable to a Holiday Inn in the US.

My room looked and felt like any other hotel room though the big plus was free wi-fi! It was late in the afternoon and dinner would be served in the dining room with a presentation by a member of the kibbutz at 8:30p.

I opened up the window, set up the desk space and ended up doing office work and blogging completely missing both dinner and the presentation. I had eaten such a big lunch - I really did pig out that I never felt a single pang of hunger. That Druze family can make a really tasty kebab!!

It's close to 11p at the moment and I'm just finishing up this post. I want to take a quick shower to wash off the dirt from the day, check some email and then hit the sack. It's another long day tomorrow and I want to make sure I'm fully rested. It's the end to another wonderful day of touring through Israel.

Goodnight from Kibbutz Lavi in the Lower Galilee!