Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jerusalem Part 2: The Wall

The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall or Kotel, is the most sacred sight for the Jewish Religion. Bloging about the most sacred Christian site last time, I think this will balance my blog out a touch. More importantly, the Wall holds a very special place in my heart because I am Jewish.

The Western Wall is associated with the Jewish Temple. Jerusalem was a city built up by the Canaanites. Jerusalem is located in a naturally protected place; the Negev desert lays to east, and a large ravine is located on the west, so it is a challenging city to militarily occupy. King David finally conquered the city, and made it his capitol for the united country of Israel. It was his son Solomon who was said to have built the First Temple.

When the Babylonians invaded the southern kingdom of Judah, they destroyed the First Temple and captured the population taking them into captivity. The Jews had 70 years of captivity before they returned to the land, rebuilding the temple in the 6th Century B.C.E.

King Herod expanded on the Temple Mound during his rule, making the Temple a grand place. After the revolts in 70 C.E. the Romans destroyed the Second Temple.

What remains today is not a wall of the temple, it is actually the support wall of the Temple Mount King Herod built when he expanded the mound. The Romans left it only because they thought it was insignificant, but really it quickly became sacred to the Jews.

From 1948 to 1967 Jews were not given access to the Wall, although on paper they were given the right. After the Six Day War in 1967 Jews returned to the Wall.

Being in the Kotel is a unique experience. For me, I feel extremely connected and at ease when I am there. But I think there is something even more important about the Kotel; The Basillica of the Holy Sepulchre is extremely ornate, and in contrast the Wall is simple and without any decoration or elegance. I think this striking difference says a lot about the differences between the religions, and the different situations of the two religions.

Don’t judge my pictures too harshly; the wall is simple, and so are my pictures.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jerusalem Part 1: Via Dolorosa

Last year when I was in Jerusalem, I wondered if we’d be visiting any Christian sites. We barely had time to hit all the Jewish sites, let along tackle another religion. But the thought wasn’t too far off; all three large religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam have ties to Jerusalem.

The desktop picture of my computer depicts the Western Wall in the Center and Dome of the Rock on the right. Little did I realize the tower on the left is associated with Christianity; this is the “Antonia Tower” and it is a site of the Roman fortress where Jesus was condemned to death.

Because it is close to impossible to drive in Jerusalem if you don’t know where to go, my family opted to instead take a tour of the city. This means the trip was split between Christian and Jewish Holy Sites. So in reality we spent a lot more time on the Christian Holy Site the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre than the Western Wall, but it is what it is.

While I am familiar with the different stations along Via Dolorosa, I really didn’t know specifics. After visiting and taking the tour I learned a lot touring the Basilica and the path.

Via Dolorosa, or “Way of Sorrow” is the path Jesus walked on his way to Calvary Hill to be crucified. The way winds through the old city of Jerusalem, from Ecce Homo Covenant to Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre; along the way different monuments are placed for the different stations.

The stations are as follows.
Station I is where Jesus was condemned to death.

Station II is where Jesus took up the cross. This is located in the same area as Station I; “Antonia Tower.”

Station III is where Jesus fell under the cross for the first time.

Station IV, where Jesus saw his mother Mary. Tradition dictates that Mary stood close to the roadside to see Her Son.

Station V is where Simon the Cyrenian is forced to carry the Cross. Fearing Jesus would die prematurely, Simon, a random man on the street was ordered to carry the cross. The path gets very steep at this point; imagining carrying the cross this distance and up the incline is very difficult to do.

Station VI is where Veronica wiped the sweat from Jesus’ face.

Station VII is where Jesus fell for the second time.

Station VIII is where Jesus consoled the women of Jerusalem.

Station IX is where Jesus fell for the third time; this was in site of the Holy Sepulchre Basilica, the place of his death.

Station X is where Jesus is stripped of His garments.

Station XI Jesus is nailed to the Cross.

Station XII Jesus Dies. The Rock of Cavalry is where the Cross was placed in the ground, and it is said Jesus’ blood spilled below on the rocks.

Station XIII Jesus is taken down from the Cross. This is depicted with the Stone of Unction.

Station XIV Jesus is laid in the tomb, and this is Christendom’s most sacred place. It is the site of Jesus burial and Resurrection, and it is the focal point of the entire Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, which was erected by the Crusaders on Byzantine foundations dating from the time of Constantine the Great.

The Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre is said to be directly above the tomb of Christ. This means it is probably one of the most important places for Christians. In 312 C.E. Constantine built the first Church at the site. It is said to have been much larger than the one at the site today, but was much simpler. This church was severely destroyed by the Persians in 614 C.E. when they invaded Jerusalem. It was later destroyed fully by Hakim 1009 C.E.

The Crusaders slowly rebuilt the church. The Armenian, Latin and Greek Orthodox communities gained the most responsibility in renovating the church. Over the centuries it suffered damage. The current church was built in 1959, and there is a mish mash of different building styles in the church. Because there are also so many different traditions across the Christian community, each has its own unique way of decorating chapels and shrines, adding to the look of the Church.

I have had the fortune of visiting churches in Europe including Vatican City. This Church is spectacular and it is unlike any place I have visited before. In this Church east meets west; the decorations are very characteristic of both regions. In addition, the church is dripping with decadence. Every part of the church is decorated, making its beauty overwhelming and awe inspiring at the same time.

Thinking back I realize I need to see the site again. There was so much to see there was no I way I was going to see everything. Another thing to note is that Via Dolorosa is now located through the Bazaar; shopping was spectacular. Obviously we did not have the time to shop, so seeing the possibilities enticed me.

I am putting only some of the pictures I took up. Enjoy, and stay patient between posts. I’m at my dig now, so early mornings are in my future and time is a bit scarce. But so far, the dig has been great.

Greek Orthodox side

Catholic Side

Crosses Carved into the Walls

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dead Sea

If you go south in Israel, there is no reason not to stop at the Dead Sea; nowhere else in the world is the same. Sure, there are other salty lakes, but the Dead Sea is so much more.

The English translation from the Hebrew is kinder; Yam ha Maved means Killer Sea.

As the name suggests, nothing lives in the Dead Sea. It is said Cleopatra loved the Dead Sea so much she ordered cosmetics to be made from it. Egyptians used mud from the Dead Sea in the mummification process.

As if this wasn’t enough to set this lake apart, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth, lying at 400 meters, 1,300 feet, below seal level. This is within a few miles of Jerusalem, which lies in the hilly part of the country. Volcanic activity in the region caused many of the minerals to be deposited in the area. These minerals, coupled with the salt, make the waters of the Dead Sea very good for the skin.

The high salt content also makes every person buoyant; floating is extremely easy. That’s actually about all you can do in it really because staying upright is extremely difficult. While you don’t need to be there too long (especially because it is so hot), it is worth making a stop. It is something you can’t experience anywhere else.

I don’t have that many pictures, because it’s really just a lake. But I do have a couple. Enjoy!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Masada Again

Masada is spectacular. Sitting on a hill above the Dead Sea, this site is probably one of the greatest building projects headed by King Herod. I don’t have a lot of new information to add from last year, but really have some wonderful images to share from the location.

Plus I didn’t want to waste pictures I got sick taking!

According to Josephus, a Roman historian, the Hasmonean King Alexander Janaeus built the original fortress at Masada. King Herod took over the location, and used it as a strategic refuge against his enemies and as a winter palace. Kind Herod had three different palaces built on Masada.

I learned during the siege on Masada, the Jews living there had gardens in addition to foods stored in the stock rooms. There was a tower that housed pigeons, not for the communication necessities, but more for their dung; this was used as fertilizer in the gardens. When the Romans broke into Masada, the Jews had burned most of the food, but left one stockroom full to show the Romans they could survive for a long time. The amounts of food were apparently impressive.

This is the columbarium tower; the lower floors housed pigeons and the upper floors were used as guard towers.

The Roman ramp is at the left of the picture.

The breach point.

King Herod had three different palaces at Masada. This is his Western Palace. King Herod had a personal bathhouse, throne room and a reception room with preserved mosaic floor.

His throne room

Last year I looked down on the other two levels of the Northern palace. This palace was built on three levels. The top level is where King Herod lived with his family. The bottom two levels were used as reception rooms, and were accessed on the west side by a flight of stairs (later destroyed during an earthquake).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Israel's Landscapes

The last four days my family and I have been on the go. I have had barely any time to really stop and process what I’ve seen. In addition to the traveling I was in the sun for way too long Saturday; if I have learned anything, it is to not mess with the sun in Israel. Sunday, our day in Jerusalem I was so sick. Diagnosis: either very mild heat stroke or dehydration. The good news is I have some great pictures from Masada; the bad news is I paid dearly for it. But from now on, especially while I am at my dig, I will be very careful with the sun. I don’t like repeating my mistakes.

Last year I meant to write a blog about the country of Israel. Sure, I did one about the history I learned in my class, but what about the landscape of the country? I think everyone who does not know thinks Israel is just a desert, but really the landscape is quite diverse.

In the south lies the dry desert part of Israel. This is the hot part of the country. While the desert may not seem be as useful in other parts of the country, I learned last year the Israeli’s have developed ways to grow crops in the desert. Sand is apparently the perfect kind of soil because with some fertilization it can grow about any crop; the sand acts as a blank canvas. My group visited a kibutz growing carrots out of the sand, and tomatoes in green houses. Along the Dead Sea there are large areas of palm trees my parents helped identify as date farms.

My image of tomatoes growing in the sand

The south has beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Last year we got up so early to hike Masada I saw a beautiful sunset breaking over the desert. My mother went to school in the south, and she was very adamant about pointing out the changes in color through the day. It is a beautiful region.

Some of the agriculture on our way south

The diverse south

Jerusalem is located in the central hill county. These may not be high mountains, however the region is more mountainous than flat. In this region there are several forests growing, and it is very green and lush. Also dotting the countryside are several agricultural kibutz’s.

I must diverge to define what a kibutz is; for those who do not know a kibutz is a kind of community where every individual works for eight hours a day, and instead of earning a wage instead is given a home and supplies necessary for basic living. These places can manufacture items, or grow agricultural. These food items are used to feed the Israeli population, and some are even exported to Europe.

Going north the landscape becomes greener. In the Golan Heights around Passover the area is green and blooming with flowers. Much of this greenery has dried out by this time of the year, but there are still flowers growing, and some green is visible. This area is thickly grown with grasses and flowers, so it is easy to imagine the landscape being green in the spring.

Imagine going from these hills to this picture below in under ten minutes!

Close to Haifa there are valleys that are very fertile and serve as agricultural centers.

Finally, at Tel Dan, one of the most northern points in Israel, the area was not only green, but also wet. This location is where the Jordan River starts; these spring waters flow south to form the Jordan River. After being in the south three days ago, it was amazing to see springs coming from the ground and flowing along the path. Similarly, the constant sound of rushing water was delightful to hear.

As I drove around, I tried to capture some of the constant changes I witnessed outside my window through pictures. One minute we would be climbing a hill, the next we would be descending into a valley. As I took images of the city of Jerusalem, I looked east and was able to see the desert lying so close to a high green area. These changes are made more drastic because of the small geography in which they are happening.

Now readers, if you are paying attention you will notice I mention many interesting places in my post here: Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada and Tel Dan to name a few. Be patient with me, because I plan to give each the time it deserves and research into the history of these locations. But for today, after returning from the north and seeing the scenery I have seen, this post seemed more appropriate before I continued with the history.

As I have been doing for this trip, enjoy the pictures I have taken. Be forgiving of these, because several were taken from the car, through the same window I view these lovely places from with my own eyes.