A Busy Month

A famous quote by the British author, Saki would have it that “The people of Crete unfortunately make more history than they can consume locally.”
With all due respect, I believe that description fits the people of Israel even more. Hardly a day passes by without some new uproar. Wars, terrorist attacks,  visits by foreign dignitaries from all over the world which turn the lives of our citizens (at least of those in the capital, Jerusalem), upside down, leading to the lock-down of entire neighbourhoods to ensure the security of VIP convoys, not to mention three general elections within the space of one year (the third is due to be held exactly one month from today). It is no wonder that I seek respite in music, (my choir, a subscription to the opera) and in field-trips and nature rambles the length and breadth of the country.

I started writing this blog in order to bring Israel’s point-of-view to the world. As I tried to find ways to cushion myself against the political and social turmoil surrounding me, the blog itself underwent a change, focusing more and more on what I would call “the beauties of existence”.

I am beginning to wonder, however, if I have not allowed myself to be sidetracked into abandoning my original purpose. That may be the reason why I have allowed the first month of 2020 to pass without writing about TWO field-trips with Yad Ben Zvi, as well as an opera and an “internal” concert with my choir.

At the same time, I know that there are not a few of you out there, who – for reasons of poor health, disability, the great distance, or the cost – can only dream of a visit to the Holy Land, and for whom my descriptions of these tiyulim fill a genuine void.  For you, then, here is a partial description of at least some of my activities this past month, starting with a visit on January 1st, New Year’s Day, to the City of David excavations in Jerusalem.

It has been claimed by some that the excavations in the area known as Ir David (עיר דוד – City of David), which are carried out under the auspices of what the hostile international press likes to call “a Jewish settler group” are politically motivated. There is an element of truth in that. It is important that we prove, in the face of “Palestinian” lies, the long-standing and continuous Jewish presence in Jerusalem. However, unlike the Muslim Waqf, which has been illegally digging under the Temple Mount mosques and deliberately destroying evidence of the Jewish presence on the site in pre-Muslim times, the City of David excavations have meticulously preserved Christian and Muslim Arab antiquities, incorporated them into their Sound and Light presentations and proudly display them to visitors.

This was not my first visit to the City of David site with Yad Ben Zvi and I have written, on this blog, about previous visits. This time, however, we were fortunate enough to be able to visit some parts of the excavations not yet open to the general public, such as the Herodian street leading from the Pool of Shiloah (Siloam/Silwan) to the Temple Mount – following in the footsteps of pilgrims who arrived in Jerusalem to visit the Holy Temple. They would purify themselves beforehand, before making the ascent to that holiest of places.

The street lies below the present-day street level.  Here, we can see an ancient manhole, at the entrance to the street, which is at present in a tunnel. still being excavated.  This is thought to have been part of the ancient water system.


We followed a tunnel which is believed to have been a drainage tunnel beneath the Herodian street. When we later emerged, into the ancient street itself, with its massive paving slabs, we could see drainage channels and more manholes.



In another subterranean tunnel, as yet not open to the general public, we saw mysterious signs cut into the floor. Various theories have been put forwards as to their significance, such as being part of a game played by besieging soldiers to while away the time, but their true purpose is still anyone’s guess.



Above ground, we revisited what Dr. Eilat Mazar believes to be the palace of King David – a belief which is hotly contested by other archaeologists.



Nearby are the remains of a a burnt room and a building known as the House of the Bullae, dating to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. These bullae were official stamps with which documents would be sealed. Some of them bear names which are known to us from the Bible, such as Gemaryahu ben Shaphan, a high-ranking official in the court of King Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36: 9-12).




And here, we can see more fire-gutted remains from the First Temple period:


Descending to yet another subterranean tunnel, our guide showed us a coin dating back to the time of the Great Revolt (66 – 73 CE).


As he described the way the Romans hunted down the Jews who were fleeing the burning city through the tunnels, I could not help thinking of another Jewish revolt, almost nineteen centuries later – the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – and of the stories I have read of how the surviving Jewish fighters fled via the the sewers, and were hunted down by the Nazis, who piped gas into the sewers to ensure none escaped.

Two weeks later, we had another field trip, this time to Caesarea, and the impressive water system built by the Romans to supply water to the city, built by Herod the Great, which later became the seat of the Roman prefect of Judaea.

Caesarea is famous for its aqueduct – or rather, aqueducts. We visited Jisr e-Zarka, an Arab village whose name means “The Blue Bridge” or “Bridge Over the Blue” –  a reference to the nearby Taninim (Crocodile) River. Don’t worry – there are no crocodiles there (at least, not any more). There are, however, the remains of an aqueduct believed to be part of one which ended in Caesarea.


The second picture shows dedicatory plaques affixed to one of the supporting arches of the aqueduct. One mentions the emperor Hadrian, the other bears the insignia of the Tenth Legion Fretensis, whose engineers are preseumed to have built the aqueduct.

We were supposed to visit the Taninim River Nature Reserve, where there are other impressive remains, but it was closed, due to flooding caused by the previous few days of heavy rains. So we headed directly to Caesarea, most famous for its Roman theatre:






The theatre, which has been restored, is still used for concerts and shows.

I know my Christian readers will be interested in this replica of an inscription unearthed during the excavations of the Roman theatre. The original is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The inscription informs us that Pontius Pilate dedicated a building to the Emperor Tiberius.

Caesarea was fully Romanised, with all the amenities a Roman citizen would expect to find in a civilised city. Besides the theatre,  it boasted a stadium, hippodrome and even public bath-houses and latrines.



There were elegant villas, with elaborate mosaic floors:



And there were libraries. We deduce they were libraries from the niches in the walls, where scrolls would have been stored:







Some of the magnificent buildings went right down to the shore:











Most spectacular of all are the remains of the Great Aqueduct that runs along the sea-shore:



















The best time to walk along that shore is, unquestionably, at sunset:










And if you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse, through the arches of the mighty aqueduct, of the sun, as it sinks to rest in the Mediterranean Sea.





About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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2 Responses to A Busy Month

  1. Carole Schulman says:

    Loved EACH and every word. And picture!! You are right. I am one of those who cannot come to see for myself, and I have enjoyed so much seeing those things that I cannot otherwise see and enjoy and learn about. I remember reading about those underground tunnels in historical books. And many of the things that I can see, thanks to you. But while I am very familiar with the time of Tiberius and Pontius Pilate as well as the time of relation ship actually, as regarding Pilate’s Governorship etc., I was pleased to see that stone of dedication.

    • Thank you, Carole. It makes me so happy to know that I am giving pleasure to my readers. I only wish I had more time to devote to writing this blog. What I describe in these “virtual” field-trips is just the tip of the iceberg.
      Smoochies to Katie – from myself and the Furry Trio.

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