Day 6: Friday January 27th was our last full day in Israel, and we went to Masada, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. Because Thursday’s post ran a bit long, I have included some photos I took on Thursday in this post about Friday’s activities. This picture of the wall of Jerusalem I took after nightfall has an evocative feeling I wanted to share. The illumination of the dome struck me.
|January 2017 Israel Trip|
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Ann and I went to the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies on Mount Scopus (photo at right) where we got the obligatory photo overlooking Old City Jerusalem. For the entire time I was in Old City, I never got a good look at the Dome of the Rock because there were always buildings and other things in the way. But you can see it very clearly from Mount Scopus. I have mixed feelings about the golden dome. It’s very beautiful, and it’s considered the second most holy place for Muslims behind Mecca. But the absence of the Temple on the Temple Mount leaves me with a certain sadness.
From the BYU Center, we walked to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. The New Testament Gospel writers said that Jesus often found solace in the Garden, and that this is where He suffered His agony of the Atonement. The olive trees there are very old and gnarled. In Earth Matters at mnn.com there is a description of Olive trees around the Mediterranean that are 2,000 to 3,000 years old, possibly the oldest living on the Island of Crete. The trees in the Garden of Gethsemane seem really old, but apparently 500 years is the lifespan of most olive trees. It just made me wonder… were any of these trees around to witness the night when Judas Iscariot betrayed his Master to the Pharisees and the Roman soldiers? The area is now occupied with churches (snapshot at right).
Now for Friday’s adventures. The fortress at Masada near the Dead Sea is high above the plain on what looks like buttes I’ve seen in New Mexico and Wyoming. Built by a paranoid King Herod on the easily defended heights, the restored ruins hold lots of people’s stories. Besides being a well protected place of resort
The work they did to build these places and stock them with food and water had to keep a lot of soldiers and slaves busy for a long time. The Masada is on a mountain, and we could see the camps of the Romans where thousands of soldiers prepared to assault the citadel during a rebellion in 73 and 74 CE.
One of the things we learned about this place was revealed after a long guessing game when Mika asked us why the Romans would erect three foot high walls around their camps. Each of the camps held large numbers of soldiers who were brought to destroy the zealots who were Israeli rebels who opposed Roman rule. We guessed that the three-foot high walls could stop boulders rolled down from the heights or floods up from the Dead Sea. Nope. Then we guessed that the low walls enabled them to get in and out very quickly if needed. Nope. There were a few other theories, but Mika finally solved the mystery for us. The acoustics are such in this area, that you can hear even small sounds from long distances. The Romans, who had been pestered by these elusive rebels for years, wanted to hear if the rebels were either coming to attack or going to escape, and higher walls would have protected fleeing rebels by masking their sounds.
The indoor spas made me wish I could try them out. The raised floors (cutaway shown in the photo below right) rested on these mini pillars so the scalding water could make the spa room a sauna and the King could walk to his favorite place to meditate. We saw similar bathing rooms at Beit She’an and Caesarea.
Holes in the wall permitted the smoky fires that heated the cauldrons of water to be outside, to maximize the enjoyment of those within and leave enough oxygen for them to breathe. The slaves would pour the heated water through the holes to fill up the Spa basin.
The preservation of these evidences of the creature comforts of the ancient Romans gave us fascinating glimpses into their lives. I guess they weren’t much different than me. I like a good soak in the hot tub and a good sweat in the sauna. The amount of labor required to restore these sites is gargantuan, but surely not nearly as much as the original work to erect them.
As with many of the ancient places we toured, Masada shows the signs of the changes in tenants over time. The detail work in the walls and mosaic of the floor are the hallmarks of the Byzantine era builders, and provide insights into the changing priorities of the occupants, as this room was part of a Christian meeting place: something not even contemplated in the original design of the Masada vacation home/fortress.Perhaps we have yet another case where form follows function, and function follows changes in social and cultural priorities.
the view of the Dead Sea from the Masada reveals it’s decline. Apparently, the Dead Sea’s water level has dropped 131 feet or 40 meters since the 1950s, and the water level drop has accelerated from 70 centimeters a year in the 1970s to 1.2 meters over the past two decades. Whether this is due to increased demands on water supplies upstream, or climate change in general, the effects are no less palpable. Further south from the picture below, the sea appears divided in rectangles. There is a slideshow online that shows this place where the healing minerals of the water are extracted for cosmetics.
Both Ann and I went out to try out the floating routine, and it worked great for both of us. When we were on the bus, and particularly when we were at the Masada, we were so cold that the idea of putting on our swimsuits, or even taking them out of our bags, seemed preposterous. Yet, an hour after we were shivering in the cold wind in our winter coats, we were stripping down and playing in the water. The name of the place was Kalia Beach, and it was near the northern end of the Dead Sea where the Jordan River flows into it.
Most of the people on our tour went in, and many of them decided to treat themselves to the mineral-rich mudpacks, apparently restoring the fountain of youth. Of course Ann still looks a couple decades younger than she is, but she decided to try it along with the others. I caught her in the middle of playing in the mud. Or maybe she was dressing in the mud. I guess this is a common activity at the Dead Sea beaches. Some of our tour mates became certifiable mud monsters — temporarily.
I confess, that although my skin has many wrinkles and flaws, and more arrive with each additional year of my survival (I guess I may not be THAT old), I decided to forego the treatment. Of course, by choosing not to apply the mud, I missed the benefits. Alas, a lost opportunity that may never come around again. The gift shops were completely willing to give me ongoing opportunities to apply Dead Sea minerals packaged in cosmetics and cleansing treatments. , But, again I opted out.
After spending the day in the east, we headed back to Jerusalem in the mid afternoon. The bus ride began noisy as usual, with everyone chattering about the fun we had all morning and into the afternoon. But soon a quiet settled over the bus. It wasn’t a reflective silence – many of the riders fell asleep. Weather in Jerusalem was pretty rainy and cold, and we were tired so we rested and prepared for our return journey, trying to figure out how to pack our baggage to fit the gifts we had purchased for our children and grandchildren.
I used some of the time to sort through the hundreds of pictures I had taken to select those that would best reflect our travel, the things we saw and learned, and the fun we had. It was difficult to weed out many that had special meaning to me, but may not be easy to blog about. At the end of the day, with our bags packed and our bodies exhausted, we settled in for our last night in Israel.