Monday was our first full day in Israel, and it was a very full day. We began with a short bus ride to Yafo or Jaffa, where the influences of the Helenistic period stand out. As a teenager, I was exposed to one of the most significant outcomes of the Greek occupation of the Holy Land: Hannukah: The Festival of Lights. This was celebrated after the
Maccabean Revolt of Judas Maccabeus, and began the Hasmonean period. As many of my friends and debate partners were Jewish, I developed an early fascination with this amazing culture.
This is a beautiful park in Jaffa that shows the color of the predominant limestone and the tropical foliage of the area. Mika, our tour guide told us of not only the history of the area, but added a lot of color about the environment and traditions of the peoples. helping us understand the succession of dynasties that came from all directions.
|January 2017 Israel Trip|
|Click on the date to see the post|
One of the first things I noticed in the architecture was the use of arches for doors and windows and gates. The engineering method of tapered blocks coming together in a keystone to support significant weights appears everywhere in the places we toured. both the pictures on the left and right show street signs with the Zodiac and mythological names. While the astrological lore originated in Egypt and was adopted by the Babylonians, the names of the Circle of Animals we use commonly today come from the Greek language. I was born under the sign of Aries, the Ram, though I am not one to pay attention to horoscopes.
During this part of our tour, we walked from one church to another. This Christian church has been rebuilt recently, but may date back to the Byzantine era. Constantine’s conquest marked the beginning of this period, and the influence of his mother, Empress Helena (later Saint Helena), in her erection of many church buildings in Israel, came up over and over again in our tours, including some of the most amazing places in Jerusalem (remind me to talk about those when I get to our Wednesday and Thursday tours).
Within short walking distance of the Christian church, we encountered a Mosque. The Arab period lasted from the mid 600s CE to the early 1500s CE, with about 150 years of disruption by the Crusaders. The Crusades were bracketed by the Caliphate period before and the Mamluk period after, leaving a mark on the the region of Palestine that is still felt profoundly today. The architecture of the Mosques and the Christian churches of the period bear profound resemblances on the outside, even though the use patterns are radically different within. The Mosques are characterized by the minarets (please take a look at the “Figures” links in this URL).
The crescent moon shapes at the tops of the minarets, and the narrowness of the towers are beautiful and unique architectural conventions that we saw frequently last summer in our visit to Istanbul.
The Synagogues are less ornate and more functional in architecture, generally. I see an interesting correlation between this phenomenon and the Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) patterns of architecture. Mormon chapels are also simple and functional, where the Temples (much fewer and not used for Sabbath worship) are extremely ornate. The Temple in Jerusalem was extremely ornate and awe-inspiring. More on this in a later post.
Next, we traveled to the the city of Caesarea, erected by Herod the Great and dedicated to the Roman overlords of the era. The architectures and the layout of the city were patterned after Roman conventions: very different from the prevailing architectures of prior periods in this region. Theaters and Amphitheaters started popping up (with the help of large amounts of slave labor).
My undergraduate minor was anthropology, including courses in archaeology, so the restoration of this site and others on our tour were historical highlights of our trip. In addition to our capable tour guide, the sites have interpretive information that helps history nerds like me understand what I’m seeing. So let’s get it out right now: I love Indiana Jones. He’s one of my favorite fictional superheroes. This sarcophagus, one of many on the site, ties together archaeology and genealogy: two hobbies of mine.
I am also fond of architecture and seeing these arches that come to more of a point reminded me of some of the things I read in a historical fiction series by Ken Follett called “Pillars of the Earth”. His novels describe innovations in cathedral construction in England, and in an architectural nerdy way, tie that in to an engaging historical fiction. I was constantly amazed by the fact that these structures have stood for over a thousand years, some two thousand. My house needs repairs all the time.
As you can see from the map, we traveled from Tel Aviv, north to Caesarea. After Caesarea, we headed for Tiberias, stopping first at a Diamond cutting factory, then on to the hotel. For me, the commercial stops on the trip were not highlights, though it was interesting to learn about how important the Israeli stone cutters are in the world context of the diamond business.
Tiberias is on Lake Kinneret or the Sea of Galilee, but I’ve saved that map for the next post. In fact, this freshwater lake is also called the Lake of Gennesaret at lease once in the Bible, or Lake Tiberias. We never swam in the lake or went out on a boat, but we were able to feel the proximity to the places where many of Jesus Christ’s 12 apostles called home and work. Monday was a very busy day.