If you think the only thing we do is to deal with dust and wildlife and pick up pottery sherds in Tell Halif, you are very much mistaken. During the intervals between digging, we journeyed from the south to the north and experienced a different Israel – its rich historical heritage and contrasting geographical features.
The first stop of our trip was Beer Sheva, which is not far from Tell Halif. As one of the world heritage sites in Israel, the biblical tel of Beer Sheva is unique in its four-horned altar, the fortification and the water system. Once you enter the national park of Beer Sheva, you will see a replica of the altar.
Leaving Beer Sheva, we went to Arad, another archaeological site which preserves ruins of a Canaanite city and fortress from the time of the Kingdom of Judah. The remains of an Israelite temple and the Holy of Holies is definitely one of the most interesting parts of this visit.
We finished the first day of our visit with iced coffee and relaxing in a diluted Dead Sea water pool in our hotel. How cool is that!!
Getting up the next day at 4:00am does not sound bad at all if you know that you will be able to see the beautiful sunrise from the top of Masada and float in the Dead Sea. Masada is not only famous for the tragic events of the siege by the Roman troops in 74 CE, but also for the preservation of palaces and fortification built by King Herod.
One thing you can not miss is to go to the lowest point on the surface of the earth and float in the Dead Sea. It is a strange feeling that you will not be able to get in other places: the water is extremely bitter and salty, and it makes your skin burn. However, you can definitely enjoy sitting in the water and having a pleasant conversation with your friends. Once we came out of the salty water, a shower was necessary, because we are all covered with minerals and of course salt was everywhere. Do not worry, because there is a place where you can wash off all the salt- En Gedi. It is hard to imagine that En Gedi, an oasis which had seven pools and waterfalls, is located on the barren edge of the Dead Sea.
If you are familiar with the Dead Sea scrolls and the Essenes, you must visit Qumran. At this site, we were able to see how the Essenes lived and where the scrolls were hidden before someone found them. Purity is central in the Essenes’ daily life, so you can see places for the ritual bath.
After short visits to two ancient synagogues for the well preserved mosaic floors, we reached the last site of the day, Bet Shean, where you can see a very well preserved Roman city. As the capital of the Decapolis in the Roman times, the city was quite a metropolitan with a nicely built theatre, public bath, and a toilet!
After a long trip, our day ended with a good meal on the water of the Sea of Galilee.
The last day of this weekend trip began with a tour to Hazor, another World Heritage site in Israel. The archaeological discovery of a canaanite city-state in Hazor enabled us to see the “Solomonic gate”, the water system, the citadel and cultic installation. Look at how deep the water system is!
In Tell Dan and Banias, we all were marveled by the running river, the waterfall and plants, as well as the ancient heritage in such beautiful environment.
Next, tell Megiddo mainly covers two periods: the Canaanite Period and the Israelite Period. The city gates, the palaces and the administrative centers are good reflections of these two periods. What is quite interesting is the circular altar built during the Canaanite Period with seven steps. Hey, what did God say in Exodus 20:26? “You shall not go up by steps to my altar!”
The last destination of our trip before heading back to Lahav is Caesarea, a coastal city where the remaining of a large harbor and other constructions were found by an archaeologist. Built by our dear old friend Herod in the late first century BCE, the harbor was considered the largest in the world during Herod’s time. You can also see a theater built by Herod, the Hippodrome built in the second century CE, some Roman/Byzantine period remains, and crusader buildings.
In the end, we had to sadly say goodbye to the Mediterranean Sea, and head back to the south. The good thing is, after all the site visiting, I got to collect all these detailed pamphlets.