Sunday, January 6, 2019
Today it is raining, windy and cold. I mean for here it is cold, still well above minus, but we are accustomed much more to warm, and mostly hot weather. We do not have too many cold days here in Israel and the winter season usually is not very hard. Also the weather changes quickly, and even on a rainy day, the sky may break open and the sun comes through for an hour or two.
So yes, today it is stormy, but yesterday the weather was gorgeous and I am glad we took advantage of it. We went south to the Dead Sea and visited the Botanical Garden at Kibbutz Ein Gedi, which is on the road to Masada. Actually there is not a botanical garden AT the Kibbutz, but the ground of the Kibbutz IS the botanical garden. And that is truly amazing!
Kibbutz Ein Gedi exists since 1952, and the garden was created by Kibbutz members, some of the early ones tend to the garden till today.
All the design, the planning, the development and the maintenance is done by Kibbutz members, and what they accomplished is almost unbelievable. They brought into existence a green paradise, an oasis above the Dead Sea. Surrounded by the rugged desert mountains this garden, incorporated into the village, is very beautiful. It is renowned worldwide and has won many awards. Trees, shrubs, cacti and countless other plants, from tropical and subtropical places in the world, were brought here, and more water saving and heat resist plants are introduced, and thrive in the stunning environment under the dry desert conditions.
We had a marvelous, what is called in German "Spaziergang", a leisurely stroll of about two hours on the paths through the village, along and in between the houses of the people who live there. We small talked to some of them and the mood was very friendly. Throughout the garden there are benches to rest on, under magnificent trees, or at the margin of the garden to the open view of the Dead Sea, or to the mountains. The place is calm and peaceful. Definitely worth a visit!
As an extra bonus we saw some ibexes on our way, very near to the road, but we could not stop for a photo, in my mind they are pictured...
Enjoy the photos of my husband Uri Eshkar.
Sunday, December 23, 2018
A beautiful Shabatt day in midwinter is the best reason to go on a trip.
There are a lot of opportunities for an outing here in Israel. The landscape is versatile and changes from the north to the south. Mountains, forests, plains, valleys, rivers, wadis, the Mediterranean sea, the beach, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, the Judean Desert, the Negev Desert, all with an abundance of flora and fauna at all seasons, but especially in winter and spring.
The cities also welcome to a tour, a visit to Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beer Sheva lets us experience the different flair of each one.
From mount Hermon in the far North to Eilat in the deep South there is a lot to choose from, to discover, learn and enjoy.
And then there are the historical sites, plenty of them and everywhere, often in ruins, not at all or only partly excavated, almost hidden, and many dug up expertly and prepared for the visitor to explore.
So yesterday we decided to go to Shivta, an unwalled ancient Byzantine town in the western Negev, about 40 km southwest of Beer Sheva. Shivta is part of a chain of settlements along the Incense and Perfume Road (that includes Avdat, Haluza and Mamshit), which started in Oman and Yemen and passed through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Negev on its 2400 km long way and ended in the port of Gaza. From there it entered the Hellenistic and Roman world. It existed roughly from 7th century BCE to 2nd century CE.
We started early in the morning, the weather was wonderful, sunny but not hot, a clear winter day.
Our last trip there was in October 2010. I have a blog post about it, that can be accessed here, it includes a lot of information.
When in the last century BCE and the first century CE Nabateans came to settle, the desert was probably a bit less dry and more humid than today, but still waterless, no springs existed there and the only source of water was rain.
But we know that the inhabitants of Shivta grew a diversity of vegetables and fruit trees in the surrounding valleys, pomegranates, plums, apricots, figs, carob trees, olive trees.
Even grapes, and there was serious wine making. How was this possible?
They very cleverly engineered a system to channel rainwater over surface to their terraced gardens and fields directly, and collect it in reservoirs to be available when needed.
Archaeologists today consider Shivta to have been a Byzantine city, some Roman ruins have been unearthed there, but almost all of the antic findings date to the Byzantine period. In the 4th to 5th centuries CE, when Christianity came to the area, many Nabateans converted. Shivta began to flourish, and the inhabitants were engulfed in the Byzantine culture. They continued to get their main livelihood from farming. At this time the use of the Incense Road had declined.
Then in the 7th century CE came the Muslim conquest and Shivta's residents gradually deserted their homes, some of them closed the entrances with bricks, maybe in the hope to return one day, but in the 9th century CE, Shivta was completely deserted.
There are three churches at Shivta, a main one, very large and two smaller ones. And there is a mosque built next to a church, seemingly operating at the same time. It may teach us, that the Muslim conquest was maybe not so harsh and destructive, and that maybe the Christian inhabitants continued for a while to live somehow peacefully with their new neighbors. But maybe not.
At a large mansion near the town's water reservoir the archaeologist Dr. Yotan Tepper noticed in 2015 a threshold stone, on which one has to step to enter the house. A rosette and two crosses were discovered on it, and a Greek inscription that read: "the atrium of the holy church". No Christian would ever step on such a "holy" stone.
It was probably taken from one of the churches and disdained to nothingness, either by a new Muslim owner of the house, or by the original dweller that had converted to Islam.
Anyhow, there was no real destruction of the Negev cities by the Islamic conquest, and Shivta continued to exist into the early stages of the Muslim regime. But what let then to the abandonment of the site is not completely clear, maybe earthquakes, droughts, and catastrophes like plagues?
Shivta is in ruins, but was not destroyed, excavations were very successful there and a visit gives a good feeling of how life and culture existed in antiquity.
We and Ella had a wonderful time - if you live here, or if you are on holiday in Israel, drive south through the desert and enter for a day or so a very different world from very long ago.
The view of the landscape around Shivta is truly breathtaking, the hills and dunes of the desert are calming and peaceful.
All photos by my husband Uri Eshkar.