Traveling In Israel — Part Two

Traveling Israel in summer 2018, visiting and studying historic sites. Second part of two posts.

Israel takes time to get adjusted into. Grasping the historic, cultural, religious breadth and depth takes a while. Jerusalem is the holy city for three major religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims, no other place on earth has such significance.

Pro tip: when visiting Jerusalem, the old town in particular. Download Jerusalem Audio Waking Tour app from your app store. It has several interesting tours you can follow your own pace, and focusing things that interest you. Besides, it’s free.

Jewish Temples. Over the course of long history, Jews had two significant temples that are long since been destroyed, but hold a special place in hearts and minds of the Israelites. First temple was built during reign of King Solomon (reigned BC970–931), the most famous king of ancient Israel. Solomon’s predecessor King David had brought the Ark of Covenant into his new capital of Jerusalem. But it was Solomon that built the permanent temple for keeping the ark secure in a chamber called holy of holies. Solomons temple was destroyed by Babylonians (BC587) and Jews were sent into exile in Babylonia. Similar incidents occur throughout the Jewish history, Palestine being in a cross roads of three directions where major powers grew: Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greco-Roman world.


Large model in The Israel Museum, of Herod’s Jerusalem, circa AD70. Jewish Second Temple is domineering structure above rest of the city. Museum houses also famous Dead Sea Scrolls. Definitely worth a visit, but reserve enough time, 5hrs at least!


At Western Wall. Current 500meter wall was once a section of Herod’s Second temple.

Centuries after returning from Babylonia, a Second Temple built at the site of previous one. This was then largely improved and re-engineered during reign of Herod (reigned BC37–4). Herod wasn’t independent king like Solomon had been, but a Roman client king of Judea, and thus not as popular ruler. Although he did grand building projects, those were to be short lived. Judea would erupt into open revolt against Romans, and Herod’s temple would be destroyed as a retribution once rebel had been quelled. Other outcome of the civil war was Jewish dislocation into other countries, that would last almost 2000 years, until foundation of modern Israel in 1948. Herods Second Temple is still a source of pride and identity for Jews, especially after archeology has revealed how majestic it actually had been. Western Wall, known also as Wailing wall, is the only surviving part of the temple. Wall was the destination of Jewish pilgrims during all the centuries of diaspora. These trips were often dangerous and expensive, sometimes completely denied, when region was controlled either by Christian or Muslim rulers. After 1963 Six Day War, old city of Jerusalem and Western Wall returned to control of Israel.


Hurva Synagogue.

New-old synagogue of Hurva has been built many times over the centuries. Even it’s name means ruin, as most of the time it’s place has been vacated by rubbles. 19th century Hurva was neo-Byzantine style, construction was supervised by Assad Effendi, the sultan’s official architect. It was destroyed by Arab-legion in aftermath of Israeli independence war in 1948. Current synagogue is reconstruction of it and was completed in 2010. To my eye current building resembles also grand mosques of Istanbul.


Immovable ladder.

Christian holy sites. Once Christianity had became state religion in Roman Empire (AD324), and especially later in East Rome, state became active patron and guardian of the holy sites of Palestine. Members of Byzantine royal house and other notables helped to organize and fund improvements of churches, monasteries or facilities such as guesthouses that growing number of pilgrims needed. Emperor Justinian (reigned AD527–565) was famous for his grand building projects. For example the impressive Hagia Sophia of Constantinople was built during his reign. In Jerusalem magnificent Nea church (New Church of the Theotokos) was described as jewel of Byzantine Jerusalem. Nea church as long since disappeared to history, but its foundations are still visible today.


Via Dolorosa is famous route that Jesus supposedly walked into his crucification. Christian pilgrims have followed this route for centuries, from Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives, through Jaffa Gate into old town, and then to Golgatha, place of Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Exterior of Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Interior of Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


The Aedicule, which contains the Holy Sepulchre. The Aedicule has two rooms, the first holding the Angel’s Stone, the second is the tomb of Jesus itself.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre (consecrated 335AD) is perhaps the most important church of whole Christianity, and very impressive sight to this day. It’s built on a site where Jesus is said to have been crucified and buried. Golgotha, from pages of Bible, is actually inside the church, likewise is his grave and several other stages of the biblical legend. Because such an importance, six Christian religious orders claim rights over the use of the church. For centuries this caused friction of church affairs, until Ottoman sultan in 1852, tired of governing the various squabbling ordered the status quo: nothing in church to be changed or moved. Immovable ladder above the main entrance is seen as a symbol of this state of affairs. Christians also do not have control to the keys of the church. For centuries, it has been trusted for safe keeping by a local Muslim family.


Stone of Anointing, where Jesus’ body is said to have been anointed before burial.


Nazareth. Modern basilica is built above the sunken grotto which according to faith was the home of the Virgin Mary, and the place where she received the announcement of the imminent birth of Jesus.


Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. It is one of the oldest churches in the world, original was completed sometime between AD333-339 (Armenian Etchmiadzin Cathedral is even older, being first built in AD301. See more here). Citadel-like structure of Church of the Nativity is built on top of the cave where Jesus was born to Mary. To reach Bethlehem, one has to cross the border to Palestinian side.

In usual Christmas imaginary, place of Jesus birth is often depicted as stable or barn. Place in Bethlehem is actually a cave.

What do the maps tell?

1400 year old Mabada Map and current satellite images. North is on the left side of both images.
Cardo maximus was main street in ancient Roman cities. Looking carefully, its outline is still visible in Jerusalem old town today. It is marked as blue in both maps, beginning from Damascus Gate (blue circle) as two parallel streets. It was also main thoroughfare for shops and markets. Mabada maps show location of Church of the Holy Sepulchre and site of New Church of the Theotokos (“N” in lower map) that does not exist anymore.


In red, Via Dolorosa, Christian pilgrim route to Golgatha (Church of the Holy Sepulchre) where Jesus was crucified. Green circle is Dome of the Rock, holiest site in the city for Muslims. Mabada map was made during centuries when Jewish Second Temple had been destroyed, but Muslim shrine hadn’t yet been built. And yellow line, Western Wall where Jews go to pray their God. Western Wall being only surviving section of Second Temple.

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In Holy Land — Part One

Traveling Israel in summer 2018, visiting and studying historic sites. First part of two posts.


Dome of The Rock is third holiest site for Muslims (after Mecca and Medina). Its not a mosque, but a shrine built on an ancient Jewish temple site. Nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque is also from the same period, when Muslims had first conquered the Palestine, late AD600.


Current walls around Jerusalem old town were rebuilt around 1535, when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire. History of east Jerusalem (old city) dates back least 3 millennia.

Zion Gate, scarred by riffle fire from 1948 Israeli Independence War.


Old port of Jaffa as a backdrop for easy going beach life. For centuries Jaffa was gateway to Palestine. Jerusalem is inland, and road from Jaffa gate leads all the way into this port. Nowadays Jaffa is historic neighbourhood and part of city of Tel Aviv.

Traveling in Israel is easy. Everything from transport to finding a way and getting around is convenient. Public transport is efficient, automated, and runs often (excluding during the Sabbath). Also because the area of Israel is so small, it doesn’t take long to travel across the country. Israelis embrace the digital to the fullest. Once I couldn’t even walk into a pizzeria and place my order, without needing get mobile app to my phone for it. People are skilled in languages. Besides domestic Hebrew and obvious English, they often master third or more languages.


Beersheba downtown. City is modern, although it has few historic sights to see.

Beersheba. Arrived to town in Negev desert after an hour bus drive from Jerusalem. Beersheba itself, is an hour drive from Dead Sea resorts such as Ein Bolek and Ein Gedi. Temperature there rises to tormenting heights, saw 45 Celcius in mid summer mid day sun. Sea is 350meters bellow the normal sea level. Swimming is interesting experience, water is very warm and because the salienation, human body is actually lighter than the water. It would be impossible to dive under, if someone would be crazy enough to try. Salty water in eyes is painful experience!


Dead Sea seen from Ein Bolek, two hour drive from Beersheba. Opposite coast belongs to Jordania.

Sabbath. Was caught off guard by Israeli weekend. I knew “everything will be closed” but didn’t expect it to be so thoroughly like-Christmas-night closed. Friday is day of rest and prayer for both Jews and Muslims. Everything from small kiosks to shops, restaurants and cafes are closed. Sabbath is family occasion above everything else, and streets are almost void of traffic.


Shrine of Baha faith in city of Haifa.


Old Akko (Acre). Like port of Jaffa, Akko was gateway to Palestine for centuries. It was important port during the time of Crusaders. 1799 Napoleon also tried to muscle his way in, but was stopped by local Ottoman forces helped by British navy. Today old Akko is popular tourist destination, while modern part of city can be seen as part of Haifa metropolitan area.


In West Jerusalem. This part of city started to grow in 19th century, outside the confines of over crowded East Jerusalem.


Jerusalem at dusk.

Israeli Defense Force Soldiers. Having strained relations with its neighbors, Israel is in constant state of military readiness. IDF soldiers can be seen everywhere and most seem around 19 or so. It’s strange to see kind youthful face, almost a child still, lugging an automatic weapon in public places. And, how normal this is considered by everyone. Soldiers usually wear green/brown uniforms and boots, but it’s not rare to see soldier on a holiday, wearing shorts, t-shirt, slippers, and carrying a weapon. Or a young lady, with a chic handbag slung over one shoulder, and assault riffle over another. After 2-3 year long military service, it’s a tradition to take a long vacation abroad. South East Asia, South America… Somewhere away from stressful army life.


West Bank Wall separating the Jewish and Palestinian neighbourhoods.


Graffitis in West Bank wall, tradition that has continued since 2005 by artist Banksy.

Book Review: Psalmist With A Camera

Psalmist With A Camera — Photographs of a Biblical Safari, by Gail Rubin. While on trip to Israel, I studied the history of the country. One curious incident of March 1978 caught my eye. Palestinian terrorists using motorboats had landed to coastal road that goes from Tel Aviv to Haifa. Their first victim was an American photographer, who by accident had been taking photos in that very place where terrorists decided to land. Her name was Gail Rubin and she was 39 years old at the time. She had worked as a photo journalists in her earlier life, but had since been focusing the nature of Israel and photographing it. For some reason, the tragedy of her murder, combined with the fact that she had been there trying to take photos of birds made me stop. It made me try find more about her, and especially what her photos had looked like. There isn’t much to be found online, apart from Wikipedia entry of the incident, and couple news paper articles about her funeral. Besides, there’s another online persona of the same name, and most of the results point to that person. But Gail had produced photography books in her last years, so managed to buy used one from the net. Photos in the book didn’t seen very impressive at first, but I involuntarily view them with the eyes used to different era of media consumption. And as someone used to results of whole different level of technical capabilities. But still, once in right mood to put things into right perspective, the book is enjoyable to view and read. It offers a view what Gail had seen in her last years, while traveling around Israel in 1970’s. Because I couldn’t find any of her work online, heres couple snaps from the book.


One of Gail’s favourite photos. “Family portrait” of group of addax.


Conies.


Sinai agama.


Persian onagers.


Storks.

Sonnar Winter

Snow from winter 17-18 is quickly melting away under April sun. Here are couple photos taken in Helsinki, when spring was still a distant dream. Photos were taken with an old pre-war Sonnar lens, adapted to modern Sony camera. Lens was originally designed for Tenax II film cameras. These cameras were half frame type, so from standard 36 exposure film roll you got about 50 frames with square 24x24mm format. My Sonnar is converted to Leica thread mount, and then adapted to Sony, so its in quite different environment than its designers originally intended it for.


Central railway station.

The 40mm focal length of Sonnar on an APS-C body becomes equivalent of 60mm, about the same as original half frame film. Judging the comments of Sonnar affectionados of www, Sonnar lenses, especially the older ones, had a distinct “Sonnar look” that is something to sought for.


Another angle of three blacksmiths statue (ref. first shot).


Central cathedral. Helsinki was often used as a backdrop in Hollywood spy movies, back when iron curtain curtailed any filming in places such as Moscow and Leningrad.


Sanoma building, my workplace during the winter.


Uncoated lens flares easily e.g. from car head lights.


Hotelli Torni is famous old hotel in Helsinki center.


Sonnar wide open at f2, edge sharpness of this 80+ year old lens is not the best.


Porvoo is idyllic old wooden town, an hour drive to east from Helsinki.


Few shots are from Seinäjoki town in western Finland.


Sonnar 40mm lens optical block. None of the photos here were cropped (couple were straightened). B&W conversion was made with SilverEfex Pro 2 software. Read more about Tenax II cameras, link here and here.

South India: Kerala, Cape Comorin, Madurai

Journal entry of traveling southern India in winter ’11-12 (Reblog with more images).

January — Crossed border of Tamil Nandu state, and arrived to Cape Comorin. Kanyakumari, as locals call the cape, is the most southern tip of Indian subcontinent. There are couple of temples and large statue of Thiruvalluvar, a celebrated Tamil poet, is standing on an island. This is the only place in India to see both sun rise from sea, and landing back there at dusk. Lot of tourists visit it also for this special feat.


Statue of Thiruvalluvar was built 1999.

Kerala was an interesting experience. One of the curiosities that caught my eye was the Communist posters and ads everywhere. Arriving north, I stopped first in Kannur, then Calicut, neither didn’t offer much to see. After arriving Kochi thought its the same story, but it turned out to be best visit in Kerala.


Gone fishing. Chinese fishing nets in background in Kochi.

Kochi is complex of islands, archipelagos and backwaters. Town in continent side is called Ernakulam, that’s also where bus and train stations are. Old Fort Kochi is next to the beach and Chinese fishing nets and provide interesting sights to explore and photograph.


Munnar, a picturesque hill region is famous for tea plantations.


Exploring Kochi backwaters.

Kathakali is dance performance particular to Kerala. It is storytelling by dance and gestures. Actors are men only, and do roles of women as well. They are covered in strong makeup and elaborate costumes, careful preparations before performances is part of show. Stories are ancient Kerala’s and south Indian folklore, mixed with legends from Hinduism. Shows are arranged frequently in Kochi for travellers to see. @ Kanyakumari


Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Trivandrum. Read fascinating history about this place: link.

February — Arrived to Madurai couple days ago to see its famous temples. Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple is in the center of the city. The complex is just as ancient as it is enormous. Spirituality and sounds from rites pulse through the thick stone walls. Temple itself is inside the several high walled perimeters, and there are numerous side shrines for various Hindu deities. Visitor can come across big elephant, or small mouse running at sides of corridor. And anything in between! @ Madurai


Photos from Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.

India in Miniature: Varanasi

Journal entry of visit to Varanasi, spring 2012. (Reblog with more images)

Varanasi is said to be first places on earth where light-bulb of human civilisation lit up. It is contemporary with cities such as Babylon, Niniveh and Thebes. While these civilisations have long since disappeared, Varanasi has been continuously inhabited during all this time, 3-4000 years. Travel guides describe Varanasi as India in miniature. Its good and not so good features, all compressed into one place. Colourful pilgrimages from all around the vast country, worshipping and purifying themselves in the holy river Ganges. But also, herds of tourists, touts, beggars and drug dealers. And not forgetting numerous cows, buffaloes, dogs, monkeys, and other tail-waggers.

March 17 — First day in Varanasi has been incredible, the place overwhelms even after several months in India and its hard to spare superlatives describing it. After dusty sweaty day; dusk surrounds the river, old town, ghats (washing and purification platforms), and all the life that goes on. As orange disk descends behind the buildings, sparrows race lower air, haze blurs the purplish horizon. Another day in the eternal city has come to an end, night ceremonies are awaiting to be started.

My night train from Siliguri (at foothill of Himalayas and Darjeeling) arrived well ahead of schedule. I was lucky to wake up around 1.15am when train motion stopped. Stepped outside my cabin to ask how many stations still to go for Varanasi, and thats actually where my train was standing! A miracle that didn’t forget anything in my cabin, while rushing out of train half asleep and unprepared. Finding accommodation at that time is another story, waiting morning at the station simply wasn’t an option. Local travelers had already camped the floor space, benches and everything. I was also surrounded by hotel touts and tuk-tuk driveres that seem to wait in the station at all hours. Circling around the station for a while, finally gave up to one of drivers who took me to hostel owned by his pal. Anyway, even just one day here, easy to see this is going to be one of highlights of my trip! @ Varanasi


OMG.

March 21 — Varanasi is an ancient maze of buildings, labyrinth of corridors, usually not more than 2-meters wide, full of people, scooters, cows, dogs, chicken, monkeys… After leaving the river front, it can reveal nice surprises like restaurants and shops. Knowing that river is never far away helps with fear of getting lost. Found a nice restaurant that serves personal South Indian favorite, Masala Dosa. Here in North its not so common, been missing it!

Varanasi is for Hindus what Mecca is for Muslims. Legends say it was found by Shiva, supreme God of Hinduism. One should visit least once in a lifetime, and to die here, will release a devout Hindu from the cycle of rebirth. Funerals are taking place in two cremation ghats by the river. Body of deceased and his/her relatives arrive to funeral from all around India. Carrying bodies (wrapped in cloth) to cremation site is yet another surprise unaware traveller can come across here. When cremation fires have burned, ashes are spread to Ganges. Not everyone needs purifying fire in their funeral though. Bodies of children and pregnant women are considered pure and can be buried to river without cremation! Praying and purifying rituals are ongoing by the river throughout the day, but main event is the sunrise around 6-7am.

Ganges water isn’t warm, noticed it last night when washing my feet and sandal after stepping in a darkness to a “mine” dropped by a passing cow. This morning, woke up at early to see sunrise, and while walking to ghats, cheerful young dog joined me. Spotting nice view by the river, left my camera bag on ground and started taking photos. When finished, saw my camera bag was promptly “marked”, and dog disappeared. So another wash at the cool waters was needed. Hindu’s consider every drop of Ganges holy. Pilgrimers fill bottles from the river before starting journey back home. Saw often people washing themselves, including washing their teeth in it. @ Varanasi


Prayer rituals at night time are spectacle of their own.


Ganges makes a long curve, and ghats are situated so that pilgrims face directly towards east where sun is coming at morning. Its easy to see why location was chosen for the prayer site all those millennias ago.

Rajasthan — India’s West

Visiting Golden and Blue City in Thar Desert, spring 2012. (Reblog with more images and information)

April 8 — Rajasthan sun is merciless. Hot dry breath of wind blows over the dunes and through the ancient desert town. Am in India’s western border. Jaisalmer used to be trade post between east and west, until sea trade replaced camel caravans. After independence and partitioning of India, 1947, Indian-Pakistani border closed much of the regional trade as well. Name Golden City comes from yellow sand stone that is building material for majority of buildings.


Jaisalmer Fort.

My guesthouse arrange camel safaris to the desert. Decided to go with a traveling pal I met in the train. Seemed then like a great idea then. Now am wondering how on earth am going to survive, when even the shade of town seems too much. After washing, clothes are dry after two hours of hanging. @ Jaisalmer


Visit to desert.

April 10 — Back from desert! Air is exhausting from 9am to 5pm and temperature hangs over and under 40 Celsius. At evening winds get cooler and night air is almost chilling. I slept outside in open desert. Its exhilarating feeling, lying in bed and gazing up to bottomless silent night sky. Stars shine as bright as they possibly can. All sounds are natures own: camel munching grass, fire rattling in campfire, night bird cocooing somewhere in darkness. At first its hard to catch a sleep, but eventually the inevitable happens… @ Jaisalmer


Mehrangarh fort.

April 14 — Continued my journey to Jodhpur, the Blue City. Weather here has been nice relief after Jaisalmer. It has rained every afternoon. Yesterday night winds were strong and thunderstorms did show of drum and light over the Mehrangarh fort. Fortification stands on a cliff, and city has grown around it. Houses are colorful and have more variety than in Jaisalmer. Areas in old town are painted blue, from which city has gotten its name. Tradition originates from cast divisions that dictated who were living where.


Rich merchants used to show off their wealth, by building their homes extravagantly. They are called Havelis in Jaisalmer.


Zenana Deodi. The inner courtyard of Mehrangarh fort was once guarded by eunuchs. This is where the Maharaja’s wives lived.

Fort is definitely worth visiting. Audio guides were excellent, and place is fascinating adventure to history both in and outside. Marwars of Jodhpur had semi-autonomous status during reign of Mughal centuries (1526–1857). Wild desert region and proud warriors living here proved too much for even mighty Mughals to repress entirely.

Sati and Jauhar Traditions of Rajasthan

While walking by the big entrance gate of Jodhpur castle, I noticed curious hand insignia’s carved by the gate wall. They were painted in red and had decoration of fresh flowers on them. This is a shrine for widows of Maharajahs that had committed a Sati (seti, suttee), a self immolation.

Sati was practiced among aristocrats, and was at the time accepted practice in Hindu religion. Michael Edwards, British India 1772-1947:

… In 1780, the deceased Raja of Marwar was joined in death by sixty-four wives. A Sikh prince of the Punjab took with him ten wives and no less than three hundred concubines

Jauhar had to do with harsh reality of desert life: isolated communities living where marauding armies could (and did) appear out of nowhere and without warning. Jauhar, for men meant fighting and dying a certain death in hands of enemy. These events repeated several times during the history of Rajasthan. British banned immolations in 1829 and later independent India continued the work. Sati Prevention Act from 1987 makes it criminal to aiding, abetting, and even glorifying the act of Sati.

Coincidentally, years later learned another angle about the topic. This time in a museum in Iran:

Paintings … include the scene of a banquet in Persian and Indian style in which the wedding ceremony of Reza Qoli Mirza, son of Nader Shah and an Indian princess is shown. Another part of the picture is “Seti” ritual in which some Indian princesses commit suicide by being burnt with the corpse of their deceased husbands and this is regarded as a sign of their intense love.

Aside the fact that such ritual was also known in Iran, during the rule of Shah Abbas the second an event happened which connected this ritual with Kandahar conquest episode. Probably the significance of the event for the Safavid culture system caused its illustration upon a Chehelsotoon wall.

One of the most important historical events during the reign of Shah Abbas the second was re-conquest of Kandahar by Iranian army from Indian Gurkanis (Mughals) in 1655 AD. As a story goes twenty days after the beginning of Kandahar siege by Iranian troops, one of the high ranked Rajas of Indian Gurkanis by the name of Matrodas … passed away suddenly. His distressed wife decided to observe the Seti ritual according to her ancient religion. Therefore, she adorned herself with various jewellery and got ready to set herself on fire. Afterwards she took her husbands body and went toward the fire accompanied by her relatives. At this time, Dolat Khan, governor of Kandahar tried to change her mind by giving advice but she remained silent and reluctant. When Dolat Khan and his attendants found out that she is very determined in her cause, they allowed her to go on. At this time the woman began taking off her jewellery on her way and throwing them toward the crowd. After reaching the destination she sat down and embraced the head of her husband. By this time, her relatives had brought a pile of firewood and after putting it around the dead man and the bereaved woman, had set it on fire. Rajput Hindus of the time believed that the words of anybody who was committing suicide in this way was trustworthy and would come true doubtlessly. Therefore, Dolat Khan sent a man to ask the dying woman whether the kind of India would dispatch any reinforcements to break Kandahar siege and whether the Qezelbash army would return to Iranian court empty handed?

The woman answered: “No reinforcement is on its way from Indian king, therefore the victorious Iranian army will conquer the castle in forty days. But about India it must be said that after eleven years a great languor will occur all over the land.”

At this point the woman was not able to talk anymore because the flames consumed her entirely. After this event the messenger of Dolat Khan told him what he had heard which made the governor and his attendants quite disappointed. After forty days her forecast came true and the Iranian army entered Kandahar.

Shah Abbas the second became very impressed by this story so he ordered the depication of it on the walls of Chehelsotoon in order to pay his respects to that courageous woman.


Cannon in Mehrangarh fort museum.