Dido's city

On a wet winter morning I ascend a hill to view Dido's city. It is Carthage, mighty Carthage.

The name made Rome tremble.

Her ships were the gliders of the Mediterranean. Her merchants, the dealers of enterprise. Her iniquities (whispered by washerwomen along the Tiber), were without peer, feculent.

I pull at my jacket.

From the Byrsa I gaze across the Gulf of Tunis. The grey mounts of Cap Bon cower in the squalls.

A fellow with exceptional taste

My dear friend Tony Kanaza is quick to share a smile, a laugh, a recipe, or a cup of Turkish coffee. You may find him at the El Babour Mill in Old Nazareth. The antique site still houses a 19th century steam mill once described as "babour" or "vapor" powered. If you sit and chat, Tony will tell you happy stories of growing up in this family business. Today, he and his brother Jarjure continue this agricultural focus, growing their own flowers, fruits, spices, and vegetables. For them, life is best spent close the ground, tending traditional technologies, stories, and hospitality.

The El Babour Mill needs to be on the "must visit" list for foodies everywhere or just regular tourists who need a break from the dreariness of life-as-usual.

Nazareth down under

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The Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth's modernist "concrete cathedral," was erected in the decade of 1960s. Prior to its construction, excavations were conducted around its footprint. The director was Bellarmino Bagatti, an Italian priest-archaeologist. His conclusions were published in a two-volume set Excavations in Nazareth: From the Beginning till the XIIth Century (1969) and Excavations in Nazareth: From the 12th century until Today (1969). Some of the results of these excavations are visible beneath the courtyard esplanade shown here. Pits, cisterns, rock cuttings, and other associated artifacts suggest that the Nazareth of Jesus's day was a modest, agricultural, and conservative Jewish village.

Image taken by Bible Land Explorer Jay Hess.

Sunday Dining

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There is not a finer Sunday meal for the shekel than the Broasted Chicken on Salah edh-Din Street in East Jerusalem. Two pieces of white meat, potato wedges, a huge roll and Diet Coke. Ketchup and the mysterious white sauce are optional. Eat it against the wall like a local. Sayyid and the boys do it right!

Another Christmas


The Church of Mar Nicola (St Nicholas) in Beit Jala, Palestine is decorated for the holiday season. Today (January 7) is Christmas Day in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The fasting of our brothers and sisters turns to feasting. Let's eat pastries!

The use of different calendars (Gregorian vs Julian) accounts for the difference in celebration dates between Christian communities.

Traditional Palestinian Pottery 3

Material: fired clay. Lots of inclusions.

Purpose: burner, brazier, portable fireplace. 

These vessels held hot coals for cooking. They control the fire, yet allow it to breathe. They also have fingers (left) or a "horseshoe" rim (right) to support a cookpot. 

Dinner, anyone?

These vessels are part of the collection of traditional pottery (Ottoman period) at the Palestinian Institute of Archaeology, Birzeit University.

Traditional Palestinian Pottery 2


I'll bet you will never guess what these vessels are used for! Why would you put a handle in the middle of a bowl? Maybe because it's not a handle? Maybe because it is pedestal?

Ok. So why would you put a pedestal inside a bowl? Maybe to support something you wanted to wash . . . like a foot!

That's right. This is a traditional Palestinian footbath.

Think about the task of washing feet in an environment where water is precious. You could get a few washes out of a single bowl here, right?

These vessels are a part of the collection of the Palestinian Institute of Archaeology on the campus of Birzeit University.

Traditional Palestinian Pottery 1

These spouted vessels, water jugs, or ebreeks, used to be standard issue for village life. Note the way in which different potters accomplish the same purpose in a variety of fabrics and shapes. All these closed vessels have long necks with small openings, a spout or nozzle for pouring, loop handles for manipulating, and flat bases for storing.

These jugs are a part of the collection of the Palestinian Institute of Archaeology on the campus of Birzeit University.

Did you ever wonder . . .

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 . . . what a fired ebreek (a traditional Arab water jug) looks like when cut in half? Most folks probably don't. For those who do wonder, well, here you are!

Note the concentric lines that result from the wheel-thrown process. Note how the vessel walls of the body are quite thin, whereas the walls of the neck and the lip of the rim are fairly thick. Note how the color shifts from orange to yellow. Note the slight concavity of the ring base.

The more you look, the more you see!

I found this ebreek section at the Palestinian Institute of Archaeology on the campus of BirZiet University many years ago.

Potshop art, the fireman

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A few days ago I shared one corner of a piece of art crafted by one of our college students. You can see it here. It presented an aspect of a traditional potter's workshop: the settlement basins.

In another corner of the same work we find a cutaway of the potter's kiln. It shows the potter loading (or unloading) the oven through the manhole on top. Someone must be inside, stacking or unstacking the vessels.  Note the opening at the bottom of the kiln. This opens into the firebox, a seperate compartment.

This imaginative scene is based on our visits with the potters of Aqabat Jeber, Palestine.

Potshop art, the throwing room


A few days ago I shared one corner of a piece of art crafted by one of our college students. You can see it here. It presented an aspect of a traditional potter's workshop: the settlement basins.

In another corner of the same work we find a cutaway of the potter's shack. Behind the wall stands a potter at a table. What is he doing? Smoothing a rim? Attaching a loop handle? Applying a slip? Maybe he is marking the vessels with his own potmark or seal?

A variety of jars stand on the cement porch outside. When they are bone-dry they will be taken to the kiln and fired.

But don't look too far left. We'll show you the kilns another day!

This imaginative scene is based on our visits with the potters of Aqabat Jeber, Palestine.

Potshop art, settlement basins


Even after three decades of classroom teaching I find myself amazed by the talents and creativity of our college students. One young lady took on the challenge of illustrating aspects of traditional potmaking in Palestine. Using photographs like the ones recently shared here in our POTD, she began to paint. We talked, she imagined, she painted some more. In the end she presented me with a marvelous piece of art that has hung in my office for many years.

Here is one detail of her work showing a potter mixing clay slurry. Three basins in a series are pictured. These basins look like those of Abu Ali and Azmi in Aqabat Jeber (cf. here). To the right of the basins are piles of raw clay dug from the mountainside (cf. here). Towards the left is a hoe for moving and mixing sediment and sand. 

She is a terrific artist, don't you think?

One last ride

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The family loads the finished ceramic vessels for the market. With imagination (and a review of our previous POTDs!), one can visualize the production process. Just behind the truck and to the left are piles of raw clay dug from the mountain. Beyond and to the right of the truck is a settlement basin and the workshop. Just behind the car is a kiln. Apart from the electric motor used to the spin the wheel, the truck used to transport the clay to the production center, and the truck used to transport the finished product to market, every aspect of pottery production is accomplished by human muscle and simple tools. It is a labor intensive enterprise, to say the least.

Envisioning how this process looked in the biblical period is the challenge. Obviously, some things have changed, but many are exactly the same.

This production facility is located just outside al-Khalil (Hebron), Palestine.

Packing for the market

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These fired vessels have been pulled from Abu-Ahmed's kiln. They were sorted by type and are now being packed for their journey to the market. 

Note the beautiful scenery in the heart of Palestine. Not far from here are the ruins of Samaria (Heb. Shomron), a capital of some powerful kings of the Bible known as the Omrides.

Tire soot

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Here is another view to Abu Ali's ceramic kiln in Aqabat Jeber. The firebox is visible enough, the dark hole in the center of the photograph. Soot from tires used as fuel has collected on the stoney face of the kiln. On either side of the opening are the metal bands from the tire remains pulled from the firebox. 

Ceramics are top-loaded through a hole not visible in this shot.

The young man stands on a platform used as a staging area for pots. Compare this view with the image posted here.  The building behind him is the potter's workshop.

Aqabat Jeber is a Palestinian refugee camp located some three kilometers from Jericho. At one time, the population of this camp totaled 30,000 persons. Water shortages, electrical problems, and sewage issues complicate life on this sweltering plain.

Production casualties

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The debris surround a kiln is not limited to ash and firebox residues (as seen here). Even after the hard work of preparing the clay, shaping the forms, drying them, and loading and firing the kiln, thing can go wrong. In the heat of the furnace, vessels can shatter, slump, burn, or warp. Once fired, these "wasters" cannot be reshaped. The potter must wait for the kiln to cool, removed the casualties, and pitch them outside.  It is possible that this debris could be ground up into bits (or "grog") and mixed into a future clay batch. Tiny inclusions of fired pottery can enrich fresh clay and help it expand and contract. They may even prevent some form down the line from suffering the same fate.

Note the deformed ebreek in the center of the shot. It also looks like a plastic successor of this traditional liquid container has found its way into the rubbish pile as well. These too can be recycled in a conscientious world!

This pile of wasters accumulated outside of Abu Ali's kiln in Aqabat Jeber.