Mediterranean

Through the wood

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Approaching Sepphoris through the wood.

East-West ridges are dominant trends in Lower Galilee. These ridges are formed of soft chalky rocks, that at one point in time, were swathed in trees and topsoil. Today, much of that topsoil has been relocated in valley floors and apart from reforestation efforts (as shown), the trees are gone.

Environmental scientists tell us that the area of central Lower Galilee (as pictured here in the shaded trail between Nazareth and Sepphoris) is home to maquis forest.* Maquis is a technical term used to describe a distinctly Mediterranean biome where summers a long and dry and winters are short and wet. Indigenous trees include the carob, mastic, and a variety of evergreens, with oaks at elevation.

Photo by Bible Land Explorer Susan Ruth.


*See for example, Zvi Gal’s work on Lower Galilee during the Iron Age (ASOR, 1992).


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You are not going to find many bananas between Sepphoris and Nazareth (gotta go down into the Jordan Valley for that kind of heat), but you might find an occasional Jesus Trail hiker.

For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

What catches your eye?

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Among our troop of Jesus Trail hikers this month we had a professional birder. For real! While some of us were understandably fixated on the magnificent stonework of ancient Caesarea, Susan spotted a Hooded Crow gliding by.

Isn’t it amazing how multiple perspectives enrich our travel?

Observe. Engage. Contemplate.

It’s more than a slogan.


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. In addition to exploring sites along the Trail, we visited Caesarea, Mt Carmel, Megiddo, and Jerusalem.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Taking a pounding

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There was a break in the heavy weather yesterday. The sun broke through to illuminate waves crashing against the breakwater at Caesarea.

It is hard to imagine that the artificial harbor engineered in the time of King Herod went out another quarter of a mile.

Read about Herod’s magnificent Mediterranean harbor in the Jewish War of Josephus. Find a starting point here.


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Consider this your invitation to participate in a trip of adventure and renewal to the Lands of the Bible in 2019. For a complete list of travel opportunities, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details. We make learning fun, eat good food, sleep in some respectable places, and send you home with memories for a lifetime!

Living history

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The painted ceilings in the Jacir Palace, Bethlehem, are splendid. They are relics of a moment in time.

The end of the 19th century was marked by stability in the Levant. The elite of Palestinian society responded in an open-minded way. They continued to build in traditional styles, but incorporated new—and flashy—elements drawn from northern Mediterranean lands. These included ceiling paintings.*

The entry to the palace and its adjoining rooms was adorned with landscapes, abstract designs, and this single portrait. I believe it to be Youssef Jacir, a prominent figure of Bethlehem (died 1888). He was a leader in the local Christian church, the town’s registrar, tax-collector, and historical orator.** He fathered five children; the eldest was responsible for building the Jacir Palace. Not surprisingly, the face of the patriarch was respectfully placed on the ceiling where he remains at watch to this day.

Aren’t the colors magnificent?

A European artist by the name of Marco was commissioned to do the work.


*An excellent source for information about such things is Sharif Sharif-Safadi’s Wall and Ceiling Paintings in Notable Palestinian Mansions in the Late Ottoman Period: 1856-1917. Riwaq, 2008.

**See the history of the Jacir Palace here (accessed 12/20/2018).


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Our next group is gearing up and will be arriving in Israel/Palestine at the start of 2019. We plan to investigate the region Galilee and walk segments of the Jesus Trail. Follow this journey on our website, or better yet, consider joining us on a future trip! A list of planned group excursions may be found here.

Messina memories

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Ah Messina! Awash in the Mediterranean sun. Shaken by volcanic roots.

What stories your waterfront has known!

Greek colonists. Tyrants! Carthaginian galleys. Roman soldiers venture off-peninsula.

Richard the Lionheart passes, grim-faced, on Crusade.

Oh no! Black plague! Jesuits.

Hold your ears! Boom! A German Dunkirk. Patton sneers at Montgomery.

And now? After all this?

Your harbor is cupped against Sicily’s breast.

Boats bob. The current shifts. The moon rises. Quiet.

The seas mix as we wait for swordfish.


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

Double-barreled

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The “High Aqueduct” that carries freshwater to the site of Caesarea Maritima is not a single system but two. The side that faces the parking lot is the older member of the construction; it corresponds to the birth of the city in the time of Herod the Great (late 1st c BC). A single canal carried water along the top of an elevated arcade. It is visible only in the upper right corner of this photograph.

Abutting the first system is a second. This side faces the Mediterranean Sea and is largely visible here. It has been suggested that this addition was built shortly after the first. Soldiers from the Second, Sixth, and Tenth Legions assisted in repairs carried out in AD 130 according to inscriptional evidence.

For more photographs and explanations of the water system at Caesarea Maritima, see the link here.

For our previous post on the “High Aqueduct”, see here.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Melinda Lee.


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

Water near and far

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The salty Mediterranean stretches as far as the eye can see.

The view is framed by an arch of a Roman-era aqueduct. It too is all about water. This high-level conduit delivered freshwater from the shoulder of Mount Carmel to the city of Caesarea Maritima. It is a distance of ten kilometers. Constructed of kurkar (sandstone) during the reign of Herod the Great (40-4 BC), the aqueduct system stands as a legacy of engineering genius.

Later phases would have to be built to account for Caesarea’s growing population.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Melinda Lee.


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

To be moved you must hoist your sails

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We pass a tiny sailboat entering the Strait of Messina. This waterway separates the “toe” of Italy from the island of Sicily. The constriction also marks the meeting place of the Tyrrhenian and the Ionian Seas.

Alternating currents are strong enough to rip seaweed from the seafloor.

Higher up, the horizon appears empty, but the space is rich with memories. Aeneas came this way following the Trojan War. The ramming warships of Carthage and Rome collided in these waters. The Apostle Paul sailed through on the way to confront an empire. Nelson grimly pursued Napoleon. The German army escaped Sicily in their own version of Dunkirk.

Ah, such memories! They howl across dark water. To be moved, however, you must hoist your sails. You must read. You must imagine. You must travel. Without this effort, it is just another windy day at sea.

Years ago I discovered the work of Fernand Braudel. His ten-pound history The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II was inspiring. Now, as we approach this famous strait I find myself whispering his ideas: the Mediterranean is not one, but many seas. Each is uniquely defined by structures, shapes, and exchanges.


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I’ll be meeting a group from Chantilly, Virginia for a tour of Israel-Palestine this week. Temperatures should be on the cool side as we circle the country through Galilee, the Jordan Valley, the Judean Wilderness, and Jerusalem.

Know that you are always invited to participate in one of our adventures in culture and history. See the list of trips scheduled for 2019 here.

il buono, il cattivo, il brutto

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il buono . . .

The encircling walls of Taormina, Sicily, once protected its inhabitants. Today those walls are mostly gone, visible only in a few places. Two exceptions are found at either end of this elongated medieval city. Arched gates are preserved there. Through them runs the major artery of the community, the Corso Umberto. It is named after Umberto il Buono, “the Good,” King of Italy in the late 19th century.

il cattivo . . .

The Corso is crowded on this day. Taormina was once a hangout for European aristocracy, a Italian Monte Carlo. Today it is a popular stop for cruise ship operators. We jostle for position as we window shop. Creamy gelato, cold granita, and sweet cannoli call out my name.

il brutto . . .

Umberto I was loved and loathed. Conservatives loved his expansionist policies. An assassin shot him on July 29, 1900. He was buried in the Pantheon in Rome.


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I’ll be meeting a group from Chantilly, Virginia for a tour of Israel-Palestine this week. Temperatures should be on the cool side as we circle the country through Galilee, the Jordan Valley, the Judean Wilderness, and Jerusalem.

Know that you are always invited to participate in one of our adventures in culture and history. See the list of trips scheduled for 2019 here.


Monty's full view

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The rugged countryside of Sicily impedes travel. Contemplate this corkscrewed road approaching Taormina from Syracuse.

In the Allied invasion of the island in 1943 (which involved more forces than Normandy’s D-Day), the American Seventh Army under Patton pressed Messina from the west. The British Eighth, under Montgomery, pressed to the same goal from the south. Both arms of this liberation effort, dubbed “Operation Husky,” had to contend with terrain like this. And of course, in this “great race” of WW2, the modern network of highways, bridges, and tunnels did not exist. There were just two roads that led all the way to Messina.

As Montgomery put it, “Sicily is very mountainous and [vehicle] movement off the roads and tracks is seldom possible. . . In the beach areas there was a narrow coastal plain, but behind this the mountains rose steeply.” It was evident from the start “that the campaign in Sicily was going to depend largely on the domination of main road and track centres.”*

The terrain you see here was covered by the British Eighth. In fact, the village of Taormina (at the top of this hill) would become Montgomery’s HQ.


*For this quote and more on Operation Husky, see the article here.


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Our boots are about to hit the dirt again. We’re meeting a group from Chantilly, Virginia for a tour of Israel-Palestine this week. Temperatures should be on the cool side as we circle the country through Galilee, the Jordan Valley, the Judean Wilderness, and Jerusalem.

Know that you are always invited to participate in one of our adventures in culture and history. See the list of trips scheduled for 2019 here.

Name-dropping

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Yesterday I posted a view to the Messina Strait from the Roman theater in Taormina (see here). From this vantage point one captures the rugged beauty of Sicily’s northern coast as well as a view to the site of old Naxos (on the distant plain). Today I offer a second view.

The 5th century Athenian historian Thucydides suggests how Sicily got its name and how Naxos became its first Greek settlement.*

As for the island: its original name was Trinakia (Θρινακία) or “three-cornered” (consult a map of the island and you will see why). However, it was subsequently settled and renamed by peoples from Iberia (Spain or southern France). These settlers brought with them the name of their river, Sicanus. Hence, Trinacria became Sicanai or “Sicily.” See all this from Thucydides here.

Note 1: modern scholars are not so sure that Thucydides got it right. Archaeologists suggests that the culture connected with the Sicanai shows strong influence from southern Italy** and Mycenae.***

Note 2: The Apostle Paul sailed by this point on his way to Rome around the year 59. See Acts 28:11-13.

As for Naxos, Thucydides continues: This settlement was made by seafarers from the island of Euboea, just east of the Greek mainland. Their original home was Chalcis or Chalkida. Thucles is named as their founder. See the quote here.


*Thucydides was an historian and military man from Athens, Greece. His History of the Peloponnesian War is considered by many to be the first “modern” or “critical” history to be written. The quotes above are drawn from this famous 5th century BC work.

**The Late Bronze Age Fossa Grave culture. Read about this on pages 646-647 in the Oxford Handbook of the European Bronze Age (Oxford, 2013).

***See page 72 in John Fine’s The Ancient Greeks: A Critical History (Harvard, 1985).


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We are headed back to Tel Aviv in less than a week. I’ll be meeting a group from Chantilly, Virginia to share with them a tour of Israel-Palestine. Temperatures should be on the cool side as we circle the country through Galilee, the Jordan Valley, the Judean Wilderness, and Jerusalem.

Know that you are always invited to participate in one of our Bible Lands adventures. See the list of trips scheduled for 2019 here.

A seat with a view

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The theater at Taormina, Sicily was first constructed in the centuries before Christ (possibly 3rd c BC). It was reworked in the Roman period (2nd c AD) into the form we see today.

The view to the landscape from the top row is spectacular, although it is unlikely that visitors to the site in its prime had the same view. The scaenae frons (back wall of the stage area) would have been as high as the top row of seats. A “lid” of canvas and ropes would have shaded the spectators. Such additions would have blocked a view to the sea but would have helped with acoustics in this pre-microphone era.

In the distance you can see the Strait of Messina, a narrow band of water that separates the island of Sicily from the Italian mainland. Below, in the area of the small peninsula jutting out into the sea is the site of Naxos, the earliest of the Greek colonies on Sicily.

On a clear day you can also see the volcano, Mt Etna, from here. Unfortunately, this day was not so clear.


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We are headed back to Tel Aviv in less than a week. I’ll be meeting a group from Chantilly, Virginia to share with them a tour of Israel-Palestine. Temperatures should be on the cool side as we circle the country through Galilee, the Jordan Valley, the Judean Wilderness, and Jerusalem.

Know that you are always invited to participate in one of our Bible Lands adventures. See the list of trips scheduled for 2019 here.

Pure Mediterranean

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Our coach followed a team of cyclists. They seemed quite indifferent to our mass of steel grumbling behind them. Neither did they flinch at the cliff yawning on their hip, just a stray rock, a nudge, a casual flip over the rail. They pumped their fragile tubular skeletons in unison, almost birdlike, down the narrow road. I marveled at these uniformed men for a time, then returned my gaze to scenery beyond. We were headed south from Naples on the Amalfi coast (Costiera Amalfitana).

A brief straightaway presented itself and driver chose his moment. He gunned it. We passed the team.

It was hardly worth the effort. A few minutes later, he pulled the coach over at a viewpoint so we could get pictures. The team passed us back. They never looked up.

I peeked over the edge of the cliff. It was easily 500 feet to the surf below. Could it be a thousand feet?

To my left were the communities of Meta, Sant’Agnello, and Sorrento. These were splashes of color gripping the rock rising out of the Gulf of Naples.

I understand why UNESCO has awarded the honor of a world heritage site to the Amalfi coast. This is the Mediterranean. This is Italy.

Ciao!


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We have several travel experiences planned for 2019 (see list here). These are organized on behalf of educational institutions or church groups. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique travel opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a group, shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com.

This place has it all

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Between the ancient ruins of sites like Pompeii, the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea, and cliff-hanging towns of the mountains, the Amalfi coast has it all. The blend of natural and cultural charms is deeply satisfying for Bible Land Explorers.

I now know why Caesar Augustus chose this area for his own private summer retreat.

The view offered here was shot from a bluff in Sorrento. The local harbor is just below.

Just around the point to the north is the Gulf of Naples and the legendary Mt Vesuvius.


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We have several travel experiences planned for 2019 (see list here). These are organized on behalf of educational institutions or church groups. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique travel opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a group, shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com.

Ugly Italian beauties

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Italy’s Amalfi coast is famous for lemons. One cannot walk down the street in Sorrento without catching the whiff. Fragrant fruits—the size of softballs—are grown in citrus orchards and sold for juices, jams, liqueurs, soaps, dressings, garnishes, gelatos, or as treats by themselves. You can eat them right out of the skin!

The history of these ugly Italian beauties goes back at least to the Roman period. Lemons and lemon trees are pictured in paintings preserved on the walls of Pompeii. They were likely brought to the region from the Middle East. Some claim the Jews were responsible, as the citron (etrog, in Hebrew) had ceremonial use.*

Pliny the Elder, a local Roman historian who died in the eruption of Vesuvius, hints at one source, calling the lemon “a Median Apple” (Natural History 12.7, see text here.). Media is an area of modern Iran.

The limone femminello is the oldest variety. It has celebrity status on the Amalfi coast.

And you thought the only lemon to come out of Italy was the Fiat.


*"Four species” of plants are mentioned in Leviticus 23:40 and associated with the Feast of Booths (sukkot). Rabbinic Judaism connected one of these species with the etrog or citron.


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We have several travel experiences planned for 2019 (see list here). These are organized on behalf of educational institutions or church groups. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique travel opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a group, shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com.

It's what you can't see

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This is hardly an impressive photograph. I snapped it from an upper deck of the Celebrity Reflection. Rising to meet the eye is the roiling wake of this enormous cruise ship.

But somewhere below the Mediterranean foam is the Hellenic Trench. It represents a lively seam in the earth’s crust. The African Plate is slamming against the Hellenic Plate. The seafloor deforms and hundreds of kilometers of seafloor have already disappeared, slipping under the Greek lip. Earthquakes are common throughout the region.

The deepest part of the Hellenic Trench is the Calypso Deep. At 17,280 feet, it is also the deepest point in the Mediterranean Sea. They say the water is toasty way down there at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Biologists recognize this as the only warm-water abyss on the planet. Looking for a Mediterranean grenadier (Coryphaenoides mediterraneusor) or a deep-diving sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)? This is where you find ‘em gamboling about.

Now look again.


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We have several travel experiences planned for 2019 (see list here). These are organized on behalf of educational institutions or church groups. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique travel opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a group, shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com.

Steady Girl

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Vicki holds the cruise ship Celebrity Reflection against the pier in Rhodes Harbor (Greece) while other passengers board. This and other amazing adventures will be reported here on Bible Land Explorer in the near future.

In the meantime, it’s back to work.

We returned home safely last night.


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We are cooling our heels stateside for just a moment. Next group up is New Life Christian Church from Chantilly, Virginia. We will be traveling with these fine folk over the Thanksgiving break (Nov 19-29). Brett Andrews, Sean Cronin and Pat Furgerson will share teaching responsibilities. For more on this upcoming opportunity, see New Life’s website here.

Poppy pods

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Bob and I came across a large poppy field while hiking through the La Rioja region of Spain. We saw no cameras.

The poppy belongs to the Papaveraceae family, a group of plants known for the production of a milky latex.

Poppies are most often found in dryer corners of Europe and Asia. Australia is a notable exception. Many genera are prized for their flowers.

However, one species, Papaver somniferum, has been engineered specifically for its production of latex. I don't know if the plants we found in this field belong to this species, but I do know that alkaloids obtained from its latex are opiate; they have deep physiological effects on humans and other animals. Seed pods are scratched, the latex drips out and dries. Collected and processed, we call this residue by names like morphine or codeine or heroin.

Use of opiates in the Mediterranean basin goes back a long way. It is well-documented in the Hellenistic period, centuries before the time of Christ (see the interesting article here).

Spain is the second largest producer of opiates in the world. The government keeps a close eye on the fields. See the article here for more on this Spanish industry.

Buen caminó!


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Want to start 2019 in a unique way? Join us for a walk across Galilee! Hike the Jesus Trail and do some additional sightseeing in Israel-Palestine. This trip is facilitated by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and is priced at $2,588 from New York. Dates are Jan 8-16, 2019. For more details click here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

An archaeologist's rig (part 7)

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Found this little beauty in the town square of Carrión de los Condes, Spain. It is a world-famous SINPAR, an abbreviation for the French sans pareil or "without equal." It was in immaculate shape. I was ogling.

The SINPAR is now built by Renault.

This classic 4-wheel drive model is painted in the design of the car used in the 1980 road rally between Paris and Dakar, Senegal. The rally is an off-road endurance event, run through mud, rocks, grass, and sand. Of course, it's not really a suitable vehicle for a respectable archaeologist.

I guess I'm not that respectable.

Buen caminó!


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Join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean experience in October, 2018. We'll be cruising aboard the luxurious Celebrity Reflection. See the link here for details. Onboard lectures will provide focus as we visit the ports of Malta, Rhodes, Santorini, and Athens among others. An optional add-on visit to Rome is possible on either end of the trip.