Herod the Great, Aqueducts, and Druze Villagers
Trip Start Jul 06, 2010
8Trip End Jul 24, 2010
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After picking up David, our Jewish guide for the next four days, we headed north on the coastal highway to Caesarea. Herod, the Great created a beautiful city here in the 1st century BC, including an impressive set of waterbreaks expanding a harbor used for centuries by Phoenician sailors and traders.
We first drove north of the city to a series of aqueducts constructed over a period of centuries, from the Roman period and the time of Herod, to the Byzantine period just following the Romans when most of the eastern Mediterranean area was subject to Constantinople. One of the greatest of the Roman engineering marvels, these aqueducts were constructed to deliver water, the universal liquid of life, at a .5 to 1% grade from the dammed up Crocodile River to the north, into the city of Caesarea. For our purposes, they provide a dramatic starting point for our walk.
The Israel Trail runs the length of the country, and connected us from where the line of the aqueducts was interrupted by the churning power of the sea to the northern edge of the Crusader City of Caesarea. The city was home to at least 3 civilizations, first Roman under the vassal King Herod the Great, then Byzantine (from Constantine), and then, following a gap of several centuries of Arab domination, European Crusaders renovated the city in the 12th century.
While we mapped our a route that finished in the impressive hippodrome, site of chariot races during the Roman period, Terry scouted out the site where the apostle Paul is believed to have claimed his right as a Roman citizen to have his trial venue moved to Rome under Caesar. Closer to the sea, we watched with envy, under the scorching July midday sun, while locals lounged in the Mediterranean waters that now cover the ruins of Herod's Palace.
Mediggo was our next stop - 25 civilizations piled one atop the other in the quintessential "tell" - a co-mingled mound of ancient cities that attracts swarms of archeologists. We climbed to the "high places", where pagan worship of Caananite gods resulted in multiplied grief for wayward Hebrews. We also saw the remains of Solomon's stables, then hiked down 183 steps into the shaft drilled through the tell under the notorious King Ahab. From the bottom, his engineers drove a tunnel horizontally to their source of water, a spring located inconveniently outside the city walls.
For me, a defining moment came as we stood atop the tell, looking across the Jezreel Valley at Nazareth. I was momentarily stunned at the realization that Jesus, the Messiah, spent the first 30 years of his life in Nazareth in daily view of the plains of Megiddo, the Armageddon of John's Revelation, knowing that this was the apocalyptic site of the ultimate battle between him and his ancient foe, Lucifer.
From Mediggo, we motored up Mount Carmel in search of another larger than life biblical story - Elijah and the duel with the 400 prophets of Baal. The Carmelite order was founded here on Mount Carmel in honor of this epic story, and a monastery is now perched on the site where the story possibly took place.
Our plan was to drink in more great views over the Plains of Jezreel, then walk a trail down the mountainside taking advantage of the panoramas. As often happens, however, the trail turned out to be overchallenging – dropping steeply downhill over rocky ledges requiring the scrambling skills of a mountain climber, if not Spiderman. Plan B was to seek out a country road in this area of Druze habitation. In this, we were successful; we discovered a delightful dirt road starting from a Druze village and continuing through small farms and oak forests to finish at the Mukraka Monastery of Elijah fame.
The icing on the cake was a cultural connection with a Druze family selling family cooking along the mountain road. The Druze are a people with a colorful past. A sect of Islam from the 11th century with a confusing (to the Western mind) set of beliefs, they have a reputation as fierce fighers, mountain dwellers, and closed their faith to new believers almost 1000 years ago. To be a Druze one must be born into the faith – no new adherents are admitted.
Terry, Russ, David, and I enjoyed the hospitality and delicious cooking of the Druze wife as her husband made small talk with David, and evening breezes cooled the forest. Regardless of the their religious exclusivity, plates of olives, stuffed cucumbers cooked to perfection in olive oil, grape leaves stuffed with rice and cooked in a delicious tangy sauce, and special Druze pita bread with warmed Druze cheese made believers out of us!!