Tag Archives: history

Best of Israel – Part II, off the beaten path

In “Best of Israel – Part I”, I got as far as Caesarea, having reviewed my favourite spots in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In Part II, I want to take you to the roads less travelled, and into the wild, showcasing parts of Israel that are less frequently exposed.

  1. Mount Carmel
    The Carmel ridge is rising above the coastal plain, starting at Caesaria, and stretching all the way to Haifa, where it dramatically cascades to the sea at the Bahai gardens. It is a green, lush hilly area, carved by deep valleys and full of wildlife. The Carmel is one of the centers of the Druze population in Israel  and a visit to their communities is a culinary delight. An exceptional site is the Mearot stream, a UNESCO-heritage listed property, where prehistoric Homo Sapiens made his first works of art over 250 000 years ago. And maybe ate some Neanderthals, too.
    Panoramic view from the southernmost tip of Carmel ridge
  2. Acco
    A sleepy provincial town, that accidentally is one of the places with the longest running history of human settlement anywhere on Earth. Acco has a small coastal village charm, with its little fishing harbour and seaside restaurants. But beneath (sometimes literally) this humble facade there is a historical record of epic proportions. Acco has Crusader underground tunnels that would impress Indiana Jones, fortifications that defeated Napoleon himself, the residence and burial compound of Bahá’u’lláh, an exiled prophet that founded a whole new religion, a prison where Bahá’u’lláh was held and where both Jewish and Arab rebels against the British rule were executed, a mosque that houses a hair from the Prophet’s beard. Its a wonder Acco doesn’t crumble under the weight of its own heritage.

    Crusader wall remains in the harbour of Acco

    Crusader wall remains in the harbour of Acco

    Acco seaside restaurant

    Acco seaside restaurant

    Acco's harbour

    Acco’s harbour

  3. Nimrod Castle
    All the way up North, sitting on top of a mountain, is Nimrod Castle. It commands the valley below, offering stunning views, and is situated in an area of exceptional beauty. The hiking and other outdoors opportunities here are too many to number. Whatever you choose to do, you can conclude with a meal in one of the many countryside restaurants and overnight in a local B&B.

    Flowers - best part of Nimrod's castle

    Flowers – best part of Nimrod’s castle

    Nimrod's caste massive walls

    Nimrod’s caste massive walls

    Nimrod's caste - with secret passages and all the other castle's must have's

    Nimrod’s caste – with secret passages and all the other castle’s must have’s

  4. The Samarian hills
    Most of the time I spent in Israel I lived in Ariel, in Samaria. I still have many friends living in the area, and I of course visit them when I am in the country. The gentle rolling hills, some covered in olive groves, others barren and rocky, with thorny bushes are genuine, true and pure Biblical landscape. I think it is impossible to get a feel of Israel without a first-hand experience of these hills, where so many stories of the Bible are set.

    Classic Biblical landscapes in Samaria, the heart of Israel

    Classic Biblical landscapes in Samaria, the heart of Israel

  5. Ramon Crater
    I have spent a significant amount of time in the Negev – Israel’s desert. And I’m lovin’ it. For me, the summum of the Negev is the Ramon Crater, a huge hole in the ground which is actually an erosion cirque. Besides the “usual” thousands of years of human history like prehistoric dwellings, ancient water storage systems and Nabatean Incense Route, Ramon Crater is jam-packed with geological sights. Pretty much everything about how the Earth was formed can be seen here, right on the surface. And since its the desert, there are few of those bore-some plants obscuring the view of the beautiful rocks. OK, I’m a geo-nerd, what’d you expect?

    Ammonites are common in Ramon Crater

    Ammonites are common in Ramon Crater

    Ramon Crater is desert in classical Western style - ol' school

    Ramon Crater is desert in classical Western style – ol’ school

  6. Timna valley
    Almost all the way down to Eilat, just 25 kilometres from the Red Sea’s coral reefs, lies a magical, mystical valley. Here at Timna lie the copper mines, where the metal for the copper treasures displayed in the Israel Museum (see Part I) was mined. This valley is as barren as it gets, and it is astonishing. Thousands of years of copper mining left here traces of pretty much all ancient religions. And the wind and water have eroded spectacular structures in the sandstone – King Solomon’s Pillars, The Mushroom, The Arches – if that doesn’t make your blood run faster, I don’t know what else will. Nearby kibbutz Elifaz offers lodging in comfortable air conditioned rooms or on a campsite in huge communal tents or in your own tent.

    The Mushroom rock formation in Timna Park (photo by Tiia Monto)

  7. Masada
    OK, this is not exactly off-the-beaten-path, as it is one of the biggest tourist attractions of Israel. But any “best of” list of Israel has to have Masada on it. Here’s why:A mighty king builds a magnificent palace in the desert, to serve as his refuge, a last resort, his ultimate fortress. After his death, the country rises in rebellion against his masters, the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Rebels take the palace and make it their stronghold. The empire strikes back (they really do), sending its best generals and strongest legions to crush the rebellion. The rebels are defeated, their country is in ruins as they retreat to the desert fortress. The empire’s legions lay siege on the fortress but the rebels hold out. Eventually, the sheer numbers of the empire’s soldiers win and the rebels are facing an imminent defeat. On the night before the final battle, which the rebels know they will lose, they choose to die as free men rather than live as slaves. The empire’s soldiers storm the palace, only to find the dead bodies of the rebels, and just 3 survivors who tell the horrible tale of that last night.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWl1HrmWhV0This is not a Hollywood scenario. This is Masada. And this is Israel – stranger, stronger, more fantastic than any fiction can ever be.

    2000 years old camps of Roman legions around Masada are well preserved in the desert air

    2000 years old camps of Roman legions around Masada are well preserved in the desert air

    Masada's Northern Palace

    Masada’s multistore Northern Palace

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Remembering the Great War in the Netherlands

All over Europe, ceremonies are being held these weeks to commemorate 100 years since the outbreak of World War I. Even Russia, where the war has been largely erased from history, unveiled a monument dedicated to “to the Heroes of WWI”. In a twist of cruel irony, it was no other that President Putin who said at the opening that “the tragedy of WWI reminds us what excessive ambitions, an unwillingness to listen to each other and violations of liberties lead to”. If only he would listen to himself. In an even crueler irony, the web address of the article of Russia Today about the event is http://rt.com/news/177300-putin-world-war-ambitions/!

Nevertheless, WWI was, and still is, a conflict of superlatives – also known as The Great War, and the War to End All Wars. More than any other conflict before or since, World War I reshaped the maps and minds of Europe, unleashing powers no one imagined possible and sending shock waves that ripple through the Old Continent, and the world, ever since.

The impact on Europe of that Great War surpasses the even greater war that followed – World War II.  In fact, WWII can be viewed as a sequel to WWI – the participants and alliances were the same and the war was fought on the same battlefields as in 1914-1918. Arguably, the Balkan wars of the 1990’s were a “frozen conflict” left by WWI, that erupted once the political situation “defrosted” it. In a way, even the current events in Ukraine are a distant echo of the fighting of a century ago. The Russian Empire was simply too big to disintegrate at once, and the chunks and pieces of that colossus still rumble as they fall and settle, even 100 years later.

The legacy of WWI is still felt across the continent. Every village in France, Britain and Germany has a memorial listing the dozens of names of fallen soldiers. Unexploded ordnance still occasionally claims lives in Flanders Fields. Families from as far as Australia come over to re-bury their ancestors as their remains are finally identified. Excursions to the battlefields are rated as “excellent” almost unanimously on TripAdvisor.

In sharp contrast, here in the Netherlands, WWI is not part of the collective memory. The Netherlands managed to maintain neutrality, positioning itself as a “social hub” for spies from all the warring parties during the entire war. The commemoration is largely a foreign affair here. There is even no official memorial service. Personally, I find it weird to say the least. Even being officially neutral, the country was involved in the conflict in countless ways, from accommodating refugees and interning thousands of Allied and German soldiers to losing dozens of ships in the limitless submarine warfare. Besides, nowadays the Netherlands is home to hundreds of thousands people originating from countries that did fight in WWI – the Germans, Belgians, Yugoslavs and British residing here all have relatives who have fought and died in those terrible years.

Military smithy in the Netherlands in 1918 (www.greatwar.nl)

I think the Dutch public could and should learn more about the Great War and its significance and impact. Fortunately, I am not alone in this. The NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies states that in the last months the interest for WWI has been surprisingly high, and has installed a national coordinator for the commemoration of the centennial of WWI. Hopefully, we will all learn something from the commemoration. Or at the very least, remember the Great War of 1914-1918.

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