Biblical Layers: Tels in Israel

Dutch Goes the Photo has a weekly Tuesday Photo Challenge; the theme this week is Layer.

Israel is full of archaeological layers, called tels. We saw several of these when we toured Israel last month, including Hazor, Meggido and others. These were cities or communities built over time one on top of the other. The original city was generally built on a natural mound or hill of land in a defendable location. The sides of the hill would be reinforced and the city built on top. After a war, the city would be leveled by fire or other destructive force, and a new city built on top of it. This cycle is repeated several times over the course of time. There was an advantage in building on top of a previous city in that the infrastructure (such as water supply) would already be intact and the stones used for the buildings were readily available. Archaeologists can learn much of the history of a place by excavating and studying these tels.

One good example of a tel is at the archaeological site of Hazor. This sign, although hard to read on this photo, shows a timeline on the left side which indicate the periods during which Hazor was occupied, and the written text next to it speaks of two distinct periods.
20190109_101731d.jpgPhotographically, the best example I have of this layered construction is found at an archaeological site in Old Jerusalem. By looking down or up at the site, the layers of occupation are easy to see.


At the very top is the level of the present day city of Jerusalem. The walls on either side are from Biblical times. The bottom layer is the oldest and in this spot is mostly unexcavated rubble.



Flights of stairs lead up to each layer of the site.

Here is a close up of a wall of an ancient temple, with layers of bricks.
Another example of layers can be seen at Masada. Throughout the site, there is a black line which divides the original layer of the structures from the reconstructed layer on top of it.


Below the jagged black line is the original construction as it was found after thousands of years. The buildings were reconstructed with similar materials and technique above this line.

For more information about tels, see The Tel (Mound)
and Biblical Tels: Meggido, Hazor and Beer Sheba.

For more about Hazor, Masada and Jerusalem, stay tuned for future posts on this blog!

CFFC: Texture

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week is all about textures.

As the icicles on my house melt in a freeze-thaw cycle, the dripping water forms little ice bubbles on the snow-ice on the porch steps below.
I took a photo of a wall at the Field Museum in Chicago yesterday, because it LOOKS textured. It’s actually smooth wallpaper!
Wall from Valley Temple of Khafre, Giza, Egypt
20181224_123949 (2)


Sheryl’s Your Daily Word Prompt today is someday.

This poem is written for my son, who turns 34 today. It expresses a mother’s hope for his future.


Today is your birthday…
Someday you will be happy
Someday you will feel confidence
Someday you will love yourself
Someday you will have a steady income
Someday you won’t live alone
Someday you will believe in yourself
Someday you will be in love
Someday someone will be in love with you
Someday you will know how to deal with depression
Someday you will conquer your anxiety
Someday you will meet your soulmate
Someday you will look forward to the future
Someday you will look in the mirror and see
how beautiful you really are.

Even if not today.
Why not today?

Happy birthday, Jayme! I hope 2019 brings you joy!

Jayme & Katharine Villa-Alvarez

c. 1987


At his sister’s wedding, January 2019

Journey to Egypt, Part 6: Coptic Churches & Ben Ezra Synagogue

December 25, 2018

We left the Egyptian Museum ready for lunch. We boarded our bus and headed to Old Cairo, where we would go to a restaurant for lunch and to the Christian Quarter of Old Cairo.

At Felfela Restaurant we were greeted by this hookah-smoking dwarf.
The restaurant had interesting décor.

Our tummies satisfied, we boarded our bus again and headed to the Christian Quarter. Here are some scenes taken from the bus.
Near the Marriott Hotel:

Seen on the street near the restaurant – we would see many more stray cats.
Street scenes:


From our vantage point, we could see the crowded commercial areas.



Mosque minarets



More crowds


St. Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, also known as the Hanging Church, is one of the oldest Christian churches in Egypt; its history dates to the 3rd century CE (AD), when there was first built a church on the site.

The name “Hanging Church” comes from its location above a gatehouse of the Roman fortress, Babylon Fortress – its nave is suspended above a passageway.


Approaching the church – the fortress is behind the wall on the left.

The ruins of Babylon fortress20181225_140308d


The tower of the fortress is now below ground because the builders of the church used palm logs and stones to create the foundation on which it was built.


Entrance gate



This sign is written in Greek and Arabic.

This doorway leads into the courtyard shown in the next picture.



There are 29 steps leading up to the church entrance.

Mosaics on the walls of the courtyard

The church was built in Basilican style (rectangular buildings with a central nave and aisles, and a raised platform for the altar in front)  and is meant to resemble the shape of Noah’s Ark. The church was mostly rebuilt in the 10th century and many restorations have occurred since then, major repairs and restoration most recently made in 2011.
In 1047 Cairo became the official and fixed residence of the Coptic pope at the Hanging Church.


Mohamed points out our approximate location on a map of the Holy Journey in Egypt.

Entering the church proper
Church interior, influenced by Arabic design and patterns
Orthodox churches do not have statues (which they consider to be idolatry), so Christian symbols and pictures are represented by icons. The Hanging Church has 110 icons, most of them dating to the 18th century.

The main altar design is made of ebony with inlaid ivory.
Over the altar is a row of seven icons, with Christ seated on a throne in the center.

Icons above altar

The icons are from Left to Right: St. Peter, Archangel Gabriel, Virgin Mary, Christ on throne, St. John the Baptist, Archangel Michael, St. Paul. This photo was downloaded from Wikipedia article The Hanging Church.



In this photo and the photo above, above the icons on red velvet curtains are representations of several Coptic crosses, made with ebony and ivory.



View from inside one of the side chapels

Chapels: note the designs of Coptic crosses above and along the sides of the central icons.



Priestly relics

View of Babylon Fortress from inside the church


Ceiling design


From the Hanging Church, we went next door to the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus, known as Abu Serga. It is also referred to as the Cavern Church, and is believed to be where the Holy Family rested at the end of their voyage into Egypt.
Sergius and Bacchus were soldier-saints martyred in the 4th century in Syria by the Roman emperor Maximium.
Church altar
This church is where many of the early Patriarchs of the Coptic Church were elected, the first being Patriarch Isaac (681-692).
The church was built in the 4th century and finished in the 5th century. It was burned in the 8th century and restored in the 9th century. It has been continuously restored since that time.

The most interesting part of the church is the crypt in which Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus were to have lived for three months, possibly when Joseph worked at the fortress (he was a carpenter).

This is the room where the Holy family spent three months. It is 10 meters deep and when the Nile River rises, it often floods.
I was very moved by this place, picturing Mary and Joseph with their small child trying to keep warm in this space. Below is the well used by the family.
It is always significant to stand in the place where one’s ancestors or in this case, where Jesus, lived, sharing that space with the spirit of those from long ago.

After that, we visited another place of Biblical significance: Ben Ezra Synagogue.

We were not allowed to take any photographs inside the synagogue, so my photos are only from the outside. It is famous for the fact that it is believed to be the spot where baby Moses was found, and later where Moses prayed.

There are very few Jews left in Egypt; tens of thousands left at the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948. Now there are less than a dozen Jews left, yet a few dedicated individuals preserve this holy place.


Exterior wall of Ben Ezra Synagogue

The synagogue is not used as a place of worship or study today; it is instead primarily a museum.
It is believed the synagogue predates 882 CE, based on documents found in a store room (see below), and probably was built prior to Islamic rule. However, little is known about the original building. In about 1012 Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the destruction of all Jewish and Christian places of worship.
In this synagogue, a store room was found in the 19th century that contained a treasure trove of ancient secular and religious manuscripts written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Arabic.  The collection is known as the Cairo Geniza and is now divided among several academic libraries.

This is the location of a well on the spot where Moses was said to be found floating in a basket on the Nile River.

For more about Egypt’s Jewish community, go to Egypt’s last Jews aim to keep heritage alive in Times of Israel, March 26, 2017.

WPC: Going Up & Looking Up

Sue W. sponsors the WP Weekly Photo Challenge prompt and this week the word is Up.

Up makes me think of stairs or other means of ascending. These are photos from our most recent trip to Egypt and Israel, Dec. 2018-Jan. 2019.


This stairway looks a little scary! At a mall in Tel Aviv, Israel


We went up this narrow street in Jerusalem, but had to move aside while a vehicle came down – on the stairs!


Take your pick: stairs on the left or right, or ramp in the middle (Old Jerusalem)


Stairway at the Church of Virgin Mary (Hanging Church), Cairo, Egypt

One of the women in my Egypt tour group confided to me (partly in jest!) that, “If I’d known there would be so many stairs, I wouldn’t have come!”

Of course, when you are touring a place you’ve never been, especially if you’re a photographer, you also do a lot of looking up.

We looked up at:
Ceilings (Hanging Church, Cairo, Egypt)
Tops of buildings (Cairo)
Tops of columns and ceiling carvings (Temple of Khnum, Esna, Egypt)
Church domes (Church of the Flagellation, Jerusalem, Israel)
Windows (Old Jerusalem)
Murals high on a church wall (Peter of Gallicantu Church, Jerusalem)

Climbing and looking up give you a view of the world that you would otherwise not observe!




FOWC: Variety

Fandango Prompt of the Day: Variety

I live in a suburb northwest of Chicago.  I also have ADHD, which craves variety. My mind constantly looks for new things to distract me from, for example, the tedium of paying bills. Life can get tedious and routine, but there always ways to create variety. Although I dislike the cold and can’t wait for winter to be over, it would be weird to live in a place where the seasons don’t change much.


This is my home town of Des Plaines, IL, a few days after we returned from Israel in January.


In Northeastern Brazil, where I lived for two years in the 1980s, “winter” is the rainy season, so there are two winters per year! Nothing much changes; it just rains more and then the fruit trees produce their delicious fruits for human variety.  I admit I like the changing of the seasons, and I delight in seeing life reborn after a long winter. In this part of the U.S., the change in seasons allows us to experience the entire life cycle of plants and small critters.


snowdrops – the first sign of spring, these are the first flowers that appear in my garden!


Crocuses in a variety of colors are an early spring flower.

Some people like to eat the same things every day. I don’t do this, although I admit that I restrict my choice of breakfast to those foods which one usually associates with breakfast: eggs, oatmeal, pancakes, toast or English muffins with jam or honey. In the winter, I usually have soup for lunch, but that too gets boring. By dinnertime, I’m worn out thinking about what I can eat that is different but healthy, so we often go out!

Even my cat craves variety. We tried buying food in bulk with only a few selections and she soon got bored. So now we pick and choose a variety of flavors in her canned food.


Hazel likes variety in her food as well as her sleeping spots!

Travel is the way I usually get variety in my life. I have my habits and routines at home, which are comforting and comfortable, but there is nothing like traveling to a new place to awaken the excitement in me to experience something new! It’s even better when we travel in the winter, because even if the weather isn’t really pleasant in the places we visit, it is most likely better than being in Chicago!

1-29 enjoying a snack at Rijksmuseum

Enjoying a snack after touring the 2nd floor exhibits at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in January 2018.

Breakfast in Egypt and Israel, for example, includes salads and a variety of breads to choose from. Street vendors provide variety by offering something I have never tasted before. In Israel last month, we came across a vendor selling “Jerusalem bagels” – these are nothing like the bagels we have here! They are elliptical in shape, and easy to share, because they are soft and light so it’s easy to tear off pieces for friends.


The breads piled up in the back on the left are Jerusalem bagels. But there are a variety of different snacks on offer here.

I admit to having fallen in love with Middle Eastern food. When I got home, what did I buy on my next trip to Costco? Things that reminded me of the places I’d just been – mini pitas, hummus, pomegranates – these all went into our shopping cart our second day back!

Eventually, though, I will get bored even of these things. Then it will be time to go somewhere different – France, which is where we are going in June! I have preconceived notions about French food and culture, but I am sure that I will find a variety of things to love and to wish I had when we return home!