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Dig Israel Day 1 – Jaffa and Caesarea

Dig Israel Day 1 – Jaffa and Caesarea

Back in September, I went on a trip to Israel, hosted by a team of students from Bar Ilan University in Israel, under their Dig Israel project.

More about the Dig Israel project via their official website:

Since time immemorial, the land of Israel has been a center for diverse cultures and historical events that have affected all of mankind. A place where all three monotheistic faiths hold sacred; where nations have risen and fallen; where past and present merge into a fascinating existence.

Thanks to its breathtaking landscape and multicultural scenes, Israel offers an unforgettable, unique archaeological experience, offering the opportunity to visit world known sites and newly discovered excavations.

Israel, a land of rich and mystifying history, and a beacon of fascinating Archaeology stretching it full span. A wide lensed spectrum of relics are being discovered and uncovered constantly telling so many tales of mankind and it’s journey in the middle-east.

Our vision is to have some of the exclusive and unique historical findings introduced and shared with the world as a public treasure for all to appreciate.

DigIsrael offers a unique five day tour of some of Israel’s most fascinating, prominent and exclusive antiquities. This tour is a “journey through time” in the Land of Israel, a crossroad of civilizations throughout history for the aforementioned audience of influential writers.

In addition, participants will meet with researchers in the field, partaking in local cultural activities and ongoing excavations. This tour will have a focus on revealing the rich history of the land.

Archaeology depicts a story – a narrative – that enhances our understanding of the past. DigIsrael will share these stories.

Pretty cool isn’t it?

I had always wanted to visit Israel after hearing so many positive stories from fellow travel blogger, Eunice. When I was contacted by Matan from the Dig Israel team on the possibility of joining them for this trip, I immediately agreed.

Visiting a country rich in heritage and history while learning and experiencing archaeology at the same time – count me in! I was honoured to be the only blogger from Asia in the team, with the rest of the bloggers coming from America and Europe.

Throughout the 5D4N Israel archaeological trip, friendship was forged with both the students and the bloggers. I also get a glimpse of the real Israel, beyond the usual media stereotypes.

A lot of Singaporeans have the perception that Israel is a dangerous country and that you will be barred from entering Muslim countries after visiting.  These are misconceptions and you can find out more on how you can prepare yourself for a trip to Israel via my previous blog post whereby I shared some travel tips.

I missed the welcome dinner on the first day as I flew in from Hong Kong to Israel on a noon flight and only reached Tel Aviv past midnight. I was on a family vacation in Hong Kong Disneyland with my family before that and I really appreciate the Dig Israelteam, especially Matan, for helping to make flight and transport arrangement to fit my schedule.

Ben Gurion Airport

Ben Gurion Airport

When I arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport, a friendly young man from the Dig Israel team, Ohad, was holding a sign with my name on it, just outside custom. Ohad works as an engineer and actually has to report for work early in the morning the next day. Nonetheless, he had volunteered to drive me from the airport to my hotel. Nice guy! We had a good chat during the short half an hour drive.

The team has kindly arranged for us to stay at Herods Hotel for our first night in Tel Aviv – a really nice hotel facing the waterfront.

Once checked in, I took a quick shower and went to bed, looking forward to the start of the Dig Israel travel itinerary the next day.

Corridor of Herods Hotel

Corridor of Herods Hotel

Inside my hotel room

Inside my hotel room

View from my room at night

View from my room at night

View from my room window in the day

View from my room window in the day

In the morning, I was introduced to Israeli food by the sumptuous breakfast spread at the hotel restaurant.

The breakfast buffet spread features many kinds of cheeses, freshly baked breads, yoghurts and fruits. Stuff I like. I can get used to eating these everyday.

Inside the hotel restaurant

Inside the hotel restaurant

Nice sea view from the hotel restaurant window

Nice sea view from the hotel restaurant window

Breakfast with a view

Breakfast with a view

First plate of food for breakfast

First plate of food for breakfast

I could get used to this diet of fruits, cheese and yoghurt for breakfast!

I could get used to this diet of fruits, cheese and yoghurt for breakfast!

During breakfast, I met some of the other bloggers like Rob from Canada and Ilona from Hungary who were the first to come up and greet me. Super friendly folks!

After breakfast, I was introduced to our guide, Michael (who looks a lot like Gerald Butler in Spartan) and met up with the rest of the Dig Israel team.

Our first stop was the ancient city of Jaffa; a southern, oldest part of Tel Aviv – Jaffa municipality (since 1950), an ancient port city (closed as a port in 1965). Jaffa is famous for its association with the biblical story of the prophet Jonah, an important character in biblical text.

Modern Jaffa has a heterogeneous population of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Jaffa currently has 46,000 residents, of whom 16,000 are Arab citizens of Israel and 30,000 are Jews.

From the 1990s onwards, efforts have been made to restore Arab and Islamic landmarks, such as the Mosque of the Sea and Hassan Bek Mosque, and document the history of Jaffa’s Arab population.

Parts of the Old City which we visited have been renovated, turning Jaffa into a tourist attraction featuring old restored buildings, art galleries, theaters, souvenir shops, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and promenades. The municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa is currently working to beautify and modernize the port area.

Heading up Jaffa promenade to get a bird's eye view of the city

Heading up Jaffa promenade to get a bird’s eye view of the city

A small outdoor theatre

A small outdoor theatre

Came across this sculpture in the promenade

Came across this sculpture in the promenade

Glimpse of the sea

Glimpse of the sea

View of the sea and coastline from the promenade

View of the sea and coastline from the promenade

Our first encounter with an excavation site in Israel

Our first encounter with an excavation site in Israel

The Wishing Bridge

The Wishing Bridge

There's horoscope signs on the bridge - a little cheesy

There’s horoscope signs on the bridge – a little cheesy

Spotted my own Zodiac sign

Spotted my own Zodiac sign

St. Peter's Church, a Franciscan Roman-Catholic basilica and hospice built in the 19th century on the remains of a Crusaders fortress; Napoleon is believed to have stayed here.

St. Peter’s Church, a Franciscan Roman-Catholic basilica and hospice built in the 19th century on the remains of a Crusaders fortress; Napoleon is believed to have stayed here.

The area around the church

The area around the church

Our guide, Michael, sharing with us stories of Napoleon's stay in Jaffa

Our guide, Michael, sharing with us stories of Napoleon’s stay in Jaffa

Front view of the church

Front view of the church

Small water fountain

Small water fountain

Visitors' centre where you can catch a video of "Jaffa Tales"

Visitors’ centre where you can catch a video of “Jaffa Tales”

Little Napoleon statues to guide the way

Little Napoleon statues to guide the way

Exploring Jaffa Old City

Exploring Jaffa Old City

Jaffa Old City has been converted into an art enclave with many small galleries and studios like this

Jaffa Old City has been converted into an art enclave with many small galleries and studios like this

Catchy blue door

Catchy blue door

House of Simon, The Tanner

House of Simon, The Tanner

Following biblical text, this is where Peter slept and a dream which resulted in the split between Christianity and Judaism as two separate religions

Following biblical text, this is where Peter slept and had a dream which resulted in the split between Christianity and Judaism as two separate religions

Heading down to the port

Heading down to the port area

Small boats

Small boats

A sea side restaurant

A sea side restaurant

A colourful graffiti piece

A colourful graffiti piece

A graffiti which looks like a work of art

A graffiti which looks like a work of art

Strolling along the coast

Strolling along the coast

Al-Bahr Mosque which overlooks the harbour

Al-Bahr Mosque which overlooks the harbour

Another shot of the coastline

Another shot of the coastline

After our induction to Israeli history, it was time for a little shopping in the Jaffa flea market area:

Public water cooler

Public water cooler

Time for a little shopping

Time for a little shopping

Exploring the Jaffa flea market

Exploring the Jaffa flea market

The neighbourhood

The neighbourhood

Old sofas for sale

Old sofas for sale

Love these animal statues, but they are too large to bring home

Love these animal statues, but they are too large to bring home

Small roadside booths

Small roadside booths

Old lamps, shades and such

Old lamps, shades and such

The hamsa, a palm-shaped amulet popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, said to protect against the "evil eye"

The hamsa, a palm-shaped amulet popular in the Middle East and North Africa, said to protect against the “evil eye”

More hamsa and other trinkets

More hamsa and other trinkets

Levi's jeans

Levi’s jeans

Junks to some, treasures to others

Junks to some, treasures to others

Rugs and carpets

Rugs and carpets

From Jaffa, we took a long bus ride to Caesarea, a town in Israel located mid-way between Tel Aviv and Haifa (45 km), on the Israeli coastal plain near the city of Hadera. The town was built by Herod the Great about 25–13 BC as the port city Caesarea Maritima.

Caesarea Maritima is now a national park and is a popular location for the summer period, having a developed promenade with restaurants and coffee shops.

Archaeological excavations in the 1950s and 1960s uncovered remains from many periods, in particular, a complex of Crusader fortifications and a Roman theatre which we visited.

Excavation works are still ongoing at Caesarea, governed by the Israel Antiquity  Authority.

Via wikipedia – Caesarea has recently become the site of what bills itself as the world’s first underwater museum, where 36 points of interest on four marked underwater trails through the ancient harbor can be explored by divers equipped with waterproof maps. I did not see this during my trip, but it sounds exciting and worth exploring if I visit Israel again.

Entrance to the Caesarea Maritime National Park

Entrance to the Caesarea Maritime National Park

Remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct

Remains of the an ancient Roman Theatre

Full layout of the national park

Full layout of the national park

Remains of some of the Roman statues

Remains of some of the Roman statues

The ancient theatre is still being used a performances and concert venue in modern Israel

The ancient theatre is still being used a performances and concert venue in modern Israel

Entering the theatre

Entering the theatre

Juxtaposition of old and new

Juxtaposition of old and new

This is really cool to be able to perform on a ancient site like this

This is really cool to be able to perform on a ancient site like this

Jane heading down to the backstage area

Jane heading down to the backstage area

Artist's impression of the Roman theatre when it was intact

Artist’s impression of the Roman theatre when it was intact

Back of the stage

Back of the stage

Inside the park

Surrounding area

A decorative column

A decorative column

More rocks and such

More rocks and such

Matan and Ilona engaged in a deep conversation on history

Matan and Ilona engaged in a deep conversation on history

Despite the hot weather, the park was a nice place to stroll

Despite the hot weather, the park was a nice place to stroll

The Roman Theatre from a distance

The Roman Theatre from a distance

View of what's remain of King Herod's promontory palace

View of what’s remain of King Herod’s promontory palace

Greenery

Greenery

Limestone block with a dedicatory inscription -  the only archaeological find with an inscription mentioning the name "Pontius Pilatus"

Limestone block with a dedicatory inscription – the only archaeological find with an inscription mentioning the name “Pontius Pilatus”

The dude is  is best known as the judge at Jesus' trial and the man who authorized the crucifixion of Jesus.

The Roman dude, Pilatusis is best known as the judge at Jesus’ trial and the man who authorized the crucifixion of Jesus.

Sealed up well

Sealed up well

Spotted two anglers

Spotted two anglers

Roman columns

Roman columns

Remains of a decorative pool extending from Herod's palace

Remains of a decorative pool extending from King Herod’s palace

King Herod really knows how to enjoy live. It must be great having a pool like this facing the sea

King Herod really knows how to enjoy live. It must be great having a pool like this facing the sea

Modern industrial buildings can now be seen at a distance

Modern industrial buildings can now be seen at a distance

Israeli domestic tour guide

Israeli domestic tour guide

Scenic sea view

Scenic sea view

Where chariot races are held

Where chariot races are held

Broken sea shells that are washed ashore

Broken sea shells that are washed ashore

Mix of sea shells and small stones

Mix of sea shells and small stones

The entrances for the chariots into the arena

The entrances for the chariots into the arena

Puffy clouds

Puffy clouds

Roman outdoor potties - great for friendship bonding

Roman outdoor potties – great for friendship bonding

Seats for the VIPs so they get the best view of the blood and gore when chariots crash or overturn

Seats for the VIPs so they get the best view of the blood and gore when chariots crash or overturn

Picture a real chariot here during the Roman ages

Picture a real chariot here during the Roman ages

A portion of the Crusader walls and moat still standing today

A portion of the Crusader walls and moat still standing today

Crusader walls are easily recognisable as they are build at an angle for better defense to shoot arrows

Crusader walls are easily recognisable as they are build at an angle for better defense to shoot arrows

Cafe by the sea

Cafe by the sea

Entering to a lush, green area

Entering to a lush, green area

A couple lazing under a tree

A couple lazing under a tree

Some ruins

Some ancient ruins

We sat down on the grass and had a nice picnic lunch

We sat down on the grass and had a nice picnic lunch

We visited an interactive gallery that retells the story of Caeserea

We visited an interactive gallery that retells the story of Caeserea

Another part of the gallery

Another part of the gallery

The head of the Marine Archaeology Unit at the Israel Antiquities Authority met us and shared some insights on ongoing excavations

The head of the Marine Archaeology Unit at the Israel Antiquities Authority met us and shared some insights on ongoing excavations with us

An ongoing marine excavation site

An ongoing marine excavation site

Nice view

Nice view

A fishing boat

A fishing boat

Making our way out

Making our way out

After Caesarea, we moved on to visit Beit She’arim, the archeological site of a Jewish town and a large number of ancient rock-cut Jewish tombs. Stay tuned for my next update. 🙂

For all my posts on Dig Israel, CLICK HERE.

About The Author

alvinology

Alvin is a marketer by day and blogger by night. He is a 100% geek who spends too much time surfing the web.

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