JERUSALEM-the 50 sites you may overlook

In a historic and religious city like Jerusalem there is so much to see no matter how much you tour. When time is a limiting factor, even the most efficient tour guides have to compromise while deciding what to incorporate in the itinerary. Although it depends on the interest of the individual visitor as well, there is still a huge must-see-list in Jerusalem that cannot be avoided. At every stop so much information is thrown on a visitor that sometimes s/he tends to forget the details after leaving the place.

I remember when I first visited the Church of Holy Sepulcher, it appeared to me more like a small museum than a church. I was virtually clueless inside a dark and dull overcrowded massive complex of more than 25 chapels with several curious artifacts and antiques scattered under some dusky arches and dingy columns. It took me at least three visits with a proper map in hand to understand the Church complex. A normal visitor for instance would be satisfied with Golgotha, the ‘Stone of Unction’ and the ‘Holy Sepulcher’, but the oldest part of the complex, viz. the first century tombs inside the Syrian Orthodox Chapel could be easily missed.

In the upcoming posts I plan to upload 50 such sites from Jerusalem that I believe can be easily overlooked or go unnoticed by an average visitor. I am incorporating the following sites from my previous visits, again with no specific order of importance. I am sure that a serious traveler who loves history, traditions and the Bible has noticed or been to most of them.

Monday, August 31, 2009

THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK, RAMAT RACHEL-JERUSALEM.

The Archaeological Park in Ramat Rachel has visible traces of 2,000 years of habitation. Starting from the Israelite Period (8th Cent BC), the park takes you through Persian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods before culminating in the early Islamic Period (10th Cent AD). For the next 1000 years, the site remained virtually uninhabited until it was resettled by Jewish pioneers in 1926. Ramat Rachel was first excavated in 1930–31 by Benjamin Mazar and Moshe Stekelis of the Israel Exploration Society. Since then at least 4 phases of excavations have been undertaken including the present one conducted by the Tel Aviv University (Israel) and Heidelberg University (Germany)- (2004-2010).

What to See?
The main attractions in the Park include: A Royal Citadel and a Palace of the Last Kings of Judah (8th to 6th Cent BC); Replicas of a Proto-Aeolic capital (original in Israel Museum) and Ashlar stones collected around the site (7th to 6th Cent BC); Ritual baths for religious purposes and a columbarium used for raising pigeons (1st Cent AD); A Roman villa and bathhouse (3rd Cent AD); A large Byzantine era monastery and church complex (5th Cent AD) and Remains from the First Muslim Periods (7th to 10th Cent AD).

The oldest structure excavated in Ramat Rachel is the Royal Citadel from 8th Cent BC, built by one of the kings of Judah (Assumed to be King Hezekiah). Towards the end of 7th Cent BC another Citadel with a palace and a fort was built over the earlier one. Remains of massive 4-5m wide Casemate Walls (a double wall with compartments) surrounding these structures have been unearthed. The Royal Citadel at Ramat Rachel is one of the most impressive examples of Israelite-Phoenician architecture in the biblical period. This citadel is believed to be an administrative center for the Assyrians, followed by the Babylonians and then the Persian Empire.

In addition, approximately 280 YEHUD and 145 LMLK (Hebrew, to the King) stamp impressions and a hoard of several silver coins (1st Cent BC) have been discovered from the site. The other significant findings include the eleven Proto-Aeolic capitals recovered from the ruins of the citadel and a unique seal impression with the inscription to Eliaqim, steward of King Jehoiachin of Judah. The Proto-Aeolic capitals may have decorated the doorposts of the main gate and the entrances to the buildings (see Jeremiah 22:14).

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