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.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

VISITING NAHAL ME'AROT (CARMEL CAVES) NATURE RESERVE (12th MARCH, 2010).

Brief Itineraray
05.30-Sed Boker-Metropolin 60
07.15-Beer Sheva-Metropolin 370
09.10-Tel Aviv CBS-Egged 921
11.45-Ein Karmel
Walked (2 km) to Nahal Me'arot Nature Reserve

11.45-Nahal Me'arot Nature Reserve-14.25

14.25-Ein Karmel-Egged 921
16.30-Tel Aviv CBS-Metropolin 370
18.30-Beer Sheva-Taxi
19.15-Sede Boker

I am used to traveling many historical, biblical and natural sites in Israel. Here, human history often takes you to a ride that some times can reach up to 10, 000 years. But never have I been to a place where 1 million years of history can be studied from a single spot. Located some 20 km. south of Haifa, Carmel Caves is one such unique venue. Today, the whole region is part of a Nature Reserve in Israel called Nahal Me'arot (Valley of the Caves).

It all began in 1928, when the British were building a port in Haifa and the workers stumbled on prehistoric tools while digging rocks for the breakwater from the Carmel. Experts were called and in 1929, British archeologist Dorothy Garrod arrived at the site. She found the skeleton of a Neanderthal woman from Carmel Caves- the first ever to be discovered outside of Europe. Today, the Mount Carmel region has been excavated with more than 210 prehistoric sites. No wonder, ten years after excavating the Carmel Caves, Garrod became the first female professor at Cambridge. A very rare discovery providing evidence for continuous settlement in a single location for 800,000 years! With layers of civilization from 40,000 to 1,000,000 years Carmel Caves has the longest sequences of human occupation in the Levant.

Cave History
100 million years ago, Carmel mountain range was under sea. As time passed, the waters receded and the ground rose up to form mountains. Sea creatures died and turned into fossils, sinking to the bottom of the ocean; eventually these fossils covered the landscape's natural limestone rock. Little by little water dissolved the hills' soft stone, forming cracks in the rock that slowly widened into large caves. Eventually, the caves came to serve as shelter for early man.

Several pre-historic cultures viz.
Acheulean (500,000 to 1,000,000 years);
Mugharan/Yabrudian (400,000 to 500,000 years);
Mousterian (40,000 to 400,000 years) and
Natufian (10,000 to 12,000 years)
civilizations inhabited the caves.

What to See
Nahal Me’arot offers a series of pre-historic caves; a large fossilized reef & a finger cliff (both 100 million years old); and some naturally beautiful hiking trails. There are four public accessible caves in this site viz.

1) Tanur (Tabun) - cave of the oven; the oldest cave and has one of the longest sequences of human occupation in the Levant; unlike other caves, Tabun is without a roof; also here 120,000 years old skeleton of a Neanderthal female was discovered- one of the most ancient human skeletal remains found in Israel.

2) Gamal (el Jaml) - cave of the camel; the bell shaped cave hosts a gallery of findings of the Mousterian civilization.

3) Nahal (el Wad)- cave of the brook; the largest and the longest cave among the four (70M); outside the cave remains from the Natufians (the last pre-historic culture) were discovered that also included 84 skeletons laid to rest in the fetal position with skull necklaces.
4) Gedi (es Skhul) - cave of the kids; 14 skeletons of an archaic type of Homo sapiens were discovered.

How to reach by public transport
Was not an easy task for us to cover the area from Sede Boker via public transport on a Friday. Located some 230 km from SB, Nahal Me’arot can be accessed from Tel Aviv via Egged 921. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the bus line 921 to Haifa was specially meant for the local commuters. The bus stopped almost every 10 minutes and went through all sorts of narrow inner routes that it took us more than two and a half hours to get down at Ein Karmel branching-from there a 2 km walk takes you to Nahal Me’earot. We were at the Nature Reserve by 12.00 pm and I understood that if it was to see the reserve decently, I am going to miss the last bus from Beer Sheva to SB. I have to admit that it was the only Friday trip in Israel where I had to depend taxi to complete the journey.

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