This adventure took place on August 19th. Brace yourselves this is going to be a long post because I have so much to tell you. I was able to get so many good pictures on this trip I can't narrow it down to just a few to show you.
We began the tour on top of a tel. This picture is looking down on the Valley of Elah which is where David fought Goliath. The battle was likely about the control of fertile land. There are few places in Israel where you can grow crops. At this point the Philistines were stronger and they controlled the fertile areas. You can see that even today the valley is used for growing crops.
Our guide wanted us to get into the story of David and Goliath. Here he put on a red wig to remind us that the Bible says David had red curly hair. The guide eventually pulled out a slingshot and sent a few river rocks over the edge for dramatic effect. It was hard to take him seriously with that wig on.
This is the tel that I was standing on to take the previous pictures. A tel is a man made hill and the remains of an ancient city. Each time the city was destroyed they rebuilt it on top of the ruins of the previous city which builds up the hill. I can't remember the name of this tel unfortunately.
We then got back on the bus and drove to another location. Our group sat under the shade of a nearby tree while the other group went into the caves first. This is a picture of a tomb but I can't remember what time period. While we were sitting under the tree our guide was encouraging us to drink water. He told us a story about training in the IDF. The army wants you to drink water during training for obvious reasons. So they play a game called Mickey Mouse. Every one in your unit takes a deep breath and says Mickey as many times as possible on one breath. When you run out of air you say mouse. This continues until there is only one person left saying Mickey. Then the winner takes another deep breath and continues saying Mickey. Everyone else in the group has to keep drinking water until he says Mouse. I thought that was an interesting way to keep hydrated.
Now the fun part visiting the Bar Kokhba caves. The name of these caves has a variety of spellings in English because of the Hebrew letters used. These caves were used by the Bar Kokhba rebels. They were led by Simon Bar Kokhba who was declared to be the Messiah. They were rebelling against the Romans who ruled the land at that time. You can read more about Simon Bar Kokhba here. These caves were used by the rebels to hide weapons and the rebels themselves. The rebels would attack and then flee to the caves and the Roman soldiers did not want to follow them into the caves. This is a picture near the entrance of the caves. These caves were carved out by hand in the soft limestone. There is both soft limestone and hard limestone in this area. The caves are incredibly narrow so we had to leave our backpacks outside. This tour is not recommended for people with claustrophobia. However I was determined to have this adventure. I did not take my camera inside because it isn't likely the pictures would have turned out. At some points I would have had to carry it in my teeth and that just wouldn't be very lady like now would it?
So I am going to have to rely on my powers of description to tell you what these caves were like. You start off at a very narrow looking opening that the guide says you will fit through. Flashlight in one hand I entered into the small space on my hands and knees with someone in front of me and someone directly behind me. My back was scraping the ceiling of this narrow space and I was concentrating on breathing and trying not to think about what would happen if someone in front of me got stuck. I was also thinking about how I am taller than the average man was back then. This thought did nothing to calm my nerves. I emerged into a cavern that was high enough for me to sit up but the ceiling was only a few inches above my head. In this cavern the guide had us turn off our flashlights. He lit two candles so we could see the cavern the way the rebels would have seen it. I couldn't see much other than the shadows of my fellow students around me. I then thought about sitting in this cave lit by two candles as a rebel, and wondering if the Roman soldiers would follow. I must admit I don't think I would have made a good addition to their force I would have panicked. The guide told us that at the start of the rebellion there was only one Roman legion in the land and they never followed the rebels into the caves. Two more Roman legions were brought in to help put down the rebellion. Eventually the Roman soldiers surrounded the caves and set fire to some bushes and put them in the entrance to the caves. The rebels had the choice of dying or coming out to surrender. Then the guide cheerfully said "Let's continue."
We entered another narrow tunnel. Towards the end of this tunnel there was a little problem. In the middle of the soft limestone there was a section of hard limestone that the rebels couldn't remove. This made the tunnel even narrower. To get through I had to lay down and slither through like a snake. I was rewarded for making it through by entering a larger cavern that I could actually stand up in. This cavern had several small tunnels than branched off of it in different directions. Today there are arrows directing you to the correct tunnel. Without those arrows I think it would be easy to become lost. On one wall of this room there were lots of niches carved into the wall. The guide said archaeologists think it was a dovecote. I'm skeptical of this because I don't think pigeons would fly through several narrow dark tunnels to get to this place but I'm no expert.
The next tunnel we entered was even more exciting. A one point there was a break in the tunnel and the tunnel continued a couple of feet above you. Minor rock climbing was involved. At this point I was glad I was wearing my hiking shoes to give me a little extra grip on the rocks. A little further down there was another break in the tunnel but this time it continued a couple feet below. This is where I was very scared that I was going to get stuck. I had to turn myself around from going head first to going feet first. This was a tricky maneuver that had my heart pounding loudly in my ears. Once I completed the turn I then had to maneuver to go head first again. Thankfully the exit was only a few more feet ahead. I lived to tell the tale! No one asked me if I was okay or noticed my distress in the caves. Either that means I was good at concealing it or they couldn't see my big saucer eyes in the darkness.
I was very glad I had decided to wear jeans that morning despite the heat. The rock tunnels are rather unforgiving on your knees and legs because they have not been smoothed out for tourists. My jeans were covered in rock dust from the knees down. When I got home I discovered I had some very colorful bruises on my legs and my arms. The bruises are gone now but my knees are still sore. One poor guy on this tour was 6 feet 3inches tall and he almost got stuck multiple times. I think you might be pushing your luck if you're near 6 feet tall. I thought I was going to get stuck and I'm 5 feet 7 and a half inches tall. I think this tour might be fun for small kids if they are not afraid of the dark. Just be aware that children can crawl through these tunnels faster than you. I think we were only in these caves for 30 minutes but I can tell you it was a very terrifying 30 minutes. So I might not be remembering all the facts of these caves correctly. This would be a good point to mention that if these caves were in the States it isn't likely that tourists would be allowed inside them. The tunnels are so narrow that if say someone had a heart attack down there, there is no way emergency personnel could get to them quickly or get the person out.
We got back on the bus and drove about 20 minutes to another location. Our next stop was Tel Maresha an old city from the first temple period. I think it was one of those cities that was destroyed and rebuilt multiple times. What is left on the surface isn't much to look at. Here we have the remains of a house.
What was impressive are the basements underneath. This basement does not go with the house pictured above. This picture is a dovecote. All those niches at the top of the picture are for pigeons. So I guess you could say this is an ancient post office. The pigeons would take messages back and forth from the different cities. Pigeons were the cheapest animal that could be sacrificed at the Temple. The leavings of the pigeons could be used as fertilizer. This picture doesn't really show the actual size of this place. There are several more hallways branching off horizontally from this one.
Here is another large "basement" this is actually looking down into a large cistern. We had just climbed up from the bottom when I took this picture.
This area is known for its olive tree groves. Olive oil was a very important commodity in the ancient world. Here we have an olive press. The little girl in the background belongs to a family that happened to be touring at the same time. They spoke English and stayed to listen to our guide's explanation.
This mechanism has something to do with the olive press but I don't know what.
We got back on the bus and drove to another part of this ancient city. A place where the young men of this city would have worked. This area is known as the Bell Caves. These caves are man made. Archaeologists think they were mining lime. They have letters between this city and another one where they complain of the lack of young men. Lime is known to be a toxic substance. We don't know what they were using the lime for. They dug from the top down the bell shaped structure was used to help the caves stay standing. This didn't always work though there were some collapsed caves in the area.
Here is a perspective picture to give you an idea of how big these caves really are.
Abstract picture of the openings at the top.
Another large cavern. These caves have great acoustics. We sang a song in Hebrew and danced around in a circle. Our security guard filmed us on her phone and played it back for us. We actually sounded decent.
Another picture to give you and idea of the scale of this place.
The word Allah meaning God in Arabic script.
A cross possibly evidence of the Crusaders presence.
I solved a mystery on this tour as well. Remember this picture from one of my May flowers posts? It's a carob tree. You wait until those green seed pods ripen. In my opinion you wait until they are black and look rotten. Then you can eat them. They are very sweet tasting. Our guide said they were food for poor people in ancient times. The seeds are unique in that they always weigh exactly the same amount. So they could be used to weigh precious items like gold, or gem stones. Which is where we get the term carat today.
Thanks for reading this far. I hope you enjoyed my cave day adventure.