Sunday, 1 March 2015

Hirbet Midras

Adulam Park is a nature reserve in central Israel which spreads over 6,500 dunams and features rolling green hills, rich natural foliage and stunning views. It was here that Judah, the son of Jacob, met his first wife, and it is the place where King David sought refuge after being expelled from the city of Gath. Remnants of ancient settlements have been found on almost every hill in Adulam, and special sites within the park include the Midras Ruins, Atari Ruins and Burgin Ruins. We recently visited the Midras Ruins, after stopping by Kakadu in Moshav Tzafririm, which borders the Adulam Park.
Hirbet Midras (the Midras Ruins), are the remains of an agricultural village which dates back to the 10th century BCE until approximately the 4th century CE, when the village was deserted. The ruins of houses, a system of burial caves and a burial pyramid, hiding tunnels used during the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132-135 CE, and a columbarium cut in the rock for the housing of pigeons, have all been discovered at the site.
We had visited Hirbet Midras previously in search of Kalaniyot (anemones) and Rakefot (Persian Cyclamen), but this time I was looking for the Pyramid, a large pyramid-shaped monument with several stairs, which was probably used as an impressive tombstone for a burial system located next to the pyramid. 10 metres long at its base, and reaching a height of 3.5 metres (the top layers of the pyramid are missing, and the original height of the pyramid is estimated at 5 metres), it is thought that there is no other monument like this in the whole of Israel. This type of monument is known in Hebrew as a nefesh (soul). In Arabic its name is al-mantar, the scout.
A little down the hill from the pyramid, past a hewn stonewall, probably from an ancient synagogue, a burial cave with a rolling stone to close the entrance to two burial rooms can be found. The inner burial room has decorated arches. Multiple niches for burial can be seen in both rooms. In the time of the Second Temple, burial customs were such that when somebody died their body would be laid out on a shelf in a cave which would be sealed with a heavy stone. A few months later, after the flesh had decayed, the bones would be transferred to a special bone box, whose size was determined by the femur, the longest bone in the human body. The cave once contained small ossuaries for collecting the bones of the decomposed bodies. Pottery found in the burial cave was used from the 1st century BCE until the Bar Kochba revolt in 132-135 CE.
We walked on until we reached the Columbarian Cave. The shape of the many concaved holes carved into the cave walls explains the name: columba in Greek is pigeon, and columbarium is dovecote. Researchers are unsure about the genuine use of the holes but it seems that one of the uses was for collecting dove-dung for organic fertiliser. The pigeons were kept as a source of food, were used for sacrifices, and also to deliver messages.
Hirbet Midras has an ancient tunnel system, said to have been dug by the Bar Kokhba Jewish rebels fighting against the Roman Empire. It is likely that those who dug the hidden tunnels took advantage of more ancient underground chambers. The system of interconnecting rooms - over fifty underground caves and cisterns - were used as shelter for the fighters, as well as for storage of food, oil and water. Most of the chambers allow for standing but in the connecting tunnels one must crawl on all fours. The Romans eventually defeated the Jewish rebels, and the agricultural village was destroyed after the revolt, but was rebuilt and used a few hundred years later by Christians during the Byzantine Period.
The tunnel system can be entered and navigated by crawling; arrows mark the direction to be followed. The trail between the tunnels and the caves is fascinating, and was especially loved by my youngest son who found them a great thrill to crawl through. There is a lot of turning and crawling, so you need a torch, a tight waistline and no fear of the dark in order to enjoy the experience! (Okay, I admit at his point that neither Mister Handmade in Israel nor I had the slightest inclination to crawl through the tunnels ourselves.) Your torch will illuminate niches where oil lamps once lay and other carvings in the rock.
The Pyramid, the burial rooms and the beautiful seasonal wild flowers spotted during our visit to Adulam Park were interesting enough, but it was the "Crawling Cave" which proved to be the most fun for my son. He tried the tunnels out when we first arrived at the park, and we finished off our tour with yet another visit.


TexWisGirl said...

i wouldn't be squeezing into those tunnels, either, but it is neat that they allow you to do so! love that you are able to see such amazing and ancient ruins steeped in history! the dovecote was really cool!

Miss Val's Creations said...

Amazing history. It is quite creepy about the cave where the bodies would decay. That job of moving the bones later must not have been a fun one! I would have avoided the tunnels too! Scary!

Algodão Tão Doce said...

Que Deus te dê um esplendoroso dia, com raios luminosos que te possam clarear os olhos para ver o quanto és importante. Deus Pai te fez assim: mulher importante e figura do próprio amor. Ele te moldou como uma rosa: forte e justa como os espinhos, linda e suave como as pétalas. (fonte:aqui)

Um doce abraço, Marie.

Linda said...

Fascinating post. As well as all the history I loved seeing wild cyclamen. I have some just surviving the Scottish winter in a pot at my front door.
And the dove house is an amazing structure. I must post a photo of a Scottish equivalent one day to show you.