We opted to go south of the Sea of Galilee in search of archeological sites that were at the opposite end of the lake from the Christian tourist heartland. And in that regard, we were quite successful, the number of bus tours that we ran into was substantially less. And as an extra bonus it meant we left and returned to town from a different direction that was decidedly less convoluted. And we had hardly left our parking place when we came across a mosque and a scenic view!
An archeological find of a mosaic floor of a synagogue from the late Roman/early Byzantine period.
The museum was delightfully small and had a very well done movie depicting a representation of how this particular floor came about. If you are Jewish, the tongue in cheek representation of the characters and the story of how this mosaic might have come into being was hilarious. For as you will see, this is not exactly the finest example of Roman mosaic artistry. And the town where this was built in ancient times was not a major one. The people who did the film conjectured this was a synagogue that wanted more than it could afford and ended up buying a lesser craftsman and getting what they paid for.
Ah the bliss of NO TOUR BUSES!
The Synagogue would have looked like a typical basilica or meeting building
With its pride and joy
(Such a bargain!)
Let's take a look at the real thing
It's an interesting combination of elements
On bottom is the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Issac, in the center is a zodiac which while not of original Jewish tradition began to be put into synagogue mosaics all over during this time period, and on the top a Torah and Menorahs.
Look at the detail
Can I bluntly say that this is hardly the greatest mosaic work from this time period I've ever seen
In fact it kind of looks child like
Evidently this synagogue had ambitions far beyond its means
To see this is to bring the past right into a context we all can understand.
Best Preserved Roman Ruins in Israel
We found out from the information at the site that almost all Roman towns had the same layout so no matter where in the Empire you were going, you would know how the town was laid out. The other thing to keep in mind is just how economically important this area was. It was on the major trading route running from Egypt to Syria. It was rich agriculturally. So this was just one of a number of prosperous cities along the route. (We will be seeing another when we get to Jordan).
And some historical perspective. Bet She'an started as a classic Roman town in the second century AD. Then as the Western Roman Empire declined and the Eastern morphed into the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire, so did the character of this city change in the 5th century. The city remained vibrant even after Muslim conquest of the 8th century when it was destroyed by an earthquake.
Looking at the town as it goes downhill toward the Jordan River Valley
And looking at it from the opposite direction from on top the 'tel'
The 'tel' is the historical mound of preceding cities dating back thousands of years before this Roman city
As you look at the city try to imagine all these foundations with walls and with ceilings. It would not have been this big open space any more than a modern city is
Some of the prominent buildings
The baths - there were actually two large bath complexes
It's fountains and monumental places
Imagine yourself walking along the main street with its side arcades covered, with mosaic walkways, filled with shops of all kinds
And finally let us contemplate the earthquake and the finiteness of all things human
Our last stop was Belvoir, a Crusader fortress
Compared to our two previous stops, it was disappointing
We've seen our share of Medieval castles and this was fairly bland
But it did have a pretty good view of the Jordan River Valley, the Sea of Galilee and the country of Jordan across the valley
Let us close with a culinary interlude
Using TripAdvisor we identified a place for lunch but upon arriving at its GPS location found it did not exist. Fortunately we then stumbled on to what is evidently an Israeli BBQ place - pretty much selling grilled meats...And a bizillion side dishes.
Look at this!
Hummos, deep fried eggplant, rice, pasta, two cabbages, corn, rice salad, beets, more cabbage, carrots, lentil salad, tomato-onion, eggplant salad, tahini, egg salad and crazy good flat bread.
I chose grilled duck breast
Wife wanted safe and went with schnitzel again
This is the third time she's gotten it and every time the color and texture of the breading has been the same. I'm convince their is some kibbutz somewhere that produces schnitzel for the entire country!