Tag Archives: Amphitheatre

Israel- Caesarea, Baha’i Gardens Haifa, Acre, Rosh Hanikra

My last tour in Israel was up to the northernmost part of the country.

First stop was Caesarea – originally built by my old friend Herod the Great. Like many places in Israel it has had lots of layers of ownership – Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Christian. As a result a lot of the old city is under water and I’m told this makes for some great diving experiences. The amphitheatre is in good condition and is still used for live concerts. The Hippodrome was used for early Olympic style Games and subsequently for chariot racing.

Then much later in the early 20th century after the city had fallen into disrepair with limited use, Baron Rothschild came over from the UK and developed the land so that it is now one of the most expensive areas of Israel to live in and is the home of one of the only two golf courses in the country.

Next a quick stop in Haifa to view the majestic Baha’i Gardens. The Baha’i religion started in Iran in the 19th century as a modern offshoot of Islam – they have strong social values eg. Equal rights for all and you can only join as an adult when you are able to make this kind of decision rather than being forced into it as a child. It has its international centre in Israel which dates back to the Ottoman period when the Baha’i leader was arrested in Iran and sent to prison in what is now Acre. He decided to stay and purchased the land for the gardens.

There are about 6 million Baha’i members worldwide and to actually tour the gardens you need to be of their faith or taken around by someone who is but it’s great to see the gardens from the view point. The area with the houses with red roofs is known as the German colony as they built it some years ago.

The gardens have 19 terraces. and when I zoomed in to the right I saw Seabourn Encore in dock. Ahhh.

Acre was next. One of the few places that Napoleon failed to conquer – although he tried hard! It has been used as a port continuously for 4000 years. Most recently it was built up by the Ottomans but recent excavations have uncovered a underground city dating back 900 years when the crusaders were actively present. The Hospitallers were a Christian group (like the Templars) who built hospitals and cared for the sick in this place. You can see the blocked arches which have yet to be excavated – there is a lot more to find and it is already huge. Unfortunately, in my opinion they have kind of Disneyfied the interior with cartoon videos and such like to explain where you are. It kind of detracts from the magnificence of what is there (secret tunnels too) and could have been dealt with a lot better. Oh well.

In Rosh Hanikra we visited the caves formed by the waves and the interior grottos.

This is the northernmost part of Israel and we were on the edge of the border with Lebanon where we could see the Israeli army border control and in the distance the UN peacekeeping force in their blue uniforms.

Italy, Verona 

Verona is another of those small towns that make for a great day trip. I was staying nearby in the Valpolicella wine region at Villa de Cordevigo.Although it was somewhat misty I really enjoyed my day there.

Here is where I stayed – very picturesque and Italian

Verona is famous for a few things. Firstly its old amphitheater- which although it looks in worse condition than the Coliseum is used for concerts during the summer – everyone from Adele to Robbie Williams in May and June and then it is open air opera exclusively in July and August. Would love to do that one time. Also an old Roman theatre which is now a museum that looks over the town. As usual lots of nice piazzas to hang out in and buildings in every hue. And as ever lots of churches – the gruesome figures at the bottom are from St Anastasia.

Secondly, it is of course the place where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was set and indeed there is a balcony that pretends to be “the one” – a bit rich really given it is a made up story. Even  more interesting I thought was the Juliet Club (see below) – I had heard about this place from a documentary years ago. Basically it is staffed by volunteers who respond to hundreds of letters from all over the world written to Juliet asking for guidance on their love lives. (Which seems a bit strange really given she was all of 15 and as I recall it didn’t end well for her or Romeo) – but anyway a sweet notion.

Italy, Sicily, Syracusa – Roman and Greek ruins abound

We ventured out of lovely Taormina to visit Syracusa – a place that was occupied by the Greeks 700 years BC and the Romans 100 BC to 200 AD – stuff lasts a long time over here or maybe they just built things better back then?

The first pictures show the Greek amphitheater which is the oldest and where they were about to put on their annual performance of  Greek  Tragedies and Comedies – hence the stage. It is in pretty good shape and you get a real feel for how it must have been when the place was swarming with people attending the dramas and of course food fests that went on when the plays were performed. There are numerous large cave structures where the acoustics are perfect – although we only heard lots of kids screaming which made it difficult to imagine…..

You can also see the remains of the Roman amphitheatre – which is not in such good condition. It is much bigger as they found the Greek theatre for drama was not well designed for the live animal and gladiator shows they preferred – animals could too easily join the audience and this did not generally end well! Clearly the Greeks loved their drama and the Romans liked their sport!

Then we headed to the actual town of Syracusa on the waterfront – loads of narrow lanes that unexpectedly open out onto the vast central square – very impressive and a good place for coffee and people watching.