NAME THAT COUNTRY

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is located in Muscat, the capital city of our mystery country. The grand dome and main minaret can be seen for miles and the minaret is the tallest structure in the city. A single-piece carpet covering over 45,000 square feet in the prayer hall was hand-woven with 1.7 billion knots and weighs 21 tons. The mosque’s central, Swarovski crystal chandelier is over 45 feet tall.

Can you name that country? 
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Masada

Masada, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, Israel Ministry of Tourism

Masada, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, Israel Ministry of Tourism

The first I ever heard of Masada was from a very effective Israel tourism TV campaign way back in the early 1990s. Before then, I hadn’t thought much about traveling to Israel, if at all. The ad sparked in me an interest in the ancient land of Israel that continues to this day. It may have been the very gleam that became my work at Ya’lla Tours, including this blog.

Now that I have credited an Israel tourism ad with setting me on my life path, I must tell you I don’t remember much about it. There was a boy on top of Masada, wind in his hair, casting a poetic gaze out over the Judean desert. A dramatic voiceover spoke of heritage and heroism. Mostly I remember being stirred right down to my core. That’s good advertising!

Masada, Israel

Masada, Israel

Herod the Great, the Roman-Jewish ruler of Judea 37-4 BCE, was very fearful of assassination, so he built 8 isolated, desert fortresses in which to take refuge if needed. Masada is one. Around 30 BCE, he had a fabulous palace, complete with storage facilities to outlast a long siege, built atop this 1300-foot plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. It’s the perfect defensive spot. You can see for miles in every direction and the walls of the rock are steep. There’s no sneaking up on this place.

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During the last Jewish rebellion against Rome (which ended in 70 CE with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple), a group of Roman-resisters escaped to Masada and held out there for several years. In early 70, the Romans laid siege to Masada. After spending a few months building a massive ramp, they overtook the fortress. According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, they found almost 1,000 inhabitants, men, women and children, dead by their own hands, and buildings ablaze. Excavations have only found the remains of 28 men, so Josephus may have exaggerated for effect. Whether 1,000 or 28, the story and Masada came to symbolize Jewish defiance and resilience in the face of suppression, as well as the loss of the Jewish homeland.

remains of Roman siege camp at the base of Masada and the attack ramp used to take the fortress

remains of Roman siege camp at the base of Masada and the attack ramp used to take the fortress

Masada is an easy drive from Jerusalem, less than an hour. If you’re in good shape, you can climb up in about 45 minutes on the snake path, a good trail with lots of switchbacks, or zip up and down in a cable car. The extensive excavations and restorations include two palaces, a synagogue, a bathhouse, storehouses, and cisterns. From the top, look down on the Roman siege camp, the Dead Sea and out over the beautiful desolation of the Judean Desert.

Click to see tours that include Masada.

NAME THAT COUNTRY

From the late 18th to the late 19th century, the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) was a center of sugar production in our mystery country. At the peak of the industry, over fifty cane sugar mills were in operation, with over 30,000 slaves working in the mills and the sugar cane plantations that surrounded them.

 

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Thousands fed at Tabgha with 5 loaves & 2 Fishes

This mosaic floor from a 3rd-century church at Tabgha was incorporated into the newer Church of the Multiplication, which stands on the site.

This mosaic floor from a 3rd-century church at Tabgha was incorporated into the newer Church of the Multiplication, which stands on the site.

Tabgha is the site on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee traditionally believed to be where Jesus miraculously multiplied two fish and five loaves of bread to feed 5,000 men plus uncounted women and children.

After a long day of walking from village to village and teaching, Jesus and his disciples were tired and hungry. They went to a secluded place to rest, but were met by a huge crowd of people who came from all around to hear from this man, whose reputation as an enlightened teacher preceded him. There beside the sea, with the breeze in the palms and the waves lapping the shore, a multitude of faces looked to Jesus with hushed anticipation.

Jesus knew that many of the people were missing their dinner to be there, so he told the disciples to feed them. “With what?” they asked. “We have exactly 2 fish and five loaves of bread, barely enough to feed ourselves.” He told them not to worry and sent them out to organize the crowd into smaller groups. Then he prayed over the food. When the disciples returned, Jesus began handing them bread and fish to distribute to the people. The food kept coming until everyone was fed. There were even leftovers, enough to fill 12 baskets.

Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha

Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha

Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, the loaves and fishes mosaic is immediately in front of the alter

Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha

Later than night, after the people had all gone home, Jesus went off by himself to pray. Just before dawn, when he saw the disciples out on the lake, struggling to row against the wind, he walked out to them. They thought he was a ghost and were pretty alarmed. Jesus assured them he was not a ghost but Peter wanted proof. Ghost or not, it had to be a shocking thing to see. So, Jesus told Peter to get out of the boat and join him, standing on the water. Peter got out of the boat and took a few steps, no problem, but when he took his eyes of Jesus, he began to sink. Jesus grabbed him and hauled him safely into the boat.

Tabgha is usually included in Christian itineraries of Israel. The city of Tiberias makes a good hub for touring the Galilee region. For itineraries that include visits to Tabgha click here and here.

Read about the “Jesus Boat” discovered in the Sea of Galilee here.

NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 40

 

The world’s steepest ancient theater appears to be sliding right off the acropolis of Pergamum. Don’t worry, it has been there for 2,000 years. Just out of the picture, dazzling marble remains are scattered across the mountain top and the Temple of Dionysus, the foundations of the great Alter of Zeus and the agora are terraced into the slope.

Pergamum was an important Greco-Roman city, home to 200,000 people at its peak. The 3rd largest library of antiquity was here and people from all across the Roman world came for health and wellness treatments at the Sanctuary of Asclepius. One of the Seven Churches of Revelation was in Pergamum and it’s a common stop on Christian pilgrimage tours of our mystery country. 

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