A walk through Wadi Arugot

A couple of weeks ago certain eyebrows were raised when I hiked through a trail by the Dead Sea.

This involved a 5am start to get there sufficiently early to avoid the hottest part of the day – as it was the temperature was well over 30 centigrade by the time we finished.

All very esoteric. But the generous invitation to make the walk from a friend we’ve met here offered a chance to see something I’d never otherwise see. The Wadi Arugot is a valley running through the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve on the western side of the Dead Sea: south of Qumran, just north of Masada. (Yes, I’m aware that the Reserve is in the West Bank, and that like everything here there is a political dimension. I will write about those issues in due course.)

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Haifa horizons

Here are some images taken from Mount Carmel overlooking Haifa, taken on a crystal clear day earlier this week.

The photos look north towards the ancient port of Akko, and beyond that, to Lebanon. The landscaped gardens below are the Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb, holy to the Bahá’í faith. They extend a kilometre or so up the Mount, and are clearly maintained with great care. These images don’t do the view justice, but you get the idea…

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Akko Old City

A couple of days ago we spent a few hours in Akko, a historic city a few miles north of Haifa.

Akko’s history is much too complex to hope to summarise in a few paragraphs. Suffice to say it is one of the most ancient cities even in this land, first settled some time around 3000BC. It has changed hands innumerable times: at various times it has been Canaanite, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman. I refer you to the extensive Wikipedia entry for a full introduction. It is most closely associated in my imagination with the history of the first three Crusades, when ‘Acre’ – as it has often been called – was fought over as a crucial strategic port.

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Across the plaza – Fascist Rome

During last week’s Roman excursion I was able to make a brief visit to a part of the city I’ve wanted to see for some time, the EUR district located a few underground stops south of the centre.

EUR – or the Esposizione Universale Roma – was designed in the 1930s and 40s under the supervision of Mussolini for the 1942 World Expo, which the fascist regime wanted to use to showcase the 20th anniversary of its rise to power. EUR indicates how much of urban Italy might have looked had fascism survived: this is a stark space of plazas, ramrod straight avenues and austere buildings that strive for the imagined monumentality of ancient Rome.

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The Romantic poets in Rome

Every so often you visit a place with high expectations, and those expectations are exceeded. So it was for me when I visited the Protestant Cemetery in Rome a couple of days ago.

The cemetery is a relatively small plot adjacent to the ancient Pyramid of Cestius, an Egyptian-style tomb built in 30BC that is now incorporated into a corner of the Aurelian Walls that border the site. It is best known perhaps as the location of the graves of the English poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, though many other artists and writers are buried there, including the political theorist Antonio Gramsci, the Russian painter Alexander Ivanov, Goethe’s son, and several friends of the novelist Henry James.

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