The State of Israel draws tourists and pilgrims from all over the world, largely because of its famed ancient and holy sites. Jerusalem, Masada, Nazareth, Safed andBethlehem are just a few of them. With the influx of tourists in recent years, various sites were developed and made even more attractive, thus, people who visited these sites in the past now have a reason to return as well.
One such attraction is a new museum opened last year at the visitors’ center of Masada. Named after Y. Yadin, the famed Israeli archaeologist who excavated Masadain the 1960’s, the new attraction displays some of the most important and intriguing finds unearthed by his expedition. The showrooms are dark and include silhouettes of figures dressed like people from the Roman period. The archaeological finds are displayed between them, in specially lit zones, which provide a unique experience, like walking back in time. The first part illustrates the royal lifestyle that Herod and his family enjoyed on top of Masada. Imported wine jars and imported TerraSigilata cups attest to the ostentation of the Roman elite, even at the remote fortress of Masada. The next rooms are dedicated to the Jewish rebels who took control of the fortress during the Jewish Rebellion (66-73 CE), in the hope of escaping the known penalty for rebelling against the Roman Empire – death or slavery. These displays exhibit personal belongings of the rebels such as oil lamps, combs, kohl sticks, coins, and organic artifacts like pieces of cloth, sandals, and even fragments of Biblical Scrolls. Yet the most tantalizing finds are eleven ostracae (inscribed pottery shards) discovered in one room near the northern Palace. Each of the ostraca bears a name, or a nickname of a person: “Yoav”; “The one from the valley”; “The hunter”, and “The son of the baker”.
The most intriguing name inscribed is “Ben Yair”. Elazar Ben Yair was the leader of the rebels who took refuge at Masada, and he is the one, according to the historical accounts, who convinced his fellow rebels to “die a noble death” rather then give in to the Romans.
The thought that 2000 years later an archaeologist could find on Masada pottery shard bearing his name is mind boggling.
A second new tourist attraction has recently opened at the ancient site of Beth-Shean, a 400 acre city situated in the Jordan Valley, south of the Sea of Galilee. The site has been extensively excavated over the last 25 years, and its remains are rich and impressive. Now the site also offers a multi-media multi-sensory night tour – “She’anNights”.
Developed at a cost of $3 million in a joint initiative of several governmental departments, this unique project is the first of its type anywhere at an archeological site. “She’an Nights” will operate nine months of the year, and will offer visitors the opportunity to enjoy the site in the cooler night air in a region known for its sweltering summer days. After watching a ten minute presentation that relates the history of the area visitors will set off on a multi-sensory experience as they stroll through the streets of the excavated city with its marble columns, bathhouses, temples and mosaics, while watching audiovisual presentations projected onto dozens of giant screens on the columns, walls and even the tel behind the site. Sound effects that include voices, stories, song and music complete the multi-sensory experience. Visitors may select their own route around the site and linger as long as they like at any one point, “meeting” local characters, “experiencing” the earthquake that destroyed the city in 749 AD, and “watching” a performance in the Roman amphitheater.
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