One Thursday, about two weeks before Passover, I took myself off by bus to Ramla* with the idea of replenishing my stock of ideas for outings to suggest to anyone who asks my advice on the subject during the holiday season.
Instead, as is often the case when I’m on the lookout for interesting places to visit, I ended up with more interesting stories to tell.
The ruins that meet the eye as one approaches Ramle from Gezer, hint at once glorious buildings, ruins that tell stories of a history filled with lots of action.
This is because Gezer, which stood on a little hill 3 miles East of the present city of Ramla, built by the Moslems in the 8th century, was always in the way, being on the cross roads between Jaffa and Jerusalem, on the one hand and Gaza and Phoenicia (Lebanon) on the other.
If Israel was the bridge between East and West then Gezer was the middle of the bridge. Its location fixed the destiny of its inhabitants. All who lived in this town had to stand and fight the constant parade of armies who sought to conquer it and gain its strategic position of control over the highways.
At times they must have come out of their city to meet the armies with gifts seeking to make peace, declaring loyalty to the new conqueror but mostly they must have stood firm on the battlements, swords drawn, swearing to defend their city to the death.
I can imagine the feelings of excitement, a mixture of fear and bravery, in the hearts of the simple folk as the blaring of trumpets, beating of the drums and clashing of the cymbals announced yet another long line of tramping soldiers lead by a great pharaoh or king, seeking glory and plunder.
Pharaoh Neco conquered it from the Canaanites and gave it as a gift to his daughter on the occasion of her marriage to his ally King Solomon signifying a firm pact between the two leaders.
It was the first city which the Umayyad Moslems conquered in their invasion of Israel in the 8th century. They built their city, known as Ramle, on the plain below Gezer.
They went on to build the beautiful Dome of the Rock, the most famous Moslem building in Israel.
It was the site of the greatest Crusader victory over the Moslems. Their victory here in 1181 kept the Moslems out of Jerusalem. The Crusaders were lead by their king, Baldwin 1V who was only 16 years and was suffering from Leprosy. The Moslems were lead by the Saladin (the so called “great” because he finally defeated the Crusaders in 1187).
I assure you that the Moslems don’t like to recall that defeat which was the result of Saladin’s foolishness in wasting his time and the energy of his horses and army in plundering the villages instead of fighting the Crusader knights. He managed to loose 26000 soldiers, the Crusaders about 1100.
One always hears about Moslem victories, never their defeats. But this battle has been recorded by an 18th century artist Charles Philip Lariviere in a painting, sometimes known as the Battle of Ascalon other times known as the battle of Montgizard*.
You can see this painting and others depicting Crusader glory in the website: http://www.brown.edu/Courses/HI0110/gallery3.htm
In World War I the British, 1st Australian Light Infantry, in the famous battle of Gaza, made its relief base and cemetery at Ramla.
In addition to a small museum, several attractive parks and popular Humus hangouts, the most impressive sites to see here are the ruins of structures remaining from the Umayyad and Crusader periods.
The Umayyad sites are a great underground pool, known as the Arches Pool and the white tower. The Crusader site is the beautiful reconstructed Franciscan church.
The Arches Pool is a fascinating structure (usually one can go boating here but at present it’s being renovated0. It’s called by this name because of great arches supported by pillars which form an underground building, designed to hold immense amounts of water caught from the rain that falls around the area.
The ingenious aspect of this pool is that there used to be several small farms on the roof of the building, where farmers could draw water to irrigate their crops.
The White Tower is all that remains of a mosque of the same period, containing the shrine of Nabi Salih, a saint who hears and speaks from the grave*, mentioned in the Koran.
The church is dedicated to Joseph of Arimithea, the rich man who gave his tomb for the burial of Jesus. This was probably because of the similarity in the names Ramle and Rama where Joseph was born.
Joseph is the subject of many legends. One of them invented by Robert de Boron in a 12th century poem entitled Joseph of Arimathea tells how Joseph traveled to England and brought the Holy Grail with him to Glastonbury, a small village in Somerset, where he established Christianity.
Many people believe this legend and make pilgrimages to places like Glastonbury and Ramla.
From Ramle I made my way to Tel Aviv by train. Exactly 20 min.(plus 20 min waiting). Also only 5 shekels for a senior ticket.
Wishing you a great no news day
* A town in Israel between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, not to be confused with the Arab town of Ramallah, controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
* Montgizard = Tel Gezer
* Koran Sura 7:73 Nabi Salih is the prophet sent to his nation, the Thamoud, considered to be the ancient Nabeteans who were famous caravan drivers of the Middle East, transporting goods from the East to the West via the port of Gaza, to warn them not to kill the she camel, but they didn’t listen to him and they disappeared from the face of history as a nation.