The plan today was to head north to Metula, the settlement closest to the Lebanese border in the region, and to see if we could look back to where we had been two months before in Lebanon.
We drove north through Tiberias, managing, as always to get completely lost. You drive into the centre of the town and all the road signs cease. No numbers, no indication of where to go. We ended up on a housing estate on a hillside above the road we wanted. Nice view though!
Eventually we found the main road 90 again and continued along the lake shore. I needed petrol so we pulled in to a filling station and spotted a sign to Magdala. Again thus was not straight forward and we visited a building site, before eventually finding the archaeological site nearby. It was comparatively cheap – a mere 15 shekels and I got a 5 shekel discount for being an old fart- hurrah!
I have written a monologue spoken by Mary Magdalene in which she repudiates any association with the town. However I may have to change that having visited the place. If clearly was quite a thriving port and centre of the fishing industry. They have uncovered a 1st century synagogue in which it is quite likely Jesus may have preached. It is beautiful in its simplicity with mosaics on the floor and painted plaster walls.
The rest of the discoveries are of shops and some quite sizeable houses along with some purification baths with seven steps leading down into them. Josephus records some 30,000 to 40,000 living there, but he always exaggerated. Archaeologists believe 3,000 to 4,000 is nearer the mark, but that still was a sizeable population in those days. Its core occupation was fishing and the preserving if fish, some of which may have been sent to Rome. It was on one of the great trading routes up the Rift Valley and of course the regional capital, Tiberias was only 6 or so miles away.
We found the place entrancing. A guide had approached us earlier, but we had declined her services, preferring to view the site on our own. However she came up to us later and gave us some more background which was interesting. She was Irish and voluble, her words spilling out of her in a torrent of brogue. The whole dig is privately funded with much of the money coming from wealthy Catholics.
There must be quite a bit if money as they have built a beautiful ‘church’ / religious centre near by. Inside the building there is a beautiful atrium with pillars celebrating Christian women. Four side chapels lead off it, each with an interesting mosaic depicting a scene from the gospels. Glas doors separate it from the main church which us stunning. The altar is a wooden boat set in a green marble floor. Beyond is a window looking over an infinity pool and the Sea of Galilee beyond. If us breath-taking, yet simple.
We met the priest in charge there, a delightful man who wants to see this as an ecumenical centre, not just a Catholic one. He also hoped that it would be a centre where Jews and Christians could meet and exchange ideas. Down in the basement us another chapel, dominated by a wonderful reredos of feet in sandals. It is called ‘The Encounter’ and shows a hand reaching between the feet to touch the hem of Jesus’s robe. I loved it.
From Magdala, we drove north to Metula on the Lebanese border. Once there we got a bit lost again and ended up in a housing estate with stunning views over Lebanon. There , on the horizon was Beaufort, the crusader castle where we had been standing a couple of months ago! Mission accomplished!
On the other side of the valley was the snow capped peak of Mt. Hermon. The views were wonderful and we went up to Dado’s lookout where there was an audio commentary in English, giving the Israeli side if the war with Lebanon.Very interesting!
Then we visited a local National Park with a spectacular waterfall before heading home.
As we drove back down into the Galilee valley the hills to the east were lit up by the setting sun!