Tel Aviv’s Monstrous Bus Station

The central bus station in Tel Aviv is certainly the ugliest building in Israel, and probably one of the ugliest in the world. Planned in the 1960s by the architect Ram Karni, this horrible building occupies seven floors and almost 5 city blocks in southern Tel Aviv. The cavernous building was built to be the biggest bus station in the world (and is now the second biggest, after New Delhi); however, much of it is empty either by design (the air pollution is so bad that the authorities evacuated the first two floors) or by default (the shop owners went bankrupt because of the lack of traffic.

Karni designed the station as a maze and a city under a roof. He hoped that by getting lost in the maze, people would wander around and buy things. The building was planned for a half-million people a day, but even on the best days, only 70,000 people come to the building, and most of those try to exit as soon as possible because of the sheer monstrosity of the building.

We took a tour on a Saturday afternoon, when the building was almost empty. Surreal.

The top floor is very interesting, a long line of exciting and innovative graffitti.

Here we see the layout of the top floor, with the arms of the octopus coming in and out of the stores. As you walk around the seventh floor, look around you and you will see tentacles everywhere on the wall.

Foreign workers flock to the third floor where there are a variety of grocery stores for Filipino and African food, as well as restaurants serving the foreign worker clientele.

Food prep for the Filipino diners.

As you descend into the bowels of the building, it becomes spookier and spookier, darker and darker and the old abandoned stores become some strange galleries.

And we go further down to the forbidden first and second floor. The area is filled with abandoned stores where the owners still have to pay for the utilities (water and electricity). Many families have gone bankrupt. Surreal.

Once there was life here, people came and shopped, but now it’s just a ghost town

On the bottom level (now 4 floors underground), we find a nuclear bomb shelter.

And we reach the immense and ghostly parking lot, where if you’re lucky you can see the permanent residents of the building: bats.

The eerie and surreal Tel Aviv Central Bus Station

Going, going, gone

The Dead Sea is dying.

Already, in 2019 more than two thirds of the sea have disappeared, replaced by industrial pools. This human-caused ecological disaster is happening because of two primary reasons: the diversion of waters flowing into the sea by Jordan, Israel, and (what’s left of) Syria, and the increased industrialization in the sea by Israel and Jordan.

Human activity over the last 30 years has succeeded in destroying this natural treasure which began to be formed over two million years ago. It is just part of our continuing destruction of the planet.

Over the years, I’ve traveled the length of the western shore of the sea, from the Lido junction all the way to Neot HaKikar. I’ve seen the beauty from the mountains above, from the shore line, and now from the middle of the sea looking west and east.

I was luck to meet Jacky and Orit Ben Zaken, from the Mitzpe Shalem kibbutz. Jacky, an old sailor, is the only person licensed to sail on the Dead Sea. We set off, members of our 5046 photography club to observe the salt formations and learn about this impending catastrophe from Jacky.

Jacky brought us to areas of the shore which are inaccessible by land. The formations were breathtaking and almost psychedelic.

The layering of different color silt creates an almost surreal image.

This is really a breathtaking way to see the Dead Sea, and we are all anxious to go back with Jacky and visit other, less explored, parts of this amazing and surreal landscape.

Incidentally, I was thrilled to see an article about the disappearance of the Dead Sea, and about Jacky in the New York Times. If you want, you can read it, by clicking here.

Otherwise, you can make a reservation with Orit (Jacky’s wife) by calling her via their Facebook page – נופי מלח – Salty Landscapes.

Prayer, devotion, and community among the Samaritans

Not far from Nablus, in the west bank, we arrive at the small village of Kiryat Luza early in the morning during Succot (the Feast of the Tabernacles) and we join the early morning prayer of the Samaritans.

This small group are a small ethnoreligious group who date their ancestry to the Biblical tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Their roots are ancient, by some accounts beginning with the entry into Canaan, or by others beginning with the Babylonian exile. In any extent, this indigenous group broke off from mainstream Judaism during the time of the kingdom of Judah (between the ninth and the fourth century, BC).

Samaritans believe that theirs is the true religion of the Israelites, as mainstream Judiasm underwent changes during the Babylonian exile.

During morning prayers, sons, fathers, and grandfather commune and read an ancient text. The air of devotion is palatable in the synagogue.

The two Samaritan communities are very small, totaling about 800 people altogether. About 400 live in Kiryat Luza, and the rest live in the Israeli town of Holon. Despite being recognized as a religious entity, the religious monopoly in Israel (the Chief Rabbinate) requires that Samaritans undergo a conversion to Judaism in or to be considered as Jews. During the ceremony we witnessed we were amazed to see some visitors from the Ultra-Orthodox community as well as some discussions between the two groups.

Most Samaritans speak Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, or a mix and their prayers are in Samaritan Hebrew or Samaritan Aramaic, written in the Samaritan alphabet (which is related to ancient proto-Hebrew, and is undependable by Hebrew readers).

Following the indoor prayer session, all head out for the outdoor ceremony on the hillside of Mount Gerizim.

Abandoned

Seeing decrepit and abandoned buildings does something to my soul. It’s not every abandoned building, mind you, but some are interesting. It’s often the mix between old and new, deserted and party sites, graffiti and trash that move me. One such place is an old abandoned army base called Beit Zeit Camp. It is situated between the town of Beit Zeit and Ein Karem in the Jerusalem forest. Easy to get there, and beautiful.

In the early 1950s this was an army base built as a huge emergency storage facility for the Jerusalem brigades in cases of a Jordanian incursion into Jerusalem or its environs. The equipment was all removed during the 1967 Six Day War. Later on the base became a general emergency storage facility and was used by the Logistic Brigade until it was finally abandoned around 2012.

24mm, 1/250, f 8

A mixture of half-destroyed buildings, trash, and graffiti.

As you take the winding road, you will pass many heaps of the buildings on your right. Keep going, after about 1km, you arrive at the area where the army did not demolish the building.

28mm, 1/250 @ f 11, HDR
70 mm, 1/200 @ 11, HDR
Even Frisbee enjoys the ruins
70 mm, 1/125 @ f 11, HDR

As one moves further down the road, the buildings are still standing. They are a mixture of decrepit and abandoned structures and hang-outs.

38mm, 1/8, f14, HDR

If you want to venture in and take a peek, these are very long buildings, built into the hillside, and are sort of bunkers. Inside, you will find a mixture of different things. You have some tables and sleeping areas, apparently inhabited by passers-by.

41mm, 1/50 @ f 14, HDR
For some of the buildings, the graffiti is beautiful and intense.
45mm, 0.6 sec @ f 14, HDR
If you want to venture in, you can see that people have recently been here. There are paper cups, matches, bottles, and some clothes scattered around.
53mm, 0.4 sec @ f 14, HDR
30mm, 1/10 @ f 14, HDR

These long, cavernous bunkers are filled with interesting art, and apparently some interesting installations.

28mm, 0.8 sec @ f 14

And for some reasons, heaps and heaps of bottles.

31 mm, 3.2 sec @ f 16

All of these structures fit organically into the beautiful landscape. It’s a mixture of beauty and filth, old and new, utilitarian and stoner-heaven. Definitely worth a visit.

Oh, the irony!

Sometimes life is more ironic than fiction. This is certainly true about today’s walking tour. Today we’re visiting the Muslim cemetery in Mamillah. Mamilla is a stone’s through from Jaffa Gate in the Old City and has been of use to Jerusalem residents since biblical times.

The cemetery was founded in the 13th century and remained in use until 1927. The word “Mamillah” is actually the mispronunciation of the Arabic “maman Allah” – “comes from Allah.”

1/15, f/11

1/15, f/11

Despite the fact that most Jerusalemites have walked through the cemetery at some point, very few actually know the story of the area.

According to tradition, the first people to be buried in the cemetery were soldiers who fought against the Crusaders. Perhaps the most famous was Sheikh Dia A-Din Abu Muhamad Al-Alami who commanded the siege of Acre in 1291.

Today, the cemetery is absolutely filthy, it is a repository for trash and is neglected by all. How embarrassing. If anybody around the world would treat a Jewish cemetery this way, all Hell would pay.

150, f/11

150, f/11

A beautiful tomb is that of the governor of Safed, Al-Kubki who was buried here in the 13th century.

1/60, f/11

1/60, f/11

1/15, f/11

1/15, f/11

Built in the traditional Muslim style, it is covered with graffiti, and as I tried to look in to the tomb, I saw that it was filled with trash. Shame!

2.5 sec, f/11

2.5 sec, f/11

Over the last century, there were lots of different plans to build here. Actually, the cemetery was much larger, and at some point (1927) the Mufti Amin Al-Husseini wrote a fatwa making burial in the cemetery forbidden. Haj Amin wanted to change the purpose of the area to allow for commercial development, and the Waqf sold part of the land to the city. If you cross the street to Hillel street, you will see a lone tomb in the street.

1/80, f/11, ISO 100

1/80, f/11, ISO 100

But, we still haven’t gotten to the most ironic part of the story. The city of Jerusalem has been actively trying to develop this land. It’s expensive real estate, after all. Smack in the center of the city.

Some genius got the idea that it would be a good place for a museum. A museum for what you may ask? What sort of museum could one build on a Muslim cemetery? Wait for it —

1/20, f/11, ISO 100

1/20, f/11, ISO 100

That’s it! Who would build a “Museum of Tolerance” on a Muslim cemetery??

Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

Monastery of St. John the Baptist Prodomos

It really never ceases to amaze me. I will be walking through the Old City, I’ll see an alley way and venture in, and I’ll discover something new that I didn’t know existed until then. This is exactly what happened when I came across the Monastery of St. John the Baptist Prodomos on Shouk Abtimous Street of the Christian Quarter.

1/640, f/5.6, ISO 100, -1 EV

1/640, f/5.6, ISO 100, -1 EV

The monastery is owned by the Greek Orthodox Church and is OLD. Today’s church is built on a much older structure. I initially fell in love with the courtyard. Stunning. I loved the blue colors (reminds me of Greece) and the drinking wells.

1/500 sec at f/4.5

1/500 sec at f/4.5

118729 24 Jan 15_7068

1/50, f/5.6, ISO 100

1/50, f/5.6, ISO 100

The church, built in the 5th century was demolished by the Persians in 614. During Crusader times, it was known as the “Knights of St. John Hospital.” The Crusaders renovated the current structure. It was purchased in 1674 by the Franciscan Order.

1/30, f/2.8, ISO 2500

1/30, f/2.8, ISO 2500

1/40, f/4.5, ISO 2500, 1 EV

1/40, f/4.5, ISO 2500, 1 EV

Perhaps most interesting is what’s below the modern church. If you ask one of the Sisters, and give a small donation, they will open the iron door to the Byzantine church. It is was discovered and excavated in 1890. The excavators found a reliquary and a piece of the Holy Cross and other relics of St. John, Peter, and other Apostles.

1/25, f/2.8, ISO 640, 1 EV

1/25, f/2.8, ISO 640, 1 EV

1/25, f/2.8, ISO 2000, -1 EV

1/25, f/2.8, ISO 2000, -1 EV

1/25, f/2.8, ISO 3200, -1 EV

1/25, f/2.8, ISO 3200, -1 EV

It’s amazing to be standing in a structure that was used 1500 years ago!

So many surprises on Agron St.

I think that I must drive on Agron St. about twice a week. It’s a major road between anywhere and everywhere. Usually, I don’t pay too much attention to the buildings, although I know that there is the American consulate, the beautiful new Waldorf Astoria hotel, and a monastery or two. This week I decided to explore two buildings along the eastern (or bottom) part of the street.

My first stop is a beautiful and old building called Beit Habib Bshara, at Agron 22. This is a one floor square building with a ceramic roof and has four apartments. Habib Bshara was a Christian-Arab who worked as an architect in Jerusalem and designed this beautiful building at the beginning of the 20th century.

1/25, f/11

1/25, f/11

It’s perfectly symmetrical, and you can see the beautiful arched entrance. Notice the beautiful art deco iron works. You can also see that the stone has a reddish tint to it. The store on the bottom left is the oldest bicycle shop in Jerusalem (Yedidya). Everyone bought a bike from them at some point (I bought a few!)

1/60. f/6.3

1/60. f/6.3

1/100, f/6.3

1/100, f/6.3

The building is on a corner of an alley way (Zamenhof street), and it you go down the alley, you’re in for a treat. For those of you who are interested who Zamenhof was … he invented the language Esperanto (aka “Doktoro Esperanto”). We come to some lovely residential buildings.

1/125, f/6.3, -2/3 EV

1/125, f/6.3, -2/3 EV

1/100, f/6.3, -2/3 EV

1/100, f/6.3, -2/3 EV

Walking a bit further, we find more beautiful buildings and a small and lovely community garden. Hidden from view, unknown to many, but lovely!

1/320, f/6.3

1/320, f/6.3

1/50, f/5.0

1/50, f/5.0

1/200, f/6.3

1/200, f/6.3

We go back to Agron St and turn right. The next building is a gem (Agron 24). This two floor building was built in the 1920s and 1930s and is called Beit Lorenzo, after the Christian-Arab family (Lorenzo).

1/13, f/11

1/13, f/11

Here the red stone is very pronounced. Notice on the top right, there is a balcony floor. I see that they intended to add another floor, but the war (1948) got in the way, and the family fled (or were chased out).

If you walk through the central gate, you come into another hidden Jerusalem gem. You will see that there are actually two buildings – one on Agron street and another recessed in from the street. Separating them is an amazing garden.

1/10, f/7.1, -2/3 EV

1/10, f/7.1, -2/3 EV

1/5, f/7.1

1/5, f/7.1

And as you walk further in, you see the courtyard in all its splendor.

1/8 , f/11

1/8 , f/11

1/8, f/7.1, -1/3 EV

1/8, f/7.1, -1/3 EV

1/10, f/7.1, -1/3 EV

1/10, f/7.1, -1/3 EV

The original owners were a Christian-Arab family; you can see the Madonna on the roof of the central building. I spoke with a resident (Yisrael) who has lived there since 1949 (after the 1948 war, the building was abandoned and taken by the state and then re-sold), and he told me that despite one of the residents being a very orthodox Jew, they all decided to leave the Madonna intact, out of respect for this beautiful building.

1/20, f/11

1/20, f/11

There’s a lot of construction going on around the area (that’s what you are seeing behind the Madonna).

There are so many other beautiful buildings on Agron St., and I’ll write about them at some point. It’s just wonderful to really explore the area after passing it by so often. How many other gems are there in the city?