Thursday, April 25, 2013


Herod “the Great” has an undeniable role in the history and architectural legacy from the Roman Empire in the Middle East. His name appears in Biblical episodes (the Massacre of the innocents) and historical books (Flavius Josephus), always related to his stormy personality (married ten times, killing some of his wives as well as his own children…) and thirst for power and richness. Herod was a client king of Judea, that is, although Judea did not become part of the Roman Empire, he was the crowned king subordinated to the Roman emperor (Octavian). The combination between such a personality in such a powerful position in the area has had important consequences on the development of Judea during his kingdom. Among his most well-known architectural works it worth highlight the rebuilt of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the port city of Caesarea, the impressive fortress/palace of Masadaand the palace of Herodium. Hopefully there will be new posts about all of them, but let’s start from the closer to Jerusalem: the palace of Herodium.
Herodium is located at 12kms to the South of Jerusalem. To get there, drive to route no.60 towards Hebron and a few kilometres after leaving Jerusalem take the route no. 398. The unmistakable volcano shape of the palace will be seen whenever you will take route no.398. It belongs nowadays to the Nature and Park Authority of Israel, so an entrance fee of just a few tens of shekels will be requested.

airphotos                               Air photos and design of Herodium. Photos by Tectonicablog

Herodium was a palace for the king, a small town for their servants and a fortress for the defence of the entire complex. How was it build? Easy. Take a mountain. Dig from the tip to the inside and leave the remainders on the side. This is the reason why Herodium has a well known truncated-cone shape, perfect location to protect a town and a palace. The palace was provided with everything needed to survive at the doors of the Judean desert, including a cistern system to channel and store rain fall water and reservoir water within the complex.

But besides a magnificent palace, an impassable fortress and a megalomaniac architectural and piece of art work, Herod had another idea in mind for the Herodium. The legend stayed that his mausoleum was also located close to the mountain. As a good legend, it came true…and reality contributed to the legend with a dark episode to be told to future generations. Prof. Ehud Netzerstarted in 1972 the excavations at the surrounding area of Herodium to find the sarcophagus of the client king of Judea. An entire life of devotion and dedication to this single task awarded him in 2007, when he finally found the mausoleum, another palace and a stadium.

mausoleum                                       At Herod's mausoleum. Photos by

As a paradox of the destiny, Prof. Netzer fatally fell during the excavation works in October 2010 and die in the same place where he dedicated all his life. Rehabilitation works are around the clock nowadays and hopefully soon we will be able to visit Herod’s thumb. Meanwhile, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem opened a monographic exhibition about this king of Judea, his life and his architectonic projects in the Middle East.

                                                           First sight at arrival to Herodium
                                                           Coming inside the fortress
                                                                      The palace
111203_herodium-24                                Inside Herodium you can walk within the old network of tunnels
111203_herodium-03 copy                   Going deeper into Herodium                                    One of the pools inside the mountain111203_herodium-27
                                                               Coming out to daylight
paint copy                                                               A great place to paint...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mutabak in the old city

The Zalatimo Sweets shop is located within the ancient Roman walls surrounding the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City. It’s located at Beit-Ha-bad street, in the same place as the stairs to the Coptic Patriarchate situated on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre.
The history of the place started with Mohammed Zalatimo who opened in 1860 a small pastry shop which offered the Mutabak pastry as a take away product . The following generations have carried on the tradition, all the way down to his great-grandson Mohammad Zalatimo. The family has also three additional sweet shops in Jerusalem, two in Ramallah and two in Amman.
The shop is very small, with only few tables which are often shared by strangers eating together. the place serves only the Mutabak, the specialty of the Zalatimo family. The Mutabak made of normal dough used for baking bread, but it’s rolled not by machine. The rolling starts from small dough ball and is made by hand in front of the customer, and is a part of the special experience in the place.
When the dough is thin enough, small amount of cheese or nuts is added. The cheese is normal white curd cheese, which starts out being salty, and is soaked in water to draw out the salt
The Mutabak is folded into a square and baked for several minutes until golden brown. After baking the Mutabak is cut into four squares, covered in sugar syrup and powdered sugar is sprinkled on top. The Mutabak must be eaten fast as long as it’s hot and crispy.
The Old City in Jerusalem hides uncountable mysteries behind each door, under each floor tile. Behind the only locked door of the Zalatimo's family sweet shop there is an entire high ceiling room hosting an old arch from the Roman Empire. Although the door use to be locked, they will probably show it if requested (prepare some tip)
And in case after all these photos and comments we have not convinced you yet that Zalatimo's mutabak are a "must" to try in Jerusalem, probably listening to what Yotam Ottolenghi says will finally  do it. Ottolenghi is one of the most important and worldwide recognized chefs from the Middle East. Together with Sami Tamimi they have written "Jerusalem", a great edition and great collection of recipes from this side of the Mediterranean. Check out Ottolenghi's first impressions in this video extracted from a BBC documentary recorded at the Zalatimo Sweet shop.