A Change of Scenery from Tel-Aviv to Tel-Gezer and Ramla
It’s funny, I haven’t even written about Tel-Aviv yet and already I’m writing about a change of scenery. I guess it’s because I live near Tel-Aviv and take it for granted. We’ve just completed the Sukkot holiday and I was lucky to be joined by friends and family on some longer trips. Anyway, this is one of the resulting posts.
Sometimes, you just want to get away from the city and within 45 min from Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem for that matter, you can have a perfect day with the kids combining the outdoors with tourist attractions.
Trip Agenda Options:
Tel Gezer Archeological Site – 1 hr walk with a panoramic view
Single or Combined Ticket Attraction Options:
Pool of the Arches in Ramla - get ready for a boat ride
The White Tower
The Ramla Museum
The Ramla Market
Nesher Israel Cement Industries Ltd. – Factory Tour
You don’t have to be an archeology lover to enjoy this trip although the site is the location of a major archeological finding. You can just enjoy a relatively short walk in the fresh air with an incredible view. ‘Tel’ means ‘hill’ in Hebrew and the site is ~230 m above sea-level allowing for a panoramic view of the surrounding plateau. When I visited, I captured a view from the Eastern Judean Mountains, all the way south-west to Ashkelon.
Another important comment is that if you want to spare your car tires, first put ‘Carmey Yosef’ in Waze and only once you arrive, change to ‘Tel Gezer’ so that you only drive a short stretch of unpaved road up to the parking lot. This is my wisely gained experience after a 20 min stressful drive in a regular family car through the cotton fields of Kibbutz Gezer.
The main archeological finding I was referring is the Gezer Calendar, a plaque from the 10th century BCE listing the months of the year according to the agricultural seasons that for a long period was one of the oldest findings of ancient Canaanite script in Israel. The location of Gezer, midway between Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem led it to be a major stopover in ancient times as well, as it sat at the crossroads of trade pathways linking Egypt with Syria, Anatolia and Mesopotamia, and the road to Jerusalem and Jericho. 26 levels of excavation have been found in Gezer. Gezer is mentioned in the Bible with respect to Joshua’s conquest of the city (Joshua 21: 21) and King Solomon, when Pharoah conquered the city and provided it as a dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife. The city gates from Solomon’s period have been excavated (1 Kings 9:15-16). Additional interesting findings are the Canaanite water tunnel, one of the oldest of its kind from the Middle Bronze Age (1st half of the 2 millenium BCE) that provided spring water to the city when under siege and the ‘Boundary Stones’, a local ‘stonehenge’, which served either for religious rituals or as a ceremonial place for alliance treaties. There are plaques along the way that explain about each of the findings.
One last note is related to the shade. We started our day with a picnic under the sole shaded spot on Tel Gezer. In general, the hill is not shady so you can have your picnic either at ‘Carmey Yosef’ in one of their lovely park areas (it’s a charming village) or have breakfast at your hotel. Regardless, don’t forget to bring sunscreen and hats. Don’t worry, Sukkot, early autumn, is very pleasant.
You wouldn’t think that a city reservoir would become a tourist attraction, but the 'Pool of the Arches' is unique. The roofed water reservoir was built in 789 AD, during the reign of the caliph Haroun al-Rashid to provide Ramla with a steady supply of water from the fresh spring below it. The structure is a fine sample of Moslem architecture from the early Islamic period. The holes in the roof allowed several people to draw water in parallel. The Crusaders, impressed by its size (nearly a square of 21.17 m X 19.82 m) named it ‘The Pool of St. Helena’ after the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine, who allegedly ordered it to be dug. This is the same St. Helena mentioned with respect to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in my previous 'spiritual trip' post.
The beautiful location also served as a setting for the film "Hasamba and the Deserted Youths", based on the ‘Hasamba’ adventure book series, in which the heroic ‘Hasamba’ group chased the criminals within the ‘Pool of the Arches’ headquarters.
Today, visitors can enter the reservoir and take a boat ride within it. You can either purchase tickets for one attraction or a combined ticket for two or three attractions.
The market in Ramla is minutes away from ‘The Arches Pool’ and is the perfect way to spend the afternoon before heading home with all your purchases. It is open daily except for Saturday (Shabbat) and is shaded from above. The market stalls offer a variety of fresh produce, spices, clothes and memorabilia at bargain prices. Just in case you were curious as to what I purchased, I bought the spice mix with the sign that says "Tuscan" in Hebrew and two umbrellas for 15 New Israeli Shekels! Don't hold your breath, but I may follow up with an Instagram of my culinary experiments.
As mentioned above, you can purchase a combined ticket to include two or three attractions. ‘The White Tower’ is a 30 meter high building erected in 1318 by Mamluk sultan Muhammad Ibn Khalhoun. It served either as a watch tower or as a minaret to call for prayer and till this day offers a panoramic view of the city. On site, you can also see three dry reservoirs that used to hold 6,400 cubic meters of water coming from an aqueduct leading spring water from the Tel Gezer area as well as a tomb of the Prophet Saleh. The preaching and prophecy of Saleh is linked to a famous miracle, in which the prophet turned a rock into a female camel, as a gift given by Allah to the people when they desired proof of the truth of Saleh’s preaching.
The Ramla Museum is the third and last attraction offered in the combination ticket. The museum is housed in a historic building erected in 1922 from the time of the British mandate. The permanent exhibition includes archeological findings from the vicinity as well as exhibits relating to the ‘War of Independence’ and development of Ramla. In addition, there are changing exhibitions.
If you’re visiting Israel during one of the lengthier holidays such as Sukkot, you may be able to sign-up for a free tour. The next tours will be scheduled in Hannukah. The first and still leading cement manufacturing plant today is called Nesher Israel Cement Industries Ltd. The first factory was built in the port in Haifa and supported the development of the state. Today the central factory is in Ramla’s industrial area, just south of the city and the one in Haifa serves as a site of packaging and distribution.
In between holidays, the company is willing to reserve tours for groups of 20 or above. You may contact the visitor’s center if applicable. The tour itself takes about an hour and a half and includes a visit to the quarry, an explanation of the manufacturing process and a film and is worth keeping in mind.
My food recommendations are mainly related to lunch since we picnicked for breakfast near Tel Gezer as mentioned above. In Ramla we lunched at ‘Samir’s Restaurant’, which is within a 5 min walking distance from the ‘The Ramla Market’. Another good restaurant that I’m familiar with on the same street as Samir’s is ‘Halil Restaurant’ so if one is full, you can try the other. Both serve delicious Middle Eastern food.
A few options for accommodation in the vicinity of the trip are as follows: ‘Hotel Lemazkeret’, ‘Leonardo Boutique Rehovot’, ‘Estate Spa Boutique Hotel’, ‘Sadot Hotel’ and ‘Harel Kibbutz Country Lodging’.
I’ll start by saying the I visited the Nesher Israel Cement Industries Ltd. factory tour on a separate day, but you can include it on the same day as the rest and adjust your times accordingly. The trip I did with my friends in Tel Gezer was comparatively short due to holiday obligations. We met at 9:30 at Tel Gezer for a picnic. After breakfast and a tour of the site, we drove to ‘The Arches Pool’. From there we drove 5 min to ‘The Ramla Market’. After some fun shopping, we walked to Samir’s restaurant where we had a reservation at 14:00. By 16:00 we were ready to go back home. We were planning to eat first and shop afterwards before going home, but the market was so enticing that we moved our reservation.
This is what it looks like on the map:
I hope you enjoyed the change of scenery. Do you have any additional tips for tourists visiting Ramla?
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