Ramla Tourist Attractions
Situation and characteristicsRamla (Arabic Ramleh) lies 19km/12mi southeast of Tel Aviv on the road to Jerusalem and on the north-south road between Haifa and Beersheba.
It has a number of buildings of the Islamic and Christian periods, including the White Tower and the Great Mosque, which dates from the Crusader period.HistoryThe town was founded in 716 by Caliph Suleiman, the second son of Abd el-Malik, builder of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and named Ramleh ("sand") after the type of soil in the area. Its palaces and mosques reflected the splendor of the Omayyad dynasty, whose capital was Damascus. When the Omayyads were succeeded in 750 by the Abbasids members of the Sufi sect left the new capital of Baghdad and came to Ramleh, where there were already Sunnite and Shiite Muslims, indigenous Jews and Jews of the Diaspora, as well as members of the Jewish Karaite sect, which came into existence in Babylon in the eighth century. The Karaites recognize only the Law as written down in the Torah but not the traditions collected in the Talmud. Their largest community is in Ramla.In the 11th century Ramleh was pillaged (1025) and ravaged by earthquakes (1033, 1067). In 1099 it was taken by the Crusaders, who fought three battles with Fatimid forces here; in 1101 and 1105 they won, in 1102 they lost.After Saladin's victory at the Horns of Hittim in 1187 the Crusader period came to an end in Ramleh. The conquest of the town by Baibars in 1267 marked the beginning of the Mameluke period, of which the White Tower is a relic. In the 14th century Ramleh's population included both Muslims and Jews as well as Christian monks. In the 17th century the town fell into decay. In 1799 Napoleon spent the night in Ramleh on the way to Akko. In 1917 a British military cemetery was laid out for 2,000 of General Allenby's troops who had been killed in the fighting with the Turks. In 1936, during Arab riots, Ramleh's Jewish inhabitants left the town; then in 1948 it surrendered to Israeli forces without a fight. At that time there were only 1,500 Arabs left in the town, but their numbers have since increased considerably.
In the Oriental market quarter to the east of the town of Ramla, on the south side of Herzl Street, is the Great Mosque, originally an aisled basilica built by the Crusaders in the 12th century, with a minaret built on the foundations of the church's bell-tower.
St Joseph's Church
On Herzl Street in Ramla to the northwest of the Great Mosque is the Franciscan church of St Joseph, dedicated to St Joseph of Arimathea, who offered his tomb for the burial of Christ.
Hospice of St Nicodemus
Between St Joseph Church and the police station in Ramla is a street which runs west to the White Tower, known to Muslims as the Tower of the Forty Companions of the Prophet, to Christians as the Tower of the Forty Martyrs.This square tower in Gothic style, built by Baibars in 1267, is 27m/89ft high, with 128 steps leading to its upper platform. A German traveler called Anton von Prokesch-Osten, who described Ramleh in 1831 as "a very charming little town in rich surroundings with over 800 Greek and 200 Mohammedan inhabitants", also recounted how he waited on the top of the tower until sunset, "enjoying wide views over the fair land of the Philistines". Napoleon also climbed the tower in 1799, and in 1917 General Allenby used it as an observation post.The White Tower stands on the north side of a spacious walled courtyard fully 500 years older than the tower. On the south side are substantial remains, measuring 90m/295ft by 12m/40ft, of a mosque built by Caliph Suleiman in 716. In the courtyard are three large underground vaulted structures, perhaps warehouses belonging to an old caravanserai or cisterns, which were used in the 17th century as a lunatic asylum and in the 19th as a house of the Whirling Dervishes.
St Helen's Pools
Another of the sights of Ramla, which in chronological terms falls between the Great Mosque and the White Tower, is a large cistern dating from around 800 in a side street opening off Herzl Street to the east of the police station. The Crusaders gave it the name of Helen's Pools, ascribing it to the fourth century Empress, a great builder, who discovered the True Cross; but in fact it dates from the time of the fifth Abbasid Caliph, Haroun al-Rashid (766-809), famed for his connection with the "Arabian Nights" and for his diplomatic relations with Charlemagne. The cistern, with an area of 500sq.m/600sq.yd and a depth of 9m/30ft, is covered by 24 groined vaults, each with an opening on the top, so that 24 camels could be watered at the same time. Steps lead down into this subterranean world, with the vaulting reflected in the water.
7km/4.5mi southeast of Ramla is the kibbutz of Gezer, founded in 1945. It lies to the south of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road in the Ayalon valley, through which since ancient times the road from the coast to Jerusalem has run. Southwest of the village is the tell of ancient Gezer. The importance of the place lay in its situation, which gave it control of the road. Excavations have shown that the Egyptians established a fortified settlement here, adjoining which the Hyksos built a fortress in the 18th century B.C. King Horam of Gezer was defeated by Joshua when he went to the help of Lachish (Joshua 10,33). Soon afterwards, in the 12th century B.C., the town fell to the Philistines. Around 1000 B.C. David went out and "smote the host of the Philistines from Gibeon even unto Gazer" (1 Chronicles 14,16). Solomon fortified the strategically important town and, as at Hazor and Megiddo, built casemate walls on the south side, with a gate flanked by three chambers on each side of the passageway. As at Hazor and Megiddo, too, the town's water supply was ensured by the construction of a tunnel leading to a hidden spring. In subsequent centuries the town was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt. In the second century B.C., during the Maccabean rebellion, Gezer was taken by Simon Maccabeus, cleansed of pagan idols and settled by orthodox Jews. The town was destroyed during the Jewish risings against Rome in the first and second centuries A.D., and thereafter remained virtually uninhabited. The tell of Gezer has been thoroughly investigated by German archeologists (1902-09), by an American team (from 1964) and by Yigael Yadin, and is well worth a visit by anyone with a particular interest in archeology.
Map of Ramla Attractions