The Negev Desert is a dry mass of undulating beige and cream-colored mountains, hills, slopes and valleys. There are even a few archeological ruins here and there. In its midst is Ramon Crater, a 25-mile-long natural geological wonder that looks similar to a heart. There are a few others in the Negev, but, Ramon, officially known as Makhtesh Ramon, is the largest.
Makhtesh, means mortar grinder, suggesting a resemblance to the bottom of a marble mortar, sans pestle. Its straight walls run about 1,700 feet to its crater floor. In some spots it spans about one-half mile across. Make no mistake, this makhtesh, formed a few hundred million years ago, wasn’t caused by a stray meteor. No, nature did this, and it’s almost otherworldly.
Maybe that’s why Virtual Tourist (www.virtualtourist.com/8thwonder) listed Ramon Crater as a contender for its Eighth Wonder of the World contest. The challenge ends on Sept. 30, so I’ve already given it my vote, twice. If you’ve been to the Negev it probably has yours too, although, like me, you might have a few other Israeli contenders.
The Western or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City certainly qualifies, as well as the maze of ancient tunnels underneath. In some spots the hand-hewn stones, some weighing a few hundred tons, date all the way back to the Solomon’s first temple. It was built, some say, more than 1,000 years before Christianity and stood for about 400 years before it was destroyed. Centuries later, Herod the Great built the Second Temple’s retaining wall on what remained of the first. It is a Jewish pilgrimage site. Here, you’ll only hear the hushed tones of prayer. The wall and the tunnels that lie under Temple Mount support Jewish and Christian beliefs.
Temple Mount, which sits atop Jerusalem’s Old City, is sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims. To me, it’s another wonder. The spacious 1,555,000-square-foot plaza, which once held the Second Temple, is open to the sun, air and a panoramic view. It is usually filled with Jewish, Muslim and Christian believers. Although crowded, it’s quiet and solemn there too. It is home to the gold-leafed Dome of the Rock, which is visible from Jerusalem all the way to Tel Aviv. The Dome covers and protects the ancient Foundation Stone, which has various meanings for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Here, at God’s request, Abraham placed his son Isaac on what was then an altar and almost sacrificed him before God then stopped him. Mohammed made his Night Journey and ascent to heaven there. Some say the Ark of the Covenant, a sacred box that held the stone tablets of the 10 commandments, was placed there.
Masada is another entry. This isolated plateau, located in the Judean Desert, held a fortified city and palace with a view of the Dead Sea. This multi-storied village was commissioned by Herod the Great. It’s worth noting, not for the 8th wonder vote, but for information, that after Herod left almost 1,000 Jewish rebels took up residence and lived there until Roman warriors appeared hundreds of feet below. The small winding road up to Masada was impossible to breach, so the Romans took rocks and dirt and built a ramp to the plateau, which must have taken at least a year or more to build. When they finally tamped in that last bit of dirt and stood on Masada they found that the rebels and families killed themselves rather than be taken or killed by their enemies.
Why would I suggest Masada as an Eighth Wonder? For the absolute genius it took to build this plateau city. Its foundation walls and stairs are still there, more than 2,000 years later.
The Dead Sea would get a nod. The water is so salty it helps everything float. You really can fall back into the water and read a book without getting the pages wet. It creates so much salt there’s a nearby site that moves and packages my favorite form of sodium.
The Israel Ministry of Tourism details a host of other sacred sites which might also be considered: (www.goisrael.com).
There’s an Eighth Wonder vote everywhere in Israel, from Tel Aviv’s Mediterranean coastline to Eilat’s along the Red Sea.