Roman Archeaological Site at Shuni Excavated and Renovated by JNF
Imagine yourself in Roman times, coming and going from the ancient baths of Caesarea, used for pagan rites and fertility ceremonies during May, when the Romans held the Mayumas festival. Yesteryear’s equivalent of an exclusive rich man’s club, Shuni is an area of Israel that dates back to the Roman period that was renovated by Jewish National Fund in 1986, with the help of a large donation from Stanley Chase of Los Angeles. It holds rich treasures not to be missed on a trip exploring the region's past or even Israel's more recent history.
Located on the south spur of the Carmel mountains, the site includes a forest, recreation area, Achaim Sculpture Museum, the Shuni Archaeological Museum, the Shuni Fortress, as well as a camp and educational center. Also included is Jabotinsky Park and Forest, named for Ze'ev Jabotinsky, a prominent Zionist militia leader. Jabotinsky organized Betar, a military youth movement and the Haganah, the pre-state militia. Some members of the Haganah broke off to form the more right wing Irgun (Etzel underground), which took a more assertive stance in opposing the British during the last years of the Palestine Mandate. The Irgun used Shuni as its militia headquarters and launched many of its operations from the site.
With the help of volunteers from abroad, as well as Israeli schoolchildren, JNF archaeologist Eli Shenhav has revealed its ancient secrets and over the last 20 years, different parts have become operational. Shuni is situated on lands belonging to the tribe of Menashe and is identified with the village of Shumi, mentioned in the Talmud. Towards the end of the Ottoman period, Effendi Salim Houri, a wealthy land owner who lived in Haifa, bought the area, thus extending his personal property from Shuni to the area now known as Zikhron Yaakov. As each of the previous owners had done, he added buildings onto the earlier site. One building was a granary - hence the name Shuni, or granary in Arabic. In 1914 the area was redeemed by Baron Edward de Rothschild to be used as an agriculture school for new Jewish farmers. They later established the nearby agricultural settlements of Binyamina and Giva’at Ada, all prime vineyards today.
Roman Baths and Theater
In the excavation process, Shenhav and a team of JNF archaeologists uncovered early Roman baths along with an adjacent theater used by wealthy Romans who lived in nearby Caesarea. The beautiful relics that were uncovered now grace the museum. Affronted by Roman paganism, the Byzantines tore down the sacrificial platform, eliminated the stone columns that led to the pool/spa area and instead built an olive press.
Adjacent to the baths, a 2nd Century BCE Roman theater uncovered during the excavations has rows of seating, and a secret acoustical spot in the choral pit. The theater was restored by JNF and is used today as an entertainment area for concerts and other activities.
Achiam Sculpture Museum in Jabotinsky Park
Artists will adore the Achiam sculpture museum in Jabotinsky Park which features about 90 sculptures donated by the sculptor Achiam Shoshany. Shoshany, who resides in Paris, was born in Yavniel in 1916 and sculpts in stone, basalt, wood and bronze. His works range over diverse subjects including biblical personalities, women, musicians as well as universal pain and suffering ("Hiroshima," "Auschwitz," "Kaddish"). The sculptures stand on the original Roman mosaic floors, which are an interesting mix of the ancient and modern.
The sculpture museum is partly housed in rooms of Shuni Fortress and partly in the courtyard, in the JNF excavated Roman public baths. Findings from the Shuni digs are on display in the archaeological museum and these include a splendid sculpture of the Neptune, God of the Sea, gemstones, glass utensils and medical instruments. The works are inspired by ancient Eastern civilization and are considered part of the Canaanite School because they contain Canaanite elements that stylistically and thematically meet the requirements for kinship with Eretz Israel.
Shuni Fortress, The Etzel Museum
Visitors will be transported back in time when they see the compact semi-circular Turkish fortress nestled amid the lush lawns of Jabotinsky Park. The restored theater overlooks a mosaic-lined, Olympic-size swimming pool where entertainment was once provided by naked swimmers. A high-level aqueduct was built to bring fresh water from Shuni Spring, 4.4 miles to the north to Caesarea during Herod's rule. The aqueduct delivered water at a height of 26 feet above sea level. This engineering feat was accomplished during Roman times with a gradient of just 8 inches for each kilometer.
Many hundreds of years later, masquerading as an agricultural commune, the fortress became the chief military training camp British Irgun. Under the leadership of Menachem Begin, the Irgun planned attacks on police stations, ammunition trains, the British military HQ at the King David Hotel, and the 1947 break-in that freed 41 Jews from the Acre prison, saving them from the gallows. During British Mandate period, nine members of Irgun were hung and buried there. The original gravestones of these nine Jews, plus that of first Irgun chief David Raziel, are memorialized in the park. The fortress is now the Etzel museum, designed to pay homage to the Irgun officers’ school.
Visitors entering the restored building find themselves standing in a Tel Aviv street in Mandatory Palestine, watching a Hebrew audio-visual presentation featuring graphic shots of Jewish victims of Arab and Nazi atrocities incongruously accompanied by the upbeat narration of a comedian. A dozen elderly Etzel veterans steal the show with their lively reminiscences, laughingly describing how they learned to shoot under the cover of firing practice at a nearby British camp.
Written by Sarina Roffé, JNF Director of Communications