Solandra Maxima in Mi’iiyah

According to Google, this flowering plant and its unbelievably gorgeous large flower, belongs to the Solanaceae family.  It is also known as “cup of gold vine” and “Golden Chalis Vine” or Hawaiian Lily is actually endemic to Mexico and central America.  Therefore, it was a great surprise finding it in all its glory covering an ancient fence of a house built originally in the mid seventeenth century.  This house was a farmer’s house, unlike the house of my friend Khalil, who lives in the house across the lane, which was originally built in the 11th century. The lower part of the house is now transformed beautifully into a guest house, which was the first in town.  This was a home of the original core of the village surrounding the citadel and the church. The occupants were of the elite, in fact Khalil’s father was the Mukhtar, or head of the village.  Beyond this circle, were the simple homes of the farmers.

Archaeological excavations in Mi’ilya gives indication of inhabitation from the Late Bronz Age and Iron Age, as well as Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman periods. The inhabitants are all Melchite Greek Catholics, and yesterday when I visited there with 2 of my friends, it was still decked out with ornaments and lights which made the narrow streets on the steep mountain magical. The ruins of the King’s castle, which was first noted in Crusader sources in 1160, still adorns the top of the hill, which also houses the large church.  People made homes within the old ruins, and excavations discovered one of the largest wineries of the Crusader era, and they’re already announcing new excavations. Not only in the castle of King Baudouin III, but also in the cellars of the village where precious Byzantine mosaics are still to be revealed. What makes the last archaeological adventure in the Mi’ilya subsoil unique is the fact that the excavation campaign was entirely financed by its inhabitants. 

Our host, Khalil, took us across the street to the old farmers home, which was expanded several times during the past centuries as the family expanded.  In one of the additions perhaps almost 100 years ago, while digging foundations, a part of a mosaic floor was discovered.  The owners made a sketch of the location and the mosaic, covered it with a layer of sand, and poured the concrete floor over it.  Some years ago, the grandson decided to involve the antiquities department, and since it is in a private home, had to pay himself for the excavations.  It is now viewable to the public by appointment. The mosaic floor is a remnant of a byzantine church with a very unusual geometric mosaic part which is atypical. The next-door original part of the house has been preserved with odds and ends of instruments, including the area to which the animals were brought in for the night to prevent theft.  There are 2 interesting nooks in the wall closed by doors, with a small hole into each in the outside wall.  We were not able to guess what this was meant to be.  To our amazement, it turned out to be a bee hives.  When the honey was ready, they smoked the bees out, and harvested the honey.  The bees came back year after year, and the family benefited from organic honey. A really clever and practical invention.  Looking through the old cooking implements and tools, brought back some nostalgic memories.  A hand operated coffee mill just like my grandmother used. Next to it stood the device we called “Ptiliya”, a Primus burner that was filled with kerosene, on which we cooked and baked. The stone stamps which survived the ages, are used for creating patterns on cookie dough for holiday cookie productions. Similar patterns are still used in the village bakeries today.  There was also a large grinding stone for flour production, and a whole array of household and garden tools from a bygone era.  The family still produces olive oil for their own use, but we were able to purchase a few bottles of this year’s crop, fresh and fragrant.

Sometimes it is important to take time out from the daily routine of life, and enjoy some change of scenery and pace. Exploring new places and renewing old friendships adds spice to life.  Curiosity leads to enrichment of our environment and opens possibilities for exploring different cultures.  What we discover often is that all cultures have some common base, and that when we are open to it, we enrich each other.  Driving through the town at dusk, with all the lights coming on, was a perfectly beautiful and magical end to a lovely day.

Hope you are all inspired to take a day or two off to explore and renew, regenerate your batteries for a healthy and creative 2023.  May all your resolutions and wishes be fulfilled. And for me, I will plant some Solandra Maxima in my garden, I only have to find the plant, or find out how to propagate it from a cutting from Mi’iiyah. I will let you know when I succeed.


— 2023-01-06