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Between the Honey and the Sting

Writen by: Community Writers
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06/05/2019
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A few months ago, a buzzing was heard around the Citadel.  The buzzing accompanied our normal routine and we didn’t give it much significance.  After all, there is a complete world of living creatures at the Tower of David – lizards run between the arrow slits, birds nest on the turrets and multitudes of butterflies flutter by so a bit of buzzing did not really disturb our peace of mind.  However when one of our colleagues was stung by a bee, and several bees were found on the floor of the courtyard, we began to understand that we had something a bit more complicated than background buzzing and we began to look for the hive.

The Tower of David is an intricate and complex fortress, but we didn’t think that it would be so hard to find a swarm of bees within the walls of the citadel.  We have co-workers who have been at the museum for 30 years and know every corner and crevice, and it still took several days to locate the hive in  the Phasael Tower (the most beautiful observation point in the city).

After checking with binoculars and carefully observing the bees, we finally found the hive. A bit of detective work was required to  discover the exact spot from which they exited and entered. In the distant past, mortar fire created a large hole in the wall of Phasael Tower and the bees found a home there.  The bees gathered and built a giant hive with a honeycomb and all the life of a hive. Although the museum staff is expert in many areas, beekeeping is not one of them.  We realized that we needed to call in the experts from “SOS Bees – The Red Bee Shield” – where volunteers from around the country assist in removing and transplanting bee hives which are in danger of  being sprayed with pesticides or destroyed.

Additionally, we called in a rappelling expert since the hive was located 25 meters (over 80 feet) above the Citadel courtyard. Gal Fadida – a rappelling expert lowered himself from the top of the observation point and hung between heaven and earth in order to get an exact picture of the placement and the size of the hive within the wall.  Upon further examination, we learned that the bees had been there for about 6 years and had built a beautiful, extensive hive.

Initially, the “SOS Bees – Red Bee Shield” experts advised us to leave the hive and create a climate where we could live with the bees in harmony, but after several weeks where staff and visitors continued to get stung, and one of the museum employees discovered that

she was very allergic to bees, it was decided to transplant the hive to another spot.  Preserving the honeycombs and most importantly saving the queen was essential to ensure that all the bees would move together with her to a new, safe location.

The bee move was scheduled for a Thursday and it took a whole day in which rappelling experts were hanging off the Citadel, and with unusual dexterity, sensitivity and patience, succeeded in removing the bees and preserving the honeycomb.  In conjunction with the technical requirements to remove the hive, we asked Orna Cohen, Chief Conservation Officer at the Tower of David, to coordinate the rappelling and removal of the beehive from the walls of the Phasael Tower. We put protectors on the wall in order not to damage it during the rappelling and Orna gave directions on how to fasten the anchors.  At the Tower of David, every precaution is taken to preserve the old, the ancient and the modern.

After the bees were removed by smoke screen from their place, a complicated removal ensued.  The main challenge was to remove the honeycomb, as whole as possible, together with the queen bee.

 “If the queen is not moved together with the wax honeycomb, the chances of survival of the hive are not high,”explained Yossi Aud.  “The queen bee lays eggs in the honeycomb brood chamber, from which larvae emerge and then grow into bees. In the brood chamber which we removed, there were larvae left which had hatched from the eggs and would mature.”

The hive was moved to the “Freedom Farm for Bees” in the Jerusalem Hills, one of many farms which were established by the Society around the country.  According to Aud, this was one of the highest hives in Israel from which a swarm of bees was extracted. We explained to him it was no accident that the swarm and the honeycomb decided to take up residence in the Phasael Tower.

Phasael Tower was built by King Herod along with 2 other towers – one of them was Miriam Tower, which was right next to Phasael Tower.  Miriam Tower was the most beautiful of Herod’s buildings because it was inspired by his love for Miriam, his late wife. There is

a legend in the tractate Baba Batra in the Babylonian Talmud which tells about Herod and Miriam.  According to this legend, Miriam announced that she was the last descendant of the House of Hasmoneans, and then committed suicide. After her death, Herod preserved

her body in honey for 7 years. There are those who say that he concealed her in order to satisfy his needs, and others who say that he preserved her in order to prove that he was married to a princess.  One way or another, we are happy that our queen moved successfully to her new hive with the entire swarm. We can now return to our pleasant routine at the Citadel without any underlying buzzing.

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