With its onboard camera surveying the rugged shoreline, the drone hovered high above the weathered cliffs. Down below, the sea sparkled in the sunshine. A handful of beach-goers wandered across the sand. And then the drone caught sight of something weird and fantastic – something that looked straight from a Tolkien novel.
To be sure, the advent of affordable drone technology has allowed amateur videographers to capture stunning footage of the world’s most spectacular locales. And Apollonia National Park in Israel is an ideal spot for such a fly-by. Framed by bright blue skies and gentle waters, its landscapes are singularly aesthetic.
And so in 2014, amateur drone pilot Jesse Peters documented the park and posted his footage on YouTube. He explained that his videos were “aerial footage captured in different locations I have traveled throughout the years… As I have slowly improved my photography/flight equipment, so has the stability and clarity of the footage captured. Enjoy!”
In fact, his chosen craft for this particular shoot was a DJI Phantom 2 Vision. Though the quadcopter drone has now been superseded by new and improved models, it still boasts some impressive technology. For one, it records footage with a built-in HD camera, capable of streaming live from up to 980 feet away.
Soaring north and south over the weathered clifftop, the drone surveyed Apollonia National Park. Punctuated with sparse palm trees and wiry shrubs, the land was arid, dusty and parched. Hiking trails skirted the precipice, supplying expansive views of the Mediterranean Sea. Offshore, a speedboat plowed through the water.
Though it might seem peaceful and remote, this little stretch of coastline has in fact seen turbulence since the antiquities. Once upon a time, Apollonia was a Greek city. However, it first fell to the Romans and then centuries later, in 640 AD, to Muslim control. In 1101 the Kingdom of Jerusalem conquered Arsuf, as it was then known.
The city was finally destroyed in the Middle Ages, around 1265. However, excavations of its remains began in the 1990s and continue to this day. A medieval wall, a crusader castle, a port and a Roman villa are among the structures archaeologists have so far uncovered.
Though it did resemble something from an ancient, bygone age, the building Peters’ drone captured was actually constructed in recent times. Built into the side of cliff, the haphazard structure, apparently forged from natural materials, appeared to blend into the landscape. Indeed, it looked not unlike a Hobbit house.
In fact, the cliff-side structure is the creation of artist Nissim Kachlon, who began digging into the soft limestone more than four decades ago. The hodgepodge labyrinth of tunnels and sheltered enclaves represents not only his life’s work, but also his home. And so in many ways, Kachlon is a modern-day hermit.
Traditionally, hermits separated themselves from society in order to achieve serenity and spiritual insight. But in Kachlon’s case, the urge to isolate may have been partly fueled by a basic desire to disconnect from the stress of modern life. Equally, his artistic work may have been a key factor in his life of solitude.
“I decided that I didn’t want to live in the city, I love the sea, that’s how I came here,” Kachlon told the Israeli news site Arutz Sheva. “I don’t have to pay city tax because I don’t have garbage, I burn everything and use the ashes for concrete to build with.”
Indeed, Kachlon appears to have achieved a remarkably simple and self-sufficient lifestyle. He has no electricity or telephone, he draws his water from a well, and he washes his own clothes. He prays on a daily basis and adheres to the traditional rules of the Sabbath too.
“I get up at a quarter of six in the morning and go to synagogue, a 15-minute walk from here,” Kachlon told Arutz Sheva. “I cook for the Sabbath starting today [Sunday], green beans and meat from a cow’s neck, salad and sardines.”
“Unfortunately, there used to be plenty of fish in the sea,” he added. “But today they are already gone. Industrial fishing killed it.” Still, Kachlon seems to be surviving quite nicely nonetheless. And how many hermits can boast a cave as unique and interesting as his?
“A city engineer who came was shocked,” Kachlon continued. Indeed, his home is a wildly rambling edifice that seems to defy all conventional architectural appearances. Hand-built from shells, trash, concrete and sand, the house has gradually expanded over the years, starting in the 1970s.
But despite decades of isolation, the Israeli hermit is not entirely disconnected from society. In fact, Kachlon is a divorced father of three. And in 2014, concerned that his life’s work may go to ruin, he invited his estranged 18-year-old son Moshe to move in with him.
Indeed, their story was the subject of a documentary called Apollonian Story. According to the film’s synopsis, “Moshe reenters Nissim’s life, and together they work to dig out the cave in which he will live. Through their hard work, a complex relationship between father and son is revealed.”
When the time comes, Moshe is set to inherit a truly eclectic creation: a cave-house filled with sculptures, patios and tiled mosaics. Of course, the best thing about it is the location, right on the beach and in the heart of a national park. But will Moshe embrace a life of solitude like his father?
Only time will tell, but meanwhile, there is a serious threat to Kachlon’s work: the sea itself. Wave erosion, compounded by intensive coastal development, chews away at the limestone cliff supporting his construction. One day, Kachlon’s house will also become ancient history.
For now, however, his eccentric “Hobbit house” remains an iconic feature of the Apollonia National Park shoreline. “Everyone is welcome to come and visit,” Kachlon told Arutz Sheva. Indeed, you won’t want to miss this intriguing structure – or its equally intriguing owner.