The Banias Nature Reserve is located in the eastern Upper Golan here the Hula Valley meets the Golan at the foot of Mt Hermon. Banias is home to lush vegetation, woodlands and an abundance of water with streams, waterfalls, ancient ruins and rivers running through the landscape. The Banias Waterfall is the largest waterfall in the country fed by the Banias Spring. The spring starts at the foot of Mt. Hermon and flows into the Hermon River running for 3.5km through a canyon to the waterfall and on to the Dan River and into the Jordan River.
Historic Site of the Banias
For many centuries Banias was sacred ground where the ancient god Ba’al was worshipped. During the Hellenistic era a cave was dedicated to the Greek god Pan. The word “Banias” is a corruption of the Greek word “Panias” from Pan. Around the 3rd century BC Banias was the site of the Paneas cult and sacrifices were made as offerings on the altar at Banias. At the Banias ancient ruins you can see niches in the rock and the Cave of Pan. When Herod the Great annexed the territory in 20BC he had a white marble temple constructed here. Remains of his temple have also survived.
A few years later in 3BC Herod’s son Philip built a city here called Caesaria Paneas. This city is referred to in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew as Caesaria Philippi. It is also referred to in the Jewish Talmud and Mishnah. Many years later in the 12th century Crusaders erected a fortress called Qa’l’at al-Subayba on the site and they battled to retain possession of the city at Banias. The city was relinquished to the Muslims became a small village.
In more modern history Banias became an important location not only because of its proximity to the Syrian border but also as a valuable water source feeding the Jordan River. The League of Nations placed Banias within the French Mandate of Syria in 1922. Syria gained independence in 1946 and controlled Banias until 1967 using it as a base for attacking nearby Kibbutz Dan.
Hiking in the Banias Nature Reserve
A hike route follows the stream from the Banias Waterfall to the Banias Spring. The route passes the ancient archaeological remains; the stunning waterfall; a spring water pool called the Officer’s Pool where Syrian officers are said to have bathed; an ancient Roman bridge and an old flour mill. The hike is suitable for all fitness levels but there are steps along the way. You can also visit Banias Nature Reserve without following the complete 2 hour hike route. As the river flows year round you are always guaranteed a spectacular sight.