National Parks in Israel

Israel has over 400 national parks and nature reserves that cover almost a quarter of the country’s surface. Some parks preserve archaeological sites, like Caesarea’s ancient Roman port city, and Masada, Herod’s mountain-top palace-fortress. Other Israel national parks are preserved for their natural beauty. National parks in Israel are spread across the country from north to south. In the south is the breathtaking Ein Gedi National Park, a desert oasis with lush vegetation and babbling brooks. Near Haifa, is the Mount Carmel National Park that covers a 40km-long mountain range famed for its wineries, villages, and forest-covered slopes. Gan HaShlosha National Park is a must-see slice of paradise, with natural spring pools where you can swim in the shadow of shady trees.

Top Nature Reserves in Israel include Akhziv National Park, with blue bays, rock pools, and sea turtle nesting sites. You can do wet hikes in several places, like Ayun Streat Nature Reserve, and Amud Stream Nature Reserve. There is a high concentration of National parks in northern Israel each with a unique character. The Hamat Tiberias National Park on the Golan has hot springs and the Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) National Park preserves an archaeological site that would have been a fishing village during Jesus’ lifetime. You can travel across the Holy Land discovering diverse, and unique national parks where you’ll see a side of Israel you never imagined existed.

Jerusalem’s New Urban Wildlife Reserve

In March of this year (2015) Jerusalem’s first urban wildlife park of its kind was opened. The establishment of the Gazelle Valley Urban Wildlife Park comes after 15 years of intensive efforts and legal battles by local activists to prevent construction of buildings on this land.The land between the Katamon neighborhood, Gazelle ValleyGivat Mordechai area and the Holyland neighborhood (by Begin Highway) had once been an area where fruit trees grew and wild animals roamed. This patch of natural countryside in the heart of the city became known as Gazelle Valley because of the herd of gazelles which grazed there. Slowly urban development encroached more and more on this island of green until real estate giants put their sights on Gazelle Valley with plans of constructing a new neighborhood of high-rise blocks. Local activists voiced their objections and together with environmental organizations like the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel they fought for the establishment of a nature reserve.It took 22 million shekels to transform the area into the natural paradise that it is today and a further 70 million is earmarked for future plans for the park. The park was financed by the municipality in conjunction with donations by the Jerusalem Foundation. The urban wildlife park covers more than 60 acres (about the size of the Old City) and has been designed with care to maintain the natural, wild habitat. The park is an oasis within the concrete jungle and is easily accessible on foot from places like the Malka Mall and Bayit V’Gan.Gazelle ValleyUnlike conventional parks Gazelle Valley has large areas where the natural grass and bush have been left untouched creating a natural environment for the herd of gazelles which now call it home. The gazelles which now live in the park are the few that survived from the original much larger herd plus others which have been brought here to repopulate the area. Already two fawns have been born in the park. The park is divided into three areas – for the gazelles, the visitors and an open buffer zone between them. The park has bike paths, two streams, five ponds, picturesque bridges leading to a man-made island, bird watching areas, picnic spots, open lawns and many birds and small animals who have made this home like porcupines, moles and hedgehogs. Visitors can join guided nature tours of the park and borrow deck chairs and binoculars to watch the gazelles.
By Petal Mashraki

The Israel National Trail

Criss-crossing the entire land of Israel, and stretching just over 1000 kilometres (around 630 miles), the Israel National Trail (‘Shvil Israel’) is the kind of experience every hiker will remember for years after. National Geographic have listed it as one of the world’s “most epic” trails and when you hike it you’ll understand marries mountains with desert, coastal plains with green fields, snow-capped hills with warm waters in the Red Sea, Roman and Crusader ruins with Arab/Druze villages...basically, it’s a taste of everything the land of Israel encompasses.Rare OpportunityIt also offers the hiker something else too - a chance to understand more about the Biblical significance of the land as well as the opportunity to meet Israelis from every walk of life...not just those whose villages and towns you’ll pass through, but those who will aid you practically, as you continue on your journey. (But more of that later.)The trail itself is easily marked in colorful stripes - blue white and orange - and is the brainchild of Avraham Tamir and Ori Dvir, who love hiking and nature. Inaugurated back in 1995, first and foremost its aim is to give hikers the chance to experience Israel in its most natural settings. What’s also great about the National Israel Trail is that you don’t have to complete the entire stretch. If you're not an expert hiker, or you only have a few days to spare, that’s fine - you can focus on one particular part of it or even take day trips. But for any ardent hiker, between 4-6 weeks will need to be set aside in order to complete the entire stretch.Trail AngelsOn a practical level, strong boots, snacks, and a hardy water bottle are all must-haves, particularly for when you’re in remote areas of the trail. The SPNI (Society for the Protection of Nature) sells high-class topographical maps, in English, with an emphasis on the hiking trails - they are an invaluable resource!There’s also more good news - all along the route, you’ll be able to call upon the services of “Trail Angels”. These wonderful people provide hikers with a place to shower/sleep, kitchen facilities, and quite often dinner, or at the very least a coffee and a chat, in their homes. Getting to meet locals in their natural habitat? It doesn’t get much more authentic than this! Some Trail Angels also partake in a water-burying scheme (in the desert areas) which really comes in handy when you’re halfway through your day and parched.It’s up to you whether you want to work your way up or down the country, but since trekking in Israel’s summer can be unbearable, we suggest you begin your journey in the autumn or winter. Here’s an example of an itinerary, beginning in the south, in mid-February.Timna, the Arava and the NegevStart your journey in Eilat (on the tip of the Red Sea), and spend your last day of ‘freedom’ on the beach, enjoying views of Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi. With its endless palm trees and clement waters, it’s the ideal place to enjoy some R&R.Trekking through the Eilat Mountains, and the Arava desert, pass through Timna Park - 15,000 acres set in a valley shaped like a horseshoe, surrounded by Mount Timna and some very steep cliffs. The geology is quite fascinating (our tip: look out for the Pillars of Solomon, two sandstone columns that tower above you). Heading up through the vast desert expanses, you’ll pass Kibbutz Neot Samdar (they sell excellent vegetarian produce) and arrive in Mitzpe Ramon, a small town that sits on the edge of the magnificent Ramon Crater. (It’s actually possible to hike, bike, or take a jeep tour inside the crater). About 35 kilometers north, you’ll arrive at the Midreshet Ben Gurion, an intimate community that boasts scientific institutes, the burial site of David Ben Gurion (Israel’s first Prime Minister), and some striking views of Wadi Zin. Call upon Trail Angel Arthur du Mosch, who leads tours of the desert, is an expert horse-rider and actually caught a leopard in his home, many years back!Judean HillsThe Judean Desert, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockHead north through the Negev to the Yatir Forest, Israel’s largest forest which, despite receiving very little rainfall, is home to some of the country’s most varied woodlands (including a unique eucalyptus with red blossoms). Enjoy some archaeology - the Yatir Ruins (associated with the Biblical city of Jatti).From there it’s into the Judean Hills. Don’t miss the breathtaking views inside the ‘British Park’ and sites such as the Luzit Caves, Kidon Ruins, and Monastery of Beit Jamal. Trek through dirt tracks, pass caves and look over Highway 1, which served as a battleground in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The trail continues through the Sharon coastal area, including Tel Aviv. The ‘White City’ (named after its Bauhaus Buildings) can be a good place to enjoy a couple of days’ rest, some good coffee, and sandy beaches.Carmel and the GalileeIt’s then north to the incredibly lovely part of the trail, with wondrous views of the Galilee and steep ravines in which you can hike. The path runs through Kibbutz Yagur, where you’ll find more helpful Trail Angels. Dip your feet in the Nakhash Stream, sip at your water bottle and breathe in the clean air.Further north, you’ll arrive at Mount Tabor, rising up from the very flat Jezreel Valley. Green all year round, it provides magnificent observation points. (Our tip: don’t miss the caves and the Greek Orthodox/Franciscan churches).Mount Meron, the Yesha Fortress, and the Upper GalileeAbout 70 kilometers north, just after the spiritual center of Safed, you’ll arrive at Mount Meron which, at 500 meters above sea level, is Israel’s largest peak. It is home to ‘Elijah’s Chair’ (a huge lectern-shaped rock that is rumored to be where the great prophet sat). Parts of the area are a protected nature reserve - and don’t miss the village of Meron either (where you’ll find the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai).Another 30 km north, you’ll arrive at the imposing Yesha Fortress - built by the British during the Mandate period. Today it’s used by the Israeli border police. Hike up the path that leads to a splendid panorama of the Hula Valley below. On your left, you will see the villages of Metula and Kiryat Shmona and, across the Valley, the Golan Heights (whose peaks might even still have snow on them).You will also find at the site a plaque that remembers the 28 men who died fighting here in the War of Independence (our tip: don’t miss the small grove nearby that has 28 trees planted in memory of the men). The last part of the trail - the Hula Valley, Upper Galilee, and Naftali Ridge - will see you hiking when spring has truly arrived - with luck you will have blue skies and sunny days, and all around you will be fields carpeted with brightly colored crocuses.On the eastern side of the Naftali cliffs, the trail will afford you views of planted forests (after the Second Lebanon War, a reforestation project was undertaken). Don’t miss the Saadia Scenic Lookout, the Manara Cliff, and the Shepherds Spring. And by then, you’re homeward bound and you can honestly say you know the land of Israel a great deal better!
By Sarah Mann

Top Hikes near Jerusalem

Jerusalem is built on a plateau in the Judean Hills; this ancient city is surrounded by rocky peaks; thick forests and lush valleys. It is incredible to think of all the pilgrims, armies and travelers – Jews, Christians and Muslims that made their way to the City of Gold on foot over thousands of years.With some of the spectacular hikes around Jerusalem, it is possible to experience, in a small way, the awe ancient travelers must have felt when making their way through the rugged hills towards Jerusalem. Today the precious landscape around Jerusalem is persevered in national parks and nature reserves. Here is a selection of just some of the trails you can follow in the Jerusalem area, although there are many more.Ein Karem to Derech HaGefen HikeThis unique and rather off-the-beaten-track hike takes you from Ein Karem, a quant community near Jerusalem to the well-known Derech HaGefen Café. It is a short, easy hike where you can see the Jerusalem suburbs on the horizon most of the time. The bonus of this hike trail is that you can explore the picturesque community of Ein Keram where stone houses are draped with ivy and bougainvillea and the quaint lanes have courtyard cafes and arts and crafts stores. Leave Ein Keram's main street, Rechov Ein Karem where an Israel Trail marker leads down to Madregot Gan Eden (Steps of Paradise). Pass the trail market indicating Derech Sorek and continue down Emek HaTeimanim Street leaving the Israel Trail. Continue on Emek HaTeimanim which becomes a lane and then a dirt path leading into the open countryside. Hike until you see a sign to Derech Hagefen. The last part of the hike is on a road (Derech Hagefen) and passes rural dwellings with charming gardens. End the hike with a meal or drink at the Derech Hagefen Café then retrace your steps back to Ein Keram.Nahal Refa'imHike Trail in Begin ParkMost hikers head to northern Israel when they are looking for winter hikes; but the best winter hike near Jerusalem is to Nahal Refaim which only flows in the winter. This hike is especial good after a few days of rain when the river is at its fullest. The hike trail to the river banks and back again is about 2km altogether with quite a steep climb on the way back. The hike starts in Begin Park, less than a half hour from Jerusalem. Follow the red trail markers through forests and over rocky areas. The trail crosses a road and continues on the Israel Trail taking you down a steep hill. Then cross another road and join the trail marked by green markers. At that point the trail meets the wide, rapidly-flowing river flanked by eucalyptus trees, wild flowers and other vegetation. If you want to extend the hike, then continue following the green markers or you could opt to retrace your steps.Givat HaTurmusim Hike through Wild FlowersHikers visiting the Holy Land often imagine they will only find desert hikes in Israel but on this stunning hike route just outside Jerusalem you'll be awe-struck by the spectacular show of bright purple-blue "turmusim" or wild lupine flowers. You can see the flower-filled meadows in full bloom in February and March but the rest of the year you will still find yourself surrounded by breathtaking scenery. The brilliantly colored flowers stand out against a backdrop of dark green hills. Givat HaTurmusim (Lupine Hill) can be explored on a 6km circular route or you can simply scale the hill.Shvil HaMayanot Hike TrailOn this 3km hike trail you'll need to double-back and return to the starting point along the same route. The hike starts about 15 minutes from Jerusalem city center close to Ein Hendek on the road between Ein Keram and Moshav Even Sapir and meanders through the western slopes of the Judean Hills. Shvil HaMayanot (Trail of Springs) takes you along a chain of five natural spring pools. You'll also encounter tunnels; woodlands; olive groves and ancient ruins. At some of the springs you can see how ancient inhabitants channeled the spring water into stone-constructed pools; some of which have been restored. The route ends near the Yad Kennedy memorial. It's possible to do this hike year-round but it is best from December to April. If you want to stretch out this hike to make it longer take a detour to Handak Spring which is a tunnel spring carved into the stone and dry in the summer. If you have a flashlight you can walk into the spring tunnel.Sataf Nature TrailSataf is a site where ancient agricultural techniques, specifically terraced farming have been recreated alongside two picturesque springs – Bikura Spring and Sataf Spring. The original agricultural terraces where built 4500 years ago. Sataf is about 14km from Jerusalem and the hike trail can be accessed from the Sataf parking lot. The hike can be done year-round and has various amenities such as a café, toilets and picnic trails. Within the Sataf grounds are two hike trail options – the 1.5km-long Blue Trail that takes a circular route and the 2km-long Green Trail which passes the two springs. There are other longer routes including the 8.5km Red Trail which is considered one of the best in the Jerusalem area.
By Petal Mashraki

A Visit to the Jezreel Valley

Israel’s Jezreel Valley (also known as the Megiddo Valley) is located in the upper part of the country, bordered on its north by the Lower Galilee, to the south by Mount Gilboa, to the west by the Mount Carmel Range, and to the east by the Jordan Valley.It is a large, fertile plane, dotted with natural springs, and affords the visitor all kinds of wonderful views. As the agricultural heartland of the country, it is famous for its astonishing flatness, as well as its beauty. Although there are many valleys in Israel, it is particularly well-known and loved and usually referred to by Israelis simply as ‘ha Emek’ which, in Hebrew, means ‘ the Valley.’Jezreel Valley from the top of Mount Tabor.Photo credit: © Jenny EhrlichWith its fertile soil and endless farms, it is a beautiful spot for hiking, picnics, and general enthusiasts of the outdoors. Often overlooked by tourists on a tour to Israel, it is not just a wonderful place for nature lovers but also boasts sites of great religious and historical significance. Jezreel, in Hebrew, means ‘ God sows’, and because of its strategic location (as a stopover for armies en route to Egypt, Turkey, or the Arabian Peninsula) the valley is not just rich in soil but also in archaeological artifacts. History of the ValleyThe history of the Jezreel Valley dates back thousands of years (circa 7000 BCE) and is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the home of Gideon (a military leader of the Israelites as well as a prophet and Judge). The valley is also home to one of the area’s most famous battles - the Battle of Megiddo. This is mentioned in the Book of Revelations as the place at which the last battle before the Apocalypse will be fought, between the forces of good and evil. (Fun fact: the ancient fortress city of Megiddo has seen more battles than any other spot on the earth. Join the Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley Private Tour to check that).Megiddo National Park.Photo credit: © ShutterstockGeography of the AreaThe Jezreel Valley, as mentioned before, is extremely fertile and by far and away the agricultural heartland of the north of Israel. It is the veritable ‘ breadbasket’ of the country, with its wheat crops. Driving through the area, you are also bound to see cotton fields, fish ponds, grazing cattle, sunflowers, and age-old silver-green olive trees on terraced hillsides. Farmers here (often working in collectives) grow white beans, chickpeas, cheeses, watermelons, lemons, limes, and cherries. Today, most of the population can be found in Afula or large villages, and small-scale family orchards are mainly a thing of the past although some families hold true to their heritage and continue to market crops that their forefathers did. Whether exploring the Jezreel Valley independently or by taking a private tour, traveling the area will give you the opportunity to visit not just historical and religious sites but also local kibbutzim (on our private tours, we can arrange such visits with ease).Let’s now take a look at some of the most important sites in the region, which include mountains, national parks, and even a Crusader castle. All are based in this beautiful, and often under-explored part of the country. Intrigued? Read on ...Megiddo National Park.Photo credit: © Jenny Ehrlich1. MegiddoMegiddo refers to a "tel" or hill, and ancient Megiddo overlooked the Via Maris trade route where caravans traveled (the Bible refers to it as ‘the way of the sea’). Today it is home to a well-known archaeological park where visitors can see the remains of several gates that date back to King Solomon’s reign. On the west side of the mound is a water supply and storage system dating back to the 10th century BC, with almost 200 stairs that connect to a long tunnel and underground spring. This system could not be seen by invaders and it was, therefore, a safe space for residents to hide, and survive, when under siege. Also on display is the remains of a Canaanite Palace with 2 meter thick walls and an open courtyard.2. Mount TaborFound east of the Jezreel Valley, in the Lower Galilee, Mount Tabor stands at 570 meters and is easily recognized, due to its unique shape (half hump-backed, half breast-shaped). Mount Tabor is a very important Christian site within Galilee, as it is believed to be the spot at which the transfiguration (the becoming radiant with glory) of Jesus and where he spoke to Moses and Elijah the Prophet. Mount Tabor is a perfect hiking spot since it is green annually, and also offers fantastic panoramic views of the area. Visitors should not miss a visit to the Church of the Transfiguration (built upon the ruins of an ancient Byzantine church), designed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi.Transfiguration Church, Mount Tabor. Photo credit:© Natalia Brizeli3. Mount GilboaSituated in the Lower (south) Galilee, Mount Gilboa is an ever-popular spot both for locals and tourists, particularly in the spring when masses of flowers resemble a carpet beneath the visitor’s feet. It sits 650 meters above sea level, with some rather steep ledges, but still a fine spot for hiking, picnics, and a paradise for those who love flora - in particular the lily, iris, crocus, narcissus, and anemone. A settlement in Roman times (archaeologists later found burial caves found in nearby villages) the area was historically home to vineyards but after the Arab conquest in 636 CE, Gilboa was abandoned until about 250 years ago.Sights in the area include Tel Jezreel, the Hidden Valley (an excellent hiking path for experienced walkers), and the Maale Gilboa observation point, affording spectacular views to the south.4. Gan HaShlosha National ParkGan HaShlosha National Park is arguably in one of the most lovely spots in Israel and boasts far more than just a park, Located at the bottom of Mount Gilboa in the Beit Shean Valley, everywhere you look is water, splashing over into a number of waterfalls and natural pools where you can swim.The pools are also surrounded by tall trees, providing wonderful shade on hot summer days. Moreover, Gan HaShlosha boasts an archaeological museum, divided into two parts – firstly, the Museum of Regional and Mediterranean Archaeology and secondly a rebuilt Tower & Stockade pioneer settlement. This tower was one of the first ‘yishuvs’ (pre-state settlements) and dates back to 1936. 5. Beit Shean National ParkOne of Israel’s oldest cities, Beit Shean (which in Hebrew means ‘the House of Tranquility) can be found 27 km south of the Sea of Galilee. Sandwiched between the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys, it is an extremely fertile area. It is also very hot, with temperatures reaching 50 degrees in the summer. Beit Shean houses the ruins of an ancient Roman city, destroyed in the 8th century by a huge earthquake that struck the area. In 748 CE. Excavated by archaeologists and painstakingly restored, it gives you an excellent sense of how Romans and Byzantine citizens once lived.Not only does it boast an amphitheater, roads and impressive stone columns, mosaics, and a bathhouse, but it is also a national park. Visitors, after exploring the ruins, can walk in green spaces and quickly find themselves next to springs and valley trails. At present, these are the largest excavations within Israel and visitors can easily spend several hours here. Look out for the model at the entrance, giving you an excellent overview, and consider attending a Sound and Light performance, after night falls. Truly a trip back in time.Beit Shean National Park. Photo credit: © Jenny Ehrlich6. Belvoir Castle (Kokhav HaYarden)Located 20 km south of the Sea of Galilee, this fantastic Crusader-era castle (with a history stretching back to the 12th century) is easily one of the area’s hidden gems. Designed to deter Muslim invaders, it sits high above the Jordan Valley, affording spectacular views of the surrounding area.Belvoir (or ‘Kokhav ha Yarden’ which means ‘Star of the Jordan’ in Hebrew) was originally owned by a French nobleman named Velos. After he sold the land to Crusaders, they built the fortress and several battles took place there before it fell to Saladin in 1189. Until the 1960s, it sat in ruins but extensive renovations mean it is now open to the public.Architecturally, the castle is concentric (a popular design originating in Europe at that time), meaning that it was built with two defensive walls, one inside the other. Made of materials such as black basalt and limestone, the main route into the fortress was from an outer age at the foot of a south-eastern tower, ascending a ramp and then doubling back and up again to reach the inner gate in the same corner tower. 7. Beit Alpha SynagogueThe Beit Alpha Synagogue is located in the Beit Shean Valley and dates back to the 6th century. It was discovered accidentally in 1928 by members of a local kibbutz, who were digging in the area as part of an irrigation project. Excavations showed that the building that once stood there was of two floors and constrained not just a courtyard, vestibule, and prayer hall but the bimah (raised platform in which the Torah scroll was kept) faced in the direction of Jerusalem.In the entryway are inscriptions both in Greek and Aramaic and three extraordinary floor mosaics, The first depicts the famous ‘Akedah’ (‘Binding”) scene from the Bible, between Abraham, commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac; the second is a Zodiac wheel (depicting 12 different animal signs); the third depicts a synagogue scene, complete with a hanging lamp and a Torah shrine flanked by two lions, with Jewish ritual objects surrounding the animals. Beit Alpha is managed by the Israel Parks and Natura Authority.8. Ma'ayan Harod National ParkMa’ayan (meaning ‘Herod’s Spring’ in Hebrew) is a beautiful national park located at the foot of Mount Gilboa. It offers panoramic views of the Jezreel Valley, a large swimming pool (which is fed by water from the nearby spring), and a great deal of greenery, making it an ideal attraction for both older and younger visitors.The area dates back to the 12th century, where it is thought to have been the place that Sultan Saladin pitched his tent, en route to Jerusalem. In the 1920s the area was purchased from Palestinians by a Zionist Jew named Yehoshua Hankin, and settled by Jewish pioneers who eventually established two kibbutzes.Visitors can also explore the house and tomb of Hankin - the entrance to the tomb of Hankin (and his wife Olga) was designed by David Palombo, the architect who designed the gates of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). Inside the house are historical artifacts relating to the Hankin era and next door is a war memorial honoring residents of the Jezreel Valley who died in many of Israel’s battles since 1948.Tsipori National Park.Photo credit: © ShutterstockDirectionsThe Jezreel Valley is not easily accessible by public transport, but the biggest city in the region is Afula, which can be reached by bus no. 825 from Tel Aviv (approx. 1 hour 30 minutes) or by train from Haifa (approx. 32 minutes). To see as much of the area as possible, in a short period of time, it is advisable to hire a car. Alternatively, if you are not keen on driving, and would appreciate the knowledge and insight a guide can give you then why not take a Galilee tour? We would recommend the Mount Tabor, Tsipori, Beit Shearim private tour, in which you can visit the famous Church of the Transfiguration, enjoy Tsipori’s ancient Roman amphitheater and also make a visit the burial caves of Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi. Since all of these private tours can be customized, it is entirely up to you to decide what to visit and how long to spend there.
By Sarah Mann

UNESCO Site: Biblical Tels – Megiddo, Hazor, Beer Sheva

Tels are prehistoric settlement mounds predominantly found in the Middle East. Megiddo, Hazor and Beer Sheva are three of 200 such Tels in Israel, which contain significant remains of cities which have Biblical connections. Excavation has found large multi-layered settlements which existed over the course of several millennia. The locations were probably chosen as settlement sites due to their strategic positions along important trade routes and because of the available water supplies. The three Tels are referred to as “Biblical Tels” as they appear in the Old Testament Bible.In 2005 UNESCO declared these mounds as having outstanding universal value according to three criteria: 1. The Tels show an interchange of ideas and values between the east and west through trading, this can be seen in the many styles of building including those of Egypt and Syria. 2. The Tels offer a rare insight into living conditions and lifestyle of the Canaan cities of the Bronze Age and the Biblical cities of the Iron Age. 3. The development of Levant (Israel, Lebanon, Syria and eastern Turkey) urban development evident in the Tels had a great impact of future historic developments in the region. 4. Having been mentioned in the Bible the three Tels have spiritual and religious universal value.The findings at these Tels show us that there was a centralized authority which controlled the important trade routes through the region. Thankfully the remains at each site have retained their integrity and have been left untouched for centuries. Over the course of time the Tels have become conical shaped mounds with a flat top. The Tels show evidence of sophisticated, geographically responsive, engineering in the ancient underground water systems designed to bring water to the cities.Tel Hazor is located in northern Israel near the Sea of Galilee and boasts one of the best examples of ancient ramparts in the Middle East. The ramparts enclosed the city with 9 meter high walls and there were two monumental gates. Its late Bronze Age palaces and temples stand out as some of the best in the Levant and the most complex in Israel. Excavation began at Tel Hazor in 1928 and later in the 1950s the well known archaeologist Yigan Yadin led further excavations; in 1990 work was once again resumed on the site. A six chambered stone gate was found which can be attributed to the time of King Solomon. The complex water system involved a 30 meter descending tunnel and a cave with a vaulted corridor. As with the other two Tels, Tel Hazor held an important position at a major ancient cross road.Tel Megiddo is just 50km southwest of Tel Hazor at the northern point of the Qishon River and has an unparalleled number of temples in its early Bronze Age temple compound, which shows that there was a continuity in the ritual activity on the Tel. the mound was the site of a powerful Canaan settlement which controlled the Via Maria,a route connecting Egypt with Syria, Anatolia and Mesopotamia. Megiddo is referred to as Armageddon in the New Testament. The site was first excavated in 1903-5, then again in 1925-39 and again in the 1960s – 70s. Archaeologists uncovered around 30 different cities built one on top of the other on at least 20 levels. Another major archaeological finds was an 80 meter long aqueduct which brought water from a spring at the foot of the mound up a vertical shaft to supply the city with fresh water.Tel Beer Sheva is in southern Israel near the Negev Desert and the archaeological findings show an elaborate, oval-shaped and walled, Iron Age town plan unparalleled in the Levant. The well planned town has a central square and an underwater drainage system as well as a well 69 meter below the ground. Excavation of Tel Beer Sheva only began in the 1960s. They discovered the remains of a 9th century Judahite settlement which continued into the 8th century until it was destroyed by a fire during the Assyrian campaign. Among the remains is the Governor’s Palace with three long halls and several ancillary rooms.
By Petal Mashraki

Mountains in Israel

The geography of the Holy Land is incredibly diverse - you can actually dive with tropical fish in the Red Sea, cycle through the Arava and Negev deserts, swim and sunbathe by the Mediterranean Sea all in the space of a day, if you get up early. Something else that’s amazing about Israel is just how many mountains it has. Many tourists aren’t aware of this - they imagine sun, sea and sand, without knowing that within an hour or two’s drive of both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv it’s possible to find amazing places to climb and hike.Masada Cable Car, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockMountains in Israel are also imbued with religious significance, important to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. From Mount Sinai, where God gave Jews the Ten Commandments, to the Mount of Temptation(where Jesus battled with Satan), great drama takes place. No less so either in the Quran - in Islamic history, the small hills of Al-Marwah and Al-Safa are the locations between which Muslims travel back and forth during their famous pilgrimage known as the ‘Hajj.’And for those less interested in history and more in sport, Israel’s a great place to visit if you’re athletic. Whether you want to hike,indulge in some rock climbing, take off on a mountain bike action in Israel, ski and snowboard on Mount Hermon, or rappel down the sides of the Mitzpe Ramon crater in the Negev desert, there’s a tour guide waiting to arrange your excursion in Israel.Below we’re looking at some of these mountain ranges, what makes them important to the pilgrims who visit there and why you should think about visiting a few of them on your trip to Israel.Mount Arbel near Tiberias. Photo credit: © Dan PorgesMountains and the Hebrew BibleMount Carmel -This coastal mountain range in Haifa is, at its highest point, 5454 m above sea level. The name dates back to biblical times and comes from the Hebrew word ‘kerem’ (‘vineyard’), referring to the mountain’s fertility. Its most important reference in the Old Testament is in Kings 1, where Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal.Mount Gerizim - Located in the West Bank, just south of Nablus (Shechem) Mount Gerizim rises to 880 m and is the twin of Mount Ebel, which sits to its north. The mountain is mentioned in Deuteronomy 11, as the site where God was to give his blessing to the Jewish people - and this ceremony was subsequently performed in the time of Joshua. Gerizim is also mentioned in the writings of the Roman historian Flavius Josephus and in the rabbinical Talmud. Mount Gilboa - The Gilboa Ridge runs to around 80 km and rises to a height of 650 meters above sea level. Close to the Great Rift Valley, its slopes are steep and ideal for hiking when in Israel. It is also home to several springs, including Ein Harod and Ein HaShlosha and these are very popular both with tourists and locals.Overlooking the Jordan Valley to the North and the Jezreel Valley to the south, Mount Gilboa is where Saul (Israel’s first King) died (by falling on his own sword) in a battle against the Philistines. When David heard this news, he wept and cursed the mountain.Hai-Bar Carmel National Park. Photo credit: © Manu Grinspan. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityMount Hazor - Located in the West Bank, with Samaria to its north and Judea to its south, Mount Hazor reaches over 1,000 meters at its peak. In Hebrew, ‘Hazor’ means ‘courtyard’ and refers to the wall enclosures that people constructed here in ancient times. In Joshua’s day, it was regarded as the ‘head of all the kingdoms’, and accounts from the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest that this is the place where Abraham built an altar and prepared to obey God’s word and sacrifice his son Isaac.Judaean Mountains - Also known as the Hebron hills, the Judean Mountain range stretches from the foothills of Judea to parts of the Jordan Rift Valley, including important cities such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah. Reaching a height of just over 1,000 meters, they formed the heart of the Kingdom of Judah, where the first Jewish settlements emerged.After the death of David’s son, King Solomon, the ten northern tribes separated from Judah, and Jerusalem remained the capital of the kingdom of Judah, which continued until 587/586 when the Babylonians conquered it. This majestic mountainscape is also where David hurled a stone at Goliath and Bar Kochba led a revolt against the Romans. Today, it is a wonderful place to hike, enjoy a wine tour/picnic and visit numerous archaeological sites.Judaean Desert Mountains. Photo by Amit Lahav on UnsplashMount Betarim -This mountain is sacred to two faiths - according to Jewish tradition, it is the spot at which God made his covenant with Abraham and according to Muslim tradition, it is where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice four species of birds, before bringing them back to life.Сity of David - More than 3,000 years ago, King David left Hebron for a small hilltop city known as Jerusalem; he would later establish it as the capital of the tribes of Israel. Years later, his son Solomon built the First Temple there and, as a result, this hilltop became one of the Holy Land’s most important sites.Mount Sinai (in Arabic, Jabal Musa) lies on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, rising 2,280 m high, and surrounded by even higher peaks. It is, of course, famous as the spot on which God gave the Israelites (via Moses) the Ten Commandments. Mount Nebo rises 710 m high and is situated in Jordan. It is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the place at which God gave Moses a view of the Promised Land.Breathtaking Sunrise at the top of Mount Sinai in Egypt. Photo by Vlad Kiselov on UnsplashMountains and the Christian BibleMount of Beatitudes - Overlooking the Sea of Galilee, this is the place where Jesus was supposed to have given his famous Sermon on the Mount. The exact site is not known but pilgrims commemorate the event at the Church of the Beatitudes, built on the slope of the mount and close to the Tiberias-Rosh Pina road. Mount Precipice - Located just outside of Nazareth, and almost 400 m high, this mountain offers wonderful views of the surrounding area, as well as beautiful walking paths known by pilgrims as the ‘Gospel Trails’. According to the Gospel of Luke, an angry mob attempted to throw Jesus off this mountain, after his bold sermons in the area.Mount of Temptation -Rising to 360 m above sea level, and offering wonderful panoramic views of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, this is the spot - near Jericho - at which tradition holds Christ was tempted by the Devil. You can reach the summit only on a steep path, passing by a monastery that literally ‘clings’ to the face of the cliff.Mount of Transfiguration - According to the Gospel of Matthew, this is the spot at which Jesus underwent his transfiguration - his face shone like the sun and his clothes turned white. Its actual location is unknown - it could be Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon.Mount Tabor - Located in Galilee, at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, although it is not mentioned specifically in the New Testament, Mount Tabor is assumed to be the location of Jesus’s transfiguration (see above).Mount of Beatitudes Church, Sea of Galilee, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockMountains of Jerusalem‎Mount of Olives - The Mount of Olives (in Hebrew’ Har HaZeitim’ and in Arabic ‘Jabal Al Tur’) sits east of and next to Jerusalem and is named after the olive terraces that cover the slopes. Referred to frequently both in the Old and New Testaments, it is a sacred spot for Christians, Jews, and also Muslims, and also home to a prominent cemetery.First mentioned in the Bible as the “ascent of the Mount of Olives”, it is also mentioned in the book of Zechariah at the end of days prophecy. For Christians, it is the spot where Jesus spent time in the last week of his life, particularly at the Garden of Gethsemane (where he prayed before his arrest) and also as the spot from which he ascended to heaven. For Muslims, the Mount of Olives is where the Kaaba - the black stone from Mecca - will one day return. Temple Mount (Moriah) - Also known as Haram al-Sharif and Al Aqsa, this hill in Jerusalem is venerated both by Jews and Muslims. For Jews, it is the place where the divine presence manifests itself and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. For Muslims, it is the site of Mohammed’s ascent to heaven, in 7 CE. Located just above the Western Wall, in recent years its sovereignty has become hotly contested.Mout of Olives with the Church of Dominus Flevit, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockMount Zion - Situated just outside the Old City Walls, Mount Zion is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (in conjunction with the City of David and also Temple Mount) but today its name refers to the Western Hill of ancient Jerusalem. The word ‘Zion’ certainly has emotional connotations for is where God dwells, is King, and has installed his King. Mount Scopus - At 825 meters high and situated in north-east Jerusalem, Mount Scopus has historically been a strategic point (‘scopus’ in Latin means ‘lookout’) and used by the Romans and Crusaders, as well as the scene for modern-day battles. Between 1948-1967, Mount Scopus was protected by the UN as an Israeli enclave within Jordanian territory. Today it offers panoramic views of the city and is home to the world-famous Hebrew University.Mount Herzl - Named after Theodor Herzl (the founder of modern Zionism) and also known as Har haZikharon (the Mount of Remembrance) this hill is home to Israel’s national cemetery and also other education and memorial facilities. It is a site of great importance in Israel, being where the state ceremony for the conclusion of Memorial Day and the beginning of Independence Day takes place each year. To its west, sits the Yad Vashem Memorial to the six million murdered in the Holocaust.Dormition Abbey, Mount Zion. Photo credit: © Sofia EmeliyanovaFamous Mountains in Northern IsraelMount Hermon - Mount Hermon (or Jabul al-Sheikh, "Mountain of the Sheikh" in Arabic) is a cluster of hills in the Lebanon area, with peaks that sit between the border of Syria and Lebanon. The United Nations is in control of the buffer zone at the top, separating Israel and Syria and its southern slopes are home to a ski resort that is popular with Israelis, though Mount Hermon's weather is characteristic of fog.Mount Heman soars to 2814 above the sea and is the highest mountain in Israel, surrounded at its base by a number of small Druze villages. Historically, Mount Hermon has been known as a holy place, a snow-capped hill, and also a mountain of great military (strategic) importance. Its springs at the base of the mountain form into streams that eventually make up the Jordan River.Mount Bental - Located in the Golan Heights, Mount Bental rises 1,170 meters above sea level and provides amazing views of Mount Hermon and the Golan. The overlook is managed by Kibbutz Merom haGolan, the first of its kind established after the Six-Day War in 1967.In 1973, in the Yom Kippur war, this mountain was home to an enormous tank battle and as a result of the huge casualties (100 Israeli tanks were reduced to 7, under extreme enemy fire) was subsequently known as the ‘Valley of Tears.’Valley of Tears, Golan Heights.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinMount Arbel - Situated near Tiberias, in the Lower Galilee, this mountain boasts beautiful hiking trails that lead to a fortress-like building, the remains of an ancient synagogue, and stunning views of the Golan Heights. The caves dug into Mount Arbel’s cliffs were historically used as a hiding place for Jews fighting their enemies - the historian Josephus writes of the last Hasmonean rebels who lived in the cliffs and were eventually defeated by the Romans. Mount Meron - Located close to Safed in the Upper Galilee, Mount Meron has great significance for Jews, being particularly famous for the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and a huge annual celebration of the festival of Lag B’Omer. It is mentioned in the bible as the spot at which Joshua defeated the Canaanite kings and some Jews also believe a cave nearby holds the remains of the famous rabbis Hillel and Shammai.The Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann
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