The Valley of Elah (Valley of the Terebinth or Emek HaElah) stretches for about half a mile, southwest of Jerusalem. The fertile valley is covered with a patchwork of farmlands and pastures and flanked on both sides by stony hills covered in woodlands and brushwood.
The vibrant green valley is named after the large shady terebinth trees from the area. At the upper end of the valley stands a larger-than-average terebinth tree reaching 17m (55ft) tall and with a trunk circumference of 5.2m (17ft). The valley is best known from the Old Testament, when David and Goliath met here for their famous confrontation (Samuel I 17:2, 19).
Today the valley is home to several important archaeological sites, including the site of the ancient town of Azekah. North of the valley the city of Beit Shemesh is slowly encroaching on the valley as more and more houses are constructed. Luckily, the serene countryside is now protected by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Archaeological Findings in Elah Valley
Azekah - Tel Zakariya, is an archaeological mound where the ancient biblical town of Azekah once guarded the Valley of Elah as a stronghold of the Kingdom of Judah protecting the western border. The ruins date back to the Canaanite period, and today stand on the edge of Britannia Park.
Azekah is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as one of the places where the Amorite kings lost a battle to Joshua. Later, during King Saul’s reign, the Philistine forces gathered between Azekah and Sokho to present their champion, Goliath. Azekah was fortified by Saul’s son, Rehoboam (Chronicles II 11:5-10) and it remained one of the strongest cities in the area.
It was one of the last two towns to fall to the Babylonians before Jerusalem was captured in the 6th-century BC. During the Byzantine period, the town’s name was changed to Kefer Zechariah and featured on the 4th-century AD Peutinger map. Today the archaeological mound stands on a hill 100m above the valley.
Visitors climbing the steps to the flat plateau summit of the mound pass stones engraved with relevant BIblical quotes. From the summit, there are breathtaking views across the pastoral valley. On the northeast foothills of the mound are man-made caves cut into the rock that was once part of the town’s water system. It is possible to hike on and around the mound, and enter the impressive cave system.
Khirbet Qeiyafa - Not far from Beit Shemesh, and just 30km from Jerusalem are the remains of a substantial fortified city dating back to the 10th-century BC. The ancient city overlooked the valley and was surrounded by a thick wall stretching 700m.