Tag Archives: Golan

Photo of the Week – Zavitan on Golan

Because Israel is a small country (the size of New Jersey) the relatively large expanse of the Golan makes it one of my favorite areas and it is a great place for hiking. One of my favorite hikes was Nahal Yehudia but that trail was closed and only a shorter section of it recently reopened. So when clients were looking for a place to hike I chose Nahal Zavitan, also a great place for photographs. This is a photo taken just past the hexagonal columns on the trail where it opens onto a small pool.

Nahal Zavitan on Golan

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The technical details, shot with a Lumix point and shoot camera, ISO 80, 4.1mm, F4 at 1/320 sec.

Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

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Golan Heights Tour

The Golan Heights, Israel’s mountainous north-eastern region, is one of the most beautiful areas of the country. In the Golan, rather than desert, we have streams and waterfalls. There are also numerous archeological sites and ancient synagogues dating back to the Roman and Byzantine periods, evidence of flourishing Jewish communities in the area going back 2000 years. The remains of 25 synagogues from the period between the Great Revolt in 66 and the Islamic conquest in 636, when organized Jewish settlement on the Golan came to an end, have been discovered – 6 have been excavated.

The Golan was settled in the modern period beginning in 1886 when Jews from Tzfat and Tiberias settled there. The Bnei Yehuda society of Tzfat purchased a plot of land in the village of Ramataniya in central Golan (4 km north-west of the present day religious moshav of Keshet) and named their settlement “Golan BeBashan” and settled there for about a year.

In 1887, they purchased lands between the modern day Bnei Yehuda and Kibbutz Ein Gev. This community survived until 1920, when two of its last members were murdered in the anti-Jewish riots which erupted in the spring of that year. In 1891, Baron Rothschild purchased approximately 18,000 acres of land about 15 km east of Ramat Hamagshimim, in what is now Syria. First Aliyah (1881-1903) immigrants established five small communities on this land, but were forced to leave by the Turks in 1898. The lands continued to be farmed until 1947 by the Palestine Colonization Association and the Israel Colonization Association, when they were seized by the Syrian army. Most of the Golan Heights were included within Mandatory Palestine when the Mandate was formally granted in 1922, but Britain ceded the area to France in the Franco-British Agreement of 7 March 1923. Consequently, the Golan Heights became part of Syria after the termination of the French mandate in 1944.

During the 1948-49 War of Independence  the Syrians army attacked the adjacent Jewish areas and managed to advance beyond the international border. After the war, the Syrians built extensive fortifications on the Heights, which were used for shelling of civilian targets in Israel. 140 Israelis were killed and many more were injured in these attacks between 1949 and 1967, and particularly in the spring of 1957. Because of this pounding, Israel Defense Forces captured the Golan Heights during the Six-Day war.

Gamla view

On a recent tour of the Golan I took clients to the archaeological park with ruins of the ancient Jewish city of Gamla to see the Second Temple period synagogue, hiked through dolmens to a 50 meter waterfall and from a panoramic lookout with a view of the Sea of Galilee watched the Griffon vultures soar through the canyon.

Griffon vulture, Gamla

From there we visited Um el-Kanatir (Arabic for Mother of the Arches) an impressive set of standing ruins of a Jewish village from the Byzantine era to see the ongoing reconstruction of the synagogue there. The ruins of a very large synagogue of local basalt stone were found, destroyed by the earthquake of 749 CE. I hadn’t visited in a year and there has been a lot of progress in the reconstruction of the synagogue, the walls extend to ceiling height now and the bima has been set in place (the work has now been completed).

Um el Kanatir synagogue

Um el Kanatir synagogue interior

Katzrin is also well worth a visit. The Talmudic Village lets us explore the 4th century CE village of Katzrin which includes a 6th century synagogue (built on an earlier more modest one) similar to the one at Um el Kanatir. The nearby Archaeological Museum displays artifacts uncovered on the Golan. One fascinating find is an 1,800-year-old door lintel carved of basalt with a Hebrew inscription “this is the beit midrash (study house) of Rabbi Eliezer HaKapar” that was  discovered in the village of Daburiye, situated near a steep ravine with a pair of spectacular waterfalls. We know of the tanna (70-200 CE) Eliezer HaKapar, whose name refers to his work, making wine from the fruit of the caper. There is a discussion in the Talmud about wearing new shoes on the Sabbath: What are new shoes? Shoes that have not “walked” a certain distance, the distance between the synagogue at Katzrin and the beit midrash of Rabbi Eliezer KaKapar.

The Golan Heights Winery which changed the world’s impression of Israeli wines and placed Israel firmly on the international wine map or one of a number of smaller wineries is definitely worth a visit if you are into wine. One of my favorites is the Pelter winery on Kibbutz Ein Zivan where you can have a tour and learn how Tal Pelter produces a sparkling white wine in the traditional way, as well as an unwooded Chardonnay and a Gewurztraminer described as “Sweet peach, liche, melon, citrus on a lively acidic background” and taste the wine along with the artisan goat cheeses that Tal’s spouse/partner makes.

Hamat Gader is the site of natural hot mineral springs with temperatures reaching 50 °C (122 °F) and includes a 2000 seat Roman theatre built in the 3rd century CE and a large synagogue from the 5th century CE.

Photo of the Week on Golan Trail

The Golan Trail is a 125km trail from Mount Hermon to the Sea of Galilee. This photo was taken while hiking the trail near Alonei HaBashan.

Trees on GolanYou can click on the image for a larger view (which may take some time to load depending on your Internet connection). Please share this post with your friends by clicking on the icons at the end of this message.

The technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon D90 DSLR and 18-70mm lens in April (ISO 250, 70mm, F10 at 1/250 sec).

Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

Rujm el-Hiri Revisited

I wrote about Rujm el-Hiri in a post on May 2009 and concluded with a variety of suggestions about what the structure may have been used for. Now Dr. Rami Arav who has been excavating at nearby Bethsaida since the late 1980s has proposed a new theory reported in the Nov/Dec issue of Biblical Archaeology Review based on a broader look at the local Chalcolithic civilization (4500-3500BCE) and on similarities he noticed with more distant cultures.

Rujm el-Hiri consists of four concentric circles, the outermost more than 150 meters across, made up of an estimated 42,000 tons of basalt rock. Experts believe that these are the remains of massive walls that once rose as high as 8 meters (think of the ruins of the walls of the storehouses and the Roman camps at Masada).

Excavations at Rujm el-Hiri by archaeologist Mike Freikman of Hebrew University in Jerusalem over the past five years have yielded almost no material remains of the kind that are commonly found at most archaeological sites. The lack of artifacts confirms that the site was never inhabited and so was not a town or fortress but most likely a ritual center — possibly linked to a cult of the dead. What is the reason to go to such great lengths to construct something that was never inhabited, whose location was not strategic?

Chalcolithic Ossuary, British Museum

Burial in the Chalcolithic period was in ossuaries, small clay boxes used to house the bones. Stone ossuaries were seen next in the Second Temple period for Jewish burial – bodies were buried for an initial period of about a year in temporary tombs until the flesh decomposed and only the bones remained. In archaeology, this process is called excarnation. But archaeologists have not found evidence of such preliminary graves from Chalcolithic times.

 

Artifact from Hamatmon Cave, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

Arav found a clue in the treasure of Chalcolithic bronze artifacts discovered in a cave, in the cliffs above the Dead Sea. He looked at a small copper cylinder with a square opening like a gate with figures of birds perched on the edge and saw it as a ceremonial miniature of an excarnation site.

He also noticed a similarity to round, high-walled structures used by Zoroastrians in Iran and India, known as dokhmas or towers of silence. These are structures used for a process known as sky burial — the removal of flesh from corpses by vultures. The winged scavengers perch on the high circular walls, swoop in when the pallbearers depart and can peck a corpse clean in a couple of hours.

Further evidence is a mural showing vultures and headless human corpses several millennia earlier in southern Turkey, where the local Chalcolithic residents are thought to have originated suggesting that excarnation was practiced there.

Arav’s answer is that excarnation was used — vultures did the job. To this day there are Griffon vultures and other large birds of prey that swoop above the valleys of the Golan. Arav concludes that Rujm el-Hiri was an excarnation facility.

Arav also identified a smaller structure consisting of concentric stone circles on a promontory overlooking the Jordan River as an excarnation site, outer circle is 50 meters in diameter and the inner circle 33 meters. Another round structure was recently identified at Palmahim where only ossuaries were found.

It may be hard to come to terms with Arav’s theory given the Judeo-Christian view of honoring the dead and human body but excarnation is practised in other parts of the world and it’s important to remember that the Chalcolithic period predates the Israelites by as much as three millenia.

Wind Turbines on Golan Trail

Whenever I spend some time on the Golan I am struck by its quiet expansiveness (compared to other parts of Israel). This time over the Passover holiday it was especially beautiful, everything was so green and the fields were covered with early wheat and wildflowers, poppy, lupine, asphodel, daisy, mustard, clover and some I had never seen.

     

The Golan trail is a 130km trail that snakes along from Mount Hermon in the north at an altitude of 1500 meters above sea level to the Taufik spring above Hamat Gader. I went up to hike 3 days of the Golan Trail from Har Bental to Alonei HaBashan and from there to Faraj intersection. On the first day we could see the snow-capped Hermon to the north and the Sea of Galilee below us to the south.

Unfortunately the third day to Nahal Daliyot and Rujm el-Hiri was cancelled due to inclement weather. These couple of days hiking were the closing parenthesis of the 8 days I hiked from Eilat in March.

The Golan Trail goes by and then climbs a hill, the Bashan ridge on which 10 wind turbines, 30 meters high were installed in 1992. When I went by only 5 were working, producing about 3 megawatts of electricity that is used by the Mey Eden and Golan Heights winery and some 20,000 residents of the Golan in 32 settlements.

Plans have been in place for 150 new, larger wind turbines to be installed over an area of 140 square kilometers of the northern Golan that would cost about $500 million and produce 400 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the entire eastern Galilee. A company has been established to build a wind farm in the northern Golan, in the valley known as the Vale of Tears with investments in place amounting to some $120 million. The Golan has some of the strongest levels of wind energy in the entire region but there are problems. One is that such a large number of tall (80 meters high) wind turbines could be hazardous to the migratory birds that pass over the Golan in the thousands. Also, photovoltaic panels have become more efficient and less expensive. Individuals and companies can install the panels and the electric company buys the electricity generated at 4 times the current rate. So far, some 150 photovoltaic systems have been installed generating 7 megawatts of electricity with another 200 installations approved.

Golan landscape

Nahal Saar

Just 4 km from Nimrod fortress at the junction of highway <989> with <99> is the Saar waterfall and pool. This photo was taken in November before we had much rain so there was no waterfall – you can see that the pool is very quiet and serene. This is one of the places that I suggest to people who are interested in a tour focussed on photography.

DSC_0153

A couple of weeks later I was touring with a family to the Golan and we stopped at Saar Falls. With the rain the water was now cascading down the rocks in three waterfalls.

Nahal Saar is the divider between the basalt plateau of the Golan and the limestone Mount Hermon. The root of Hermon, hrm, is the same as the Arabic Haram indicating a holy, untouchable or sacred precinct (as in the Haram el-Sharif in Jerusalem).