Sunday, 27 September 2015

Golan - Part III

If you only have time to visit one national park in the northern part of Israel, make it Tel Dan! Entering the Tel Dan Reserve really is like stepping into a wonderland. Streams flow everywhere into a wild river and tall trees provide welcome shade even on the hottest summer afternoon.
Of the three sources of the Jordan River, the Dan River is the largest and most important. It is fed by the snow and rain which fall on Mount Hermon, the tallest mountain in Israel. The water seeps into the mountain, branching off into hundreds of springs by the time it reaches the foot. Together these form the largest karstic spring in the Middle East, with an annual flow rate of 240 million cubic metres of water.
The Tel Dan Reserve is only 481 dunams (about 120 acres), yet it features four vastly different trails, one of which is partially wheelchair-accessible. We chose to follow the "Long trail" which passes along tranquil streams, the river, and through several shady areas. Trees growing along the trail include laurel, Italian buckthorn and Syrian ash. The ash, thanks to the good conditions at Tel Dan, grows as tall as 20 metres.
We passed through a beautiful part of the reserve, aptly named "The Paradise", and visited a water-powered flour mill which worked for 100 years, till 1948. We then rested under a huge, ancient pistachio tree with views to the Israel-Lebanon border, the Hula Valley, the Naphtali Mountains, Mount Hermon, and the Golan Heights.
Tel Dan had many cool and shady woods to explore, but the real treat was the sound of running water throughout. Towards the end of the trail we found the freezing cold wading pool, which was an absolute delight. We dipped our tired feet into the cool waters. It was the perfect way to end our visit.
Tel Dan is a both a wonderland for hikers and a biblical archaeological site. It is named for the Biblical Tribe of Dan, one of the original Twelve Tribes of Israel. The site was originally the Biblical city of Laish, which was captured by the tribe of Dan during the period of the Judges. A trail from the water-powered flour mill leads to the remnants of the city of Laish, though we did not go there on the day we visited. It was very hot, so we preferred to stay near water. Some fascinating finds can apparently be seen in this area including the "High Place", a ritual site attributed to the time of King Jeroboam, and a reconstructed Israelite-period city gate. According to Biblical tradition, judges sat in the gates of the city and legal cases were presented in gates just like this one. Another attraction is the archway of a Canaanite gate, perhaps the earliest constructed intact arch ever discovered in the world at almost 4000 years old! It is popularly known as Abraham's gate because, according to the Biblical account, Abraham journeyed to Dan to rescue his nephew Lot.
Arguably the most sensational find at Tel Dan, however, was the discovery of parts of a basalt stone stele making up part of a triumphal inscription in Aramaic, left most probably by Hazael of Aram-Damascus, an important regional figure in the late 9th century BCE. Hazael (or more accurately, the unnamed king) boasts of his victories over the king of Israel and his ally the king of the "House of David", the first time the name David had been found outside of the Bible. It is one of only four known ancient inscriptions interpreted to mention the term "Israel" and is currently on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Tel Dan also has recent military history. You can walk in a section of trench used by the Israel Defence Forces (I.D.F.) until the Six Day War in 1967, and see where battles were fought and Syrian villages used to be. It would be quite easy to spend an entire day at Tel Dan and clearly I need to go back, especially to visit Ancient Dan.
The Kinneret, or Sea of Galilee, is Israel’s largest fresh water reservoir, and is also the country’s largest and most important source of drinking water. Over the years the Kinneret's water level has become the "index" for the national mood. Israel's residents follow the level changes and take an interest in the Kinneret’s ability to continue to provide water throughout Israel. For this, and other reasons, the Kinneret has become an important national symbol, and also a major centre for tourism. The beaches offer various types of water sports and water activities for every age group. On the last day of our recent holiday, my kids chose to have a go at tubing.
They rode out to the centre of the Kinneret on a motorboat, then climbed on to a tube which was tethered to the boat. They were then towed through the water at high speed, occasionally falling in when the boat turned a corner. Afterwards they took a dip at the water's edge, fish tickling their toes as they swam.
The boys declared it great fun!
Heading home, we stopped at Belvoir National Park, or Kokhav HaYarden in Hebrew, below. Located 500 metres above the Jordan Valley on an isolated hill top, it overlooks the winding Jordan River and faces the hills of Gilead in the Kingdom of Jordan. The centrepiece of this national park is its magnificently preserved twelfth century Crusader fortress. The park's spectacular panorama gave the fortress its name – belvoir means "beautiful view". Its Hebrew name, "Star of the Jordan", preserves the name of Kochava, a Jewish village which existed nearby during the Roman and Byzantine periods.
The Crusaders built the fortress in around 1140 during the reign of Fulk d’Anjou. In 1168 the Hospitaller Knights bought the land and made it into one of the most important fortresses in the country. About 50 knights and 450 soldiers lived in Belvoir, along with their families and staff.
The fortress was attacked by Muslim forces in 1180, but its strong fortifications withstood the attack. Belvoir served as a major obstacle to the Muslim goal of invading the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem from the east and much time and effort was required by the Muslim forces, headed by Saladin, the Muslim military and political leader, to capture it. Only in 1189, after a year-and-a-half-long siege, and once the entire Crusader Kingdom had fallen, did Belvoir's residents agree to surrender and the fortress came under Muslim control. In 1220 the ruler of Damascus sent his men to destroy Belvoir to prevent its re-annexation by the Crusaders.
In modern times Belvoir became an Arab village, Kawkab al-Hawa, whose inhabitants fled during the 1948 War of Independence. Between 1963 and 1968 the site was cleared by the Israel Department of Antiquities and the National Parks Authority.
The reconstructed fortress is the most complete Crusader fortress in the country and the only one all of whose parts have been excavated. Belvoir consisted of an outer square fortress which enclosed a smaller, inner square fortress. Our walk through the ruins revealed halls, cisterns, towers, courtyards, and a 14-metre-deep moat surrounding the outer fortress. Sculptures by the Israeli artist Yigael Tumarkin, inspired by the fortress, are on display south of Belvoir.
Though we visited on an extremely hot day, and the foundations of the fortress are all that's left, Belvoir is still very impressive. The view itself, of the Jordan River Valley, the Kinneret, the Golan, and the Kingdom of Jordan, made the trip there so worthwhile.


Miss Val's Creations said...

This looks like such an amazing trip. I am surprised to see so much lush green in Israel! It is fascinating what water can feed. The water looks wonderful. I loved tubing when I was young (I probably would still love it). The fish are so cute. The fortress remains are really neat!

TexWisGirl said...

such long history in your country! hard to imagine the original tribes living and thriving there. and so much war, too.

yes, tubing is fun. :)

VeggieMummy said...

Fascinating and so beautiful - paradise indeed. The thought of pistachio trees is making my mouth water! xx

Down by the sea said...

Israel looks so beautiful too, the sea of Galilee looks so much bigger than I ever imagined. Thank you for sharing these with us. Sarah x