Monday, 1 March 2021

Tel Tzafit

It was grey and drizzling when we arrived at Tel Tzafit and there were very few people around, but the rain stopped as we began our hike and we managed to complete almost the whole short trail before the heavens opened. As we walked, we noticed how green everything looked since the winter rains had begun. Bright green grass was growing everywhere and more than a few Sitvanit Ha'Yore, which literally means "Saffron of the first rains", were flowering on the hill.
Tel Tzafit, or in Arabic Tell es-Safi, which means "clear or bright mound", is thought to be the site of the ancient Philistine city of Gath. Gath was one of the five Philistine cities in the southern coastal plain - the others being Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron. The five cities are often referred to as the Philistine Pentapolis.
Archaeological excavations show that the tel, or archaeological mound, was continually inhabited since the 5th millennium BCE. It appears on the Madaba Map as Saphitha, while the Crusaders called it Blanche Garde, the "White Fortress". Under the Ottoman Empire it was part of the district of Gaza and in modern times the villagers were Muslim and cultivated cereals and orchards. They had a mosque, a marketplace and a shrine for a local sage called Shaykh Mohammad. The Arab population was expelled during the 1948 War of Independence, when the village was conquered by the Givati brigade, and later levelled. Today the site is an Israeli national park and the site of ongoing archaeological excavations.
A small columbarium (housing structure for doves and pigeons) carved into one of the caves for fresh meat supply.
The clearly marked trail first took us past white chalky caves, along the western and northern area of the hill. The chalk was used in ancient times to quarry building stones for structures. The artificially carved caves were then used for storage of grain and as reservoirs for the water supply. Large rocks full of fossils sit in chunks around the opening of the caves. These are remnants of the distant past when this area was completely under water.
We continued climbing towards the summit of the hill, which sits 700 feet (210 m) above sea level. Periodic signs along the trail with quotations from the Bible gave us information about the ancient city of Gath. From the top there were impressive views from all sides and it was easy to understand the strategic importance of the site, which commanded the main north-south coastal road and also an important east-west route along the valley of Elah to Jerusalem.
The sign on the observation platform shows directions, in Hebrew, to the major Philistine cities – Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron. They are in order from top to bottom, also from south to north.
  An Arab graveyard was located on the fringes of the ruined Arab village. Some remains of the tombs are still standing on the hillside.
We took a break at the observation platform on the summit of the hill to enjoy the views of the coastal plain, the Shfela (the Lowlands) and the Judaean Hills in the distance. The summit was where an ancient acropolis was once located, and was also the location of the Crusader fortress. Continuing along the trail we passed the remains of the Arab village, as well as more ancient remains, below. The Arab village was built on the ruins of the Crusader village and fortress. The villagers reused the ancient stones and added sun-dried mud bricks to build their houses. An Arab graveyard was located around the summit and some of the tombs are still there.
Further down the hill various excavations have unearthed Philistine style ceramics, including a fragment of a clay bowl, dated to 950 BC, with ancient alphabetic letters cut into it spelling two words which are etymologically close to the name Goliath. This supports evidence of settlement by the Philistines in Gath. Another interesting find was an ivory bowl cut from a section of a tusk of an Indian elephant which is dated to 1100 BC. Yet more evidence of the Philistine culture was found in the form of a cooking installation known as a 'pebbled hearth' - a round pile of small stones on which they cooked their food.
Along this part of the trail were groups of cactus bushes. The cactus bush was a typical fence used in Arab villages.
From this point it was a short walk back to our car, first passing more caves and an orchard. It was raining pretty heavily but, once back in the car, I couldn't resist stopping at an ancient well located near to the entrance to the park. The well, "Bir Tel Tzafit", below, was an Antilia type well and was used by the villagers as their source of water. A water wheel, also known as the Antilia, was used to fetch the water from the bottom of the well using cogwheels and animal power - donkey or camel - to raise water from the well and fill up a nearby pool. From the pool the water was channelled to agricultural fields, or used for households or livestock. Around the well are the remains of the structures that operated with the various parts of the Antilia.
The Helpful Hiker

23 comments:

Tamar SB said...

It's so green!! What a gorgeous hike.

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

How wonderful to see spring flowers peeking out on your hike. Happy Monday!

Kim Carberry said...

I am so glad the rain stopped for your hike.
What an interesting place to explore. There is so much history there x

Holidays from Hels said...

What an interesting landscape for a walk - love the chalky white rocks. You don't imagine hiking in the rain when you think of Israel! I spent a summer in a Kibbutz and the heat was blistering. But for hiking, this can be the perfect weather. Really interesting to follow your footsteps. #adventurecalling

NCSue said...

Early spring is a real mood-booster, isn't it?
Thanks for sharing these lovely photos with us at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2021/03/bad-memory.html

JO said...

this looks wonderful, quite isolated I imagine. I love the spring flowers poking through.

Joanne said...

What a green and wonderful hike!

Anne said...

Another lovely tour of your Country. It definitely looks a lot greener. There is so much history steeped in your ancient lands.

VeggieMummy said...

Beautiful views and fascinating history. I loved the bit about the clay bowls! xx

Tom said...

...I'm not a fan of hiking on the rain, but the landscape would be so barren without it. Nature has done a beautiful job sculpting the rocks. Thanks for sharing this special spot, take care and stay safe.

Gattina said...

Very interesting post for me ! With blogging I learn so much about other countries more then in school !!

Lady Fi said...

Glad you got a hike in before the rain. Nice to see the spring flowers.

Yvonne said...

The history of the place is interesting, and your hike produced many lovely photos. Enjoyed reading about your adventures.

Emmalene said...

What an interesting place to hike, and lots to learn on the way as well! Thank you for sharing on this month's TravelLinkUp

Emmalene | A Brummie Home and Abroad

Meditations in Motion said...

What a beautiful place to hike! I used to grow saffron at home, then harvest the stamens to use as a spice. The wild saffron looks similar.

Peabea Scribbles said...

Thank you for sharing your hiking photos. I've been using the treadmill and walk in different countries via YouTube so may have to see if any have posted from your part of the world. I'm anxious to get out this Summer and actually walk again in some places we have here. Happy Tuesday.

betty-NZ said...

Another interesting hike to a lovely area!

I'm glad to see you this week at 'My Corner of the World'!

Duwan @MakeLikeAnApeman said...

What a shame that a place with so much history was leveled. The archeological finds there seem very interesting. And the views seem lovely even on a gloomy day.

Rambling Woods said...

Oh my..it looks like springtime there...

Emma @ Adventures of a London Kiwi said...

So beautiful!

Kaz - the3amdiary.com said...

This looks fantastic :) I love the views and ancient finds - I find that kind of thing fascinating! #AdventureCalling

Lauren said...

This was so interesting. An exciting place to walk around for sure.

Thank you for sharing with #AdventureCalling

Lauren The Helpful Hiker said...

What a stunning and interesting place for a hike. Love your photos, they have a real sense of history to them. So many fascinating sites to pass through, I definitely learnt something today. Thank you so much for sharing #AdventureCalling

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