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Travel:Day Tour- The Judea Mountains to the Lowlands via Cesare Trails

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

Date: Dec 22/2020


On the day Israel's current dysfunctional Knesset finally announced of its dissolvement - a much overdue but redeeming decision, and on the day it became apparent that a FOURTH round (within 2 years) of election will take place on March 2021, in hope to bring down this despotic "enemy of the people" hybrid Gov- Good Ridden, and on this same day, a week before another lockdown round - the THIRD was declared, coinciding with the UK reporting/exporting of the virus's mutation rotation strains, we ventured off, on yet another touring day - the best antidote to this insane shifting reality. Even the news on Israel's establishment of more Abraham Accord's diplomatic relationships with additional countries, and the arrival of the Corona novel vaccines for the entire population, had not lifted the depleted gloomy national mood, which engulfed the downbeat hurting citizens. Our own family's festive celebrations - Leo turning 5 and my Mom 98, both at the end of this month, along with most pleasant warm sunny weather, were also a consoling distraction, off the overall looming political and health turmoils. Day Tour with: Eran Haklay. Tel: 052 482 6047 - "AYYALA " https://www.ayalageo.co.il/ Eran - a young ecologist by training, who on behalf of " AYALA" Geographic Tours, had guided many organized groups, prior to the Corona mayhem in much more exotic foreign destinations, like the volcanic Canary Islands, the vast diverse lands of Namibia, and South Africa. But now, stranded in Israel, Eran escorted our small "Golden Age" retiree group, instead. The age of our trekking bunch, was compatible with the destination we plan to walk on, and which runs through the Judean Lowlands (Shfela) .This age appropriate view is known as: the antique Roman "Emperor way" /Cesare Road. The Biblical Judean Lowlands - The Shfela

This area of forested soft-sloping low hills and charming valleys, consist of a transitional region in south-central Israel, stretching over 10–15 km between the Judaean Mountains, roughly from Mt Hebron westwards until it meets the flat coastal plain. Today the Shfela is largely rural, with many farms, but Its main city is Beit Shemesh, and it is surrounded also by the cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Rehovot, and Kiryat Gat In biblical times the land in the Shfela, was assigned to the Iron Age Kingdom of Judah tribes (and Dan), and it was a border area between those tribes and the Philistines, hence it witnessed quite a lot of tensions. During the decline and ultimate destruction of Judah by the Assyrians and Babylonians, the region was taken over gradually by the Edomites and it became the core of what was known in Greek as Idumea. The Shfela flourished during the Hellenistic period, was strongly affected by the First Jewish-Roman War (66–70) and was largely depopulated of Jews as a result of the Bar Kochba revolt (132–136). The Emperor’s Way / Caesar’s Road


This 3 km carved out ancient Roman trail, a section of a road leading from Jerusaelm and Hebron to Beith Govrin, passes through Mata Forest by Mata village, by Ein Mata, Ein Tanur, and Hurbat Hanot - a location next to which a Road Han -Hostel once stood, and accommodated travelers during the Ottoman period..


There are 678 Milestones in the north of the country and from Ashkelon and south additional 100, which the Roman placed along the Emperor's way in intervals of 1,480 m . Some of them were found and we visited their site.


There are more in the north and less in the south since the milestones' function served also as an advertisement post to aggrandize the Caesars, thus they were erected along roads with most traffic. One among a few, of the Milepost that was found by the road, with the name Adrianus carved on it, made Archaeologists to speculate that the road was carved out in honor of Emperor Hadrian's viist to the land in 130 Ad, close to the Bar Kochva rebel era. It served the Romans as an easier path to travel with their armies, horses and carriages.


The 1,435 mm width of the Roman road derived from the historical tendency to place the wheels of horse-drawn vehicles approximately 5 ft apart, probably the width needed to fit a carthorse in between the shafts. The gauge of 2 horses' asses width, chained to a carriage, the legend also tells, determined much later the standard-gauge of railway track, an evidence of rutted roads marked by chariot wheels dating from the Roman Empire.


And there are also steps part of the road.



Water holes, reservoirs, and traces of Olive oil and wine presses as well as other historical remains can be spotted along the Road. It has no marks of chariots' groves. Furthermore, hewn steps in one section of the road are found as well. 2300 years ago it stopped being in use, yet the "Israel trail" which passes through it, and is popular among trekkers, reignited a busy usage of the road again. https://www.livescience.com/58167-roman-road-unearthed-in-israel.html Beit Habad - Olive Oil Press off Route 375



The first advanced Olive press from the ancient world, which we encountered at the tour's car park meeting's point, in an enchanting wooded area, and off the Emperor's road, stretching only 1.5 km before it intersects with route 3855, was still well preserved. Route 375 starts at the famous Elah Valley (260m above sea level) running from west to East, connecting the Elah intersection with route 60 and ending at Jerusalem mountain (855m height). Part of the route trails on the Emperor way, on which we trekked for about 3 hours. Following the Assyrian conquest of Judea (7th BC) and due to increased demand for Olive Oil, of the consecutive conquerors, an advanced production technology was applied. Better and larger quantities of oil, which included extracting oil, also from the olive pits, and using water to separate the oil (shemen catit) from the pressed graft waste (gefet), were incorporated. Olive trees have been grown around the Mediterranean since the 8th millennium BC. From its beginnings, early in the 7th century BC, the cosmetic use of olive oil quickly spread out to all of the Hellenic city states, including its use by athletes training in the nude. It has long been a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine and in ancient Greek and Roman cuisine, as well as it became an important trade commodity. In addition to its use in salads, in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps, it has been used as a fuel for traditional oil lamps and for religious rituals. Olive oil was also popular as a form of birth control; Aristotle in his "History of Animals" recommends applying a mixture of olive oil combined with either oil of cedar, ointment of lead, or ointment of frankincense to the cervix to prevent pregnancy. Bahd = Girder The new machinery, a different method from the old one in use in the ancient world, until then, was named Bahd. Bahad in Hebrew is synonym to a tree branch, or a wooden beam girder. Such a large girder was mounted on top of 2 huge massive stone structures, which we encountered, off the ancient road, along which also a running water supply, facilitated this increased oil manufacturing..

Furthermore, the wastewater and the Gefet organic waste, extracted during the olive oil production and which are saturated with oleic fatty acids substances are ,even nowadays, being also used as a weed-killer of other wild vegetation, and as heating material, in mainly rural villages of the Judean hills. Hurvat Hanot - Off Route 375

The name of this second spot we stopped at, is derived from a Resting Park Point, where a Han - an Hostel used during the Mameluke's time, once was situated and served the trade passengers travelling on the Emperor's way. The complex is in the midst of a shaded mix nature grove, Park Mata and it contains several exciting remnants from the Roman Byzantine time.


A Byzantine church ruins (6 C) containing an impressive mosaic floor, decorated with apple baskets, vines motives and medallions can be detected, though the mosaic was deliberately sabotaged a few times by the nearby zealous orthodox.


Also an water reservoir, and ancient wine producing press - Gat next to the church and adjacent cisterns, are additional historical attractions to be seen, as well as, the beautiful nature surroundings which we further explored. Legend tells that the small stone hill by the reservoir, is the burial place of Pelistine Golyate's head, which according to the biblical story was decapitated by David, following the battle with the giant Goliath, at the nearby Eela Valley. The stone pile's increased elevation has been due to compiled added stones by observant Jews, throughout the generations, believing in fulfilling a religious "mitzvah" against a "notorious enemy" of Israel. Ein Mata and Ein Tanur - Water Streams off Nahal Zanoa One of most enjoyable circular trails, from the Hurbat Hanot's car park down toward the dry Nahal Zanoch creek, led us also by 2 small hidden water streams "Ein Mata" and "Ein Tanur" which diverged off the Zanoa Creek. Nahal Zanoah is a stream that runs north and drains into Nahal Sorek. The stream is recorded and has been a source of irrigation water to this rural agricultural terrain, already in biblical times. The site reeks with antiquity, with the signs of an old settlement everywhere. There are razed structures that once stood as walls and houses and shards of broken pottery are strewn on the grounds everywhere, with several open-mouthed cisterns and caverns. There is also a nearby village, Moshav in modern Israel, (~600 inhabitants) close to Beith Shemesh named- Zanoa, which was established in 1950 by immigrants from Yemen and later, In the following years when the founders left was replaced by immigrants from Morocco. Initially the village was named Dayraban Gimel after the nearby depopulated Arab village of Dayr Aba Trailing down on the marked path, one can observe across, on the lower slope of a high ridge that formed the western slope of a mountain, to the east of Beit Shemesh, few architecturally beautiful stone houses in ruins, reminder of the small arabaic village which once stood there and was deserted in 1948.


Ein mata's little pond is surrounded by Carob fig and eucalyptus trees.


This charming green nature island is dotted in addition to the beautiful tall Eucalyptus trees, also by Olive groves with black olives ready to be picked, and an unexpected small grove of huge Palm trees, a residual of a nursery initiative once planted by a Mata villager.

Ein Tanur, which is enhanced by an ancient tunnel dug deeply to catch the water at the source and increase its flow, runs along a dirt road coming from Mata on the Zanoach riverbed, and is hidden by large eucalyptus trees planted by Arab villagers two or three generations ago.


Khirbat al-Tannur also known as Allar al-Sifla ("Lower Allar"), which was a Palestinian Arab hamlet lying above the spring, atop of an earlier Crusader Manor farm, which had been fortified against the local Arabs, near Allar. - Alar village was depopulated, later, during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.. Tanur meaning Oven in Hebrew, also refers to the ruins of an oven which was used for metal/ iron production by Byzantine's monastery monks. In the 12th century, during the Crusader era, a rural monastery was established consisting of several barrel-vaulted buildings, an enclosure wall and a chapel.


The owner of the Manor farm area - Yohan Goodman, a crusader knight, in the 1050th during Baldwin times, was released from captivity with the ransom money his wife gathered from selling the Manor's land to the monastery. Several of the remaining structures still display evidence of their Crusader origins. A widespread old Fig Tree which within its protective dense entangled branches we discovered a shady natural hidden secret refuge, posed also a challenge in getting out through its thickness.


Yet, this "battle" was also among the many delightful treasures and experiences we encountered on the walk. Emek HaElah -Elah Valley Emek Haelh is the beautiful historical long shallow valley, before the Jerusalem mountain, named after the large and shady indigenous terebinth trees (Pistacia atlantica)


The valley is a border between philistinism on the shore line and the Judea Lowland hills.It is where the Israelites were encamped when David fought Goliath. It is home to several important archaeological sites, including those identified as the ancient towns of Azekah and Socho. On its north lie the ruins of the ancient fortress of Khirbet Qeiyafa. Since the early 1970s, in additional to the agricultural scenery the valley has also contained a large satellite station with an antenna farm containing some 120 satellite dishes of various sizes, which one can not miss when driving through the valley via route 38 as we did, on our way to the remarkable Park Britannia - The British Park ,, But prior to getting to the Park, we stopped at a Roman Milestone hole dig, located off route 38, part of Cesar way, and also tried our luck, alas it was short that day, since the entry gate to the : JNF "Roman Milestone archeological Site" off route 38 at Givat Yeshayahu was shut. None of the gaudi's phone calls, as was instructed on the gate's post, for the accidental arriving visitors, were answered, so our car caravan left disappointed. "Givat Yeshayahu" is a moshav established in 1958 at Emek Haela, built on the land of the depopulated Ajjur Arab village, by immigrants from Hungary, and is named after Yeshayahu Press, a prominent researcher. In 2016, ancient Roman milestones from Highway 38 were moved to the mentioned above archaeological park on the Moshav's outskirts +++++++++++++ It just so happened that 3 days earlier, prior to the group tour on Tuesday , we met on Saturday, with our dear friends - Chani and Kobi - for a private picnic and exploration of Khirbet Qeiyafa and Park Britannia.




Britannia Park - British Park


This JNF forest and recreation area, funded by donations from the UK, spans an area of 40,000 dunams (some 10,000 acres), on the Judean Plain hilly slopes that rise more than 400 m above sea level.

The area is rich in natural woodland, planted mixed forest, breathtaking scenic routes, and lookouts, foot paths, hiking trails, and areas for recreational activities.

Its archeological sites have been made accessible and have been incorporated into the other routes and amenities.

As with our friends, the group also stopped by the Turtle LookOut

to admire the enchanting panoramic view of the Judean hilly Kirton lowlands

frackeled with vines, olive trees and mixed natural vegetation.


There are about 400 hiding tunnels and water holes dug in the area's rocky terrain, during the Bar kochva period. Furthermore remains of Olive oil and wine press can be spotted in the park. Tel Azeka


Tel Azeka, (ruins) which is situated on the northern edge of the park, was a border town in the lower stratum of the Judaean range, guarding the upper reaches of the Valley of Elah. The views from its top are stunning. It has been identified with the biblical Azekah, dating back to the Canaanite period.In the Bible, it is said to be one of the places where the Amorite kings were defeated by Joshua, and one of the places their army was destroyed by a hailstorm. It was given to the tribe of Judah. In the early 19th-century the hilltop ruin was known locally by the name of Tell Zakariyeh ********************* Dir Rafat Monastery

The last bonus stop of the guided tour, was at the beautiful Catholic Monastery also known as the Shrine of Our Lady Queen of Palestine ( "Reginæ Palæstinæ") and of the Holy Land, inscribed on its face, which also carries a 6-metre statue of the Virgin Mary on the church's top. Located to the north-west of Beit Shemesh, between Givat Shemesh and kibbutz Tzora, the scenery of the area leading to the monastery is amazing.


The monastery was established in 1927 by the Latin Patriarch Luigi Barlassina and contained a boarding school, an orphanage and convent. Currently the convent is running a guest house and a retreat center for believers and Holy Land pilgrims.


Should the Catholic Church fail to bring relief to the tormented souls, those inflicted with addictions can instead, find, in close proximity to the monastery, a secular Behavioral Rehabilitation Center... Returno - Addiction Prevention Rehabilitation and Empowerment It offers residential programs, outpatient support, detox (for women), treating every kind of addiction including substance abuse, drinking, and behavioral addictions such as porn and sex addiction. **************** And last , as the ruins of Khirbet Qeiyafa, which we previously visited (with our friends Chani and Kobi) is also situated in Emek Haela's vicinity, it is reported in this post.

Khirbet Qeiyfa - Elah Fortress חורבת קייאפה או מבצר האלה

The meaning of the Arabic name of the site, Khirbet Qeiyafa, is uncertain. Scholars suggest it may mean "the place with a wide view". The modern Hebrew name, מבצר האלה‎, or the Elah Fortress derives from the location of the site on the northern bank of Nahal Elah, one of six brooks that flow from the Judean mountains to the coastal plain.


Uncovered in 2007, the archeological ruins date back to the early Iron Age II, 1025–975 BC (or the first half of the 10th BCE) a range which includes the biblical date for the Kingdom of David, and reveals an ancient fortress city situated on the northern ridge, overlooking several valleys like Elah Valley with a clear view of the Judean Mountains. The site covers nearly 2.5 ha or 6 acres and consists of a lower city of about 10 hectares and an upper city of about 3 hectares (7.4 acres) It is encircled by a 700-meter-long (2,300 ft) massive defensive city wall ranging from 2–4 metres (6 ft 7 in–13 ft 1 in) tall, and constructed of stones weighing up to 8 tons each. The walls are built in the same manner as the walls of Hazor and Gezer, formed by a casemate (a pair of walls with a chamber in between). Excavations at site continued in subsequent years. A number of archaeologists, mainly Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor, have claimed that it might be the biblical city of Sha'arayim, because of the two gates and watchtowers were discovered on the site, or Neta'im, and that the large building at the center is an administrative building dating to the reign of King David, where he might have lodged at some point. Others suggest it might represent either a North Israelite, Philistine or Canaanite fortress. The top layer of the fortress shows that the fortifications were renewed in the Hellenistic period. In the Byzantine period, a luxurious land villa was built on top of the Iron Age II palace and cut the older structure in two. At the center of the upper city is a large rectangular enclosure with spacious rooms on the south, equivalent to similar enclosures found at royal cities such as Samaria, Lachish, and Ramat Rachel. On the southern slope, outside the city, there are Iron Age rock-cut tombs. The site, according to Garfinkel, has "a town plan characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah that is also known from other sites, e.g., Beit Shemesh, Tell en-Nasbeh, Tell Beit Mirsim and Beersheba. "500 jar handles bearing a single finger print, or sometimes two or three, were found as well.

(See video )

And last, the entire area is covered by clusters of seasonal wildflowers in bloom. The blossom of cyclamen is the one which greeted us, on our terrific walk.


THE END