Pilgrimages in Central Israel, Tel Ayalon and Tel Azeka

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The sites were developed with contributions from friends of KKL JNF worldwide.

Tel Ayalon - Central Israel

“And the seventh lot came out for the children of Dan, according to their families. And the coast of their inheritance was Zorah, and Eshtaol, and Ir-Shemesh, and Shaalabin, and Ajalon and Jethlah…,” (Joshua 19:40-42).

Ein Ayalon has taken on a new lease of life recently. The square pool, which has a shade over it, is full of water, and the mound, which is identified with the Biblical Ayalon, rears up to the north of it. Ayalon in Biblical times was a major city in the portion of land allotted to the tribe of Dan, and it has bestowed its name upon the large valley at its foot. Situated at the crossroads on the way up from the Coastal Plain to Jerusalem, the city enjoyed wealth, prestige, fertile surroundings and an abundance of water.

Ein Ayalon. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik, KKL-JNF Photo Archive

The city is mentioned in ancient sources. A town by the name of Yalona or Ayyalona crops up in Canaanite letters from the 14th century BCE found at Tel el-Amarna in Egypt, and experts believe that this Yalona is indeed Ayalon. Ayalon is also mentioned in the list of cities destroyed by Shishak (probably the Pharaoh Sheshonk I) when he stormed his way through the Land of Israel in around 925 BCE.

Rehoboam (Rehav‘am), King of Judea, fortified the city of Ayalon as part of the defenses that protected Jerusalem to the west. In the days of King Ahaz, however, these fortifications proved ineffective and the Philistines captured the city. Today at the top of Tel Ayalon we can see the ruins of Castellum Arnoldi, the fortress built in the early 12th century by the Crusader king Foulques d'Anjou. Like its predecessor at the site, this castle was supposed to protect the highway from Jaffa to Jerusalem. The ruins visible at the site today once formed part of the western and southern walls. The Muslim general Saladin (Salah al-Din) ordered the fortress to be destroyed as part of his scorched earth policy, in order to prevent the Crusaders from returning and seizing the site once more. We recommend taking a walk along the path that goes all the way around the tel. This will enable you to see the House of Arches (Beit HaKshatot), an impressive stone building dating back to the Roman period; three intact arches can still be seen in its façade. The valleys that surround the tel are all full of orchard trees.

On the tel itself, there is no marked path, and the area is full of dangerous holes and pits.
Please do not climb on the tel.

Tel Azeka - Central Israel

“Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle and were gathered together at Shochoh, which belongeth to Judah, and pitched between Shochoh and Azekah in Ephes-Dammim,” (1 Samuel 17:1).

Tel Azeka is a mound that rears up well above the Elah Valley. A short path leads to the top of the mound, which overlooks the slopes of the Judean Hills and provides an especially good view of the lowlands and the Coastal Plain.

On the path that leads up to Tel Azeka. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik, KKL-JNF Photo Archive.

Tel Azeka is identified with the Biblical Azekah, which was a town in the area allocated to the tribe of Judah that commanded the ancient route that ascended through the Elah Valley. The tel is mentioned as the site where the Philistines assembled in preparation for the battle between David and Goliath, and the top of the mound is the ideal spot to read the Biblical account of this episode. King Rehoboam (Rehav‘am) fortified Azeka as part of the defenses he established in Judea. The city is also mentioned in the context of King Sargon II’s military campaign in the Land of Israel. This Assyrian ruler boasted of his conquest of Azeka, which he describes as being a place as lofty as an eagle’s nest. During the Return to Zion, several families from the tribe of Judah went back to resettle the town.

The Madaba Map from the 6th century CE marks the community of Beit Zecharia with a representation of a large church with the words “Saint Zacharias’ [shrine]” written above it. The name 'Zacharias' in Greek may be a preservation of the original name Azeka. The top of the tel offers a magnificent view of the surrounding area.