Adulam-France Park - A Biblical Landscape

Adulam-France Park. Photo: Shutterstock
Adulam-France Park. Photo: Shutterstock

Archaeology and green expanses in central Israel: Discover true, unadulterated beauty; rolling hills, natural woodlands, venerable oaks, picturesque vales, remnants of ancient villages and a network of underground caves.

  • How to get there

    On the road from Beit Shemesh to Beit Guvrin (Highway 38) turn east at Givat Yeshayahu Junction and immediately right to the main road through the park.
  • Geographic location-

    Jerusalem - Judean highlands and surroundings
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Park-

    Adulam Ruins, Etry Ruins, Burgin Ruins, Adulam Woodland Nature Reserve.
  • Facilities-

    Picinic area, Archeological or Historic site, Lookout, Marked path.
  • Other sites in the area-

    Ella Valley, British Park, Luzit Caves.
  • סוג חניון-

    Accessible parks,Picnic parks
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks,Bicycle track,Archeology

Projects and Partners Worldwide

Adulam-France Park was rehabilitated and developed thanks to
a contribution from friends of KKL-JNF in France.

Photo: Tania Susskind
Photo: Tania Susskind

About the Park

Anyone who visits Adulam-France Park, located below the Hevron Hills, will discover true, unadulterated beauty, with no unnecessary adornments, round hills covered with natural woodland, venerable oaks, vales that have been farmed for hundreds of years, remnants of ancient villages and a network of underground caves.

In view of the dangers that threaten nature in the Adulam area and the desire to preserve its character, KKL-JNF undertook caring for the park, which had been neglected and abandoned for many years.

KKL-JNF has been simultaneously developing infrastructure for visitors, marking trails for hiking on foot, on bicycles and in motor vehicles, initiating archeological excavations and developing the natural surroundings, the landscapes and special agriculture in the park.

These projects are being done in accord with the local residents and in conjunction with the Matte Yehuda Regional Council, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). In honor of the State of Israel’s 60th Independence Day, KKL-JNF presented the park as a gift to the inhabitants of Israel.

A comprehensive tour of Adulam Park could take a whole day at the very least. There are paved roads throughout the park and roads for ATVs, bicycle paths and hiking trails. The main road is accessible from Givat Yeshayahu Junction and passes sites including Etry, Burgin, Tel Adulam and the Midras Ruins.

Photo: Mira Zer, KKL-JNF Jerusalem.
Photo: Mira Zer, KKL-JNF Jerusalem.

An Archeological Presentation

At the KKL-JNF offices, which are located about 200m north of Givat Yeshayahu Junction on Highway 38, there is an archeological learning center operated jointly by KKL-JNF and the IAA. The center offers youth and adults the opportunity to participate in excavations being done in Adulam Park, and exhibits archeological artifacts that were discovered in the area, which shed light on the way people lived in the area in ancient times. The center is open from 08:00 to 16:00, including weekends.

Photo: Tania Susskind
Photo: Tania Susskind

Geography, Flora and Fauna

Adulam-France Park is situated in the heart of the Judean Plain south of Beit Shemesh. Nahal Ha'ella (Highway 375) marks the northern boundary of the park, and Nahal Guvrin (Highway 35) defines its southern boundary. The Beit Guvrin – Beit Shemesh Road (Highway 38) defines the park on the west, and the “green line” marks its eastern limit.

Adulam-France Park covers an area of 50,000 dunams, and together with British Park and American Independence Park, creates the green expanses of Central Israel. The northern part of the park is in the drainage basin of Nahal Ha'ella, while its southern part is in the drainage basin of the Nahal Guvrin. Both of these watercourses are tributaries of Nahal Lachish, which flows into the Mediterranean Sea near Ashdod.

Photo: Yossi Zamir.
Photo: Yossi Zamir.
Adulam Park is comprised of low chalkstone hills up to 400m above sea level. Chalkstone is soft and easily hewn. Throughout history local residents took advantage of the softness of the rock and dug innumerable caves in the hills for a great variety of purposes.

For the most part, the white chalk rock is overlaid with a harder layer of gray rock up to two meters deep. This layer is nari stone. The hills are covered with Mediterranean woodland, sometimes dense and sometimes sparse. These areas are not suitable for farming and are therefore used mainly for grazing. On the edges of the park, there are forests that were planted by KKL JNF, north near Aderet and south near Nechusha.

Between the hills there are low and broad vales that are suitable for agricultural cultivation, mainly vineyards and unirrigated crops. These vales have been farmed at least since the Byzantine period, if not earlier, as their ancient agricultural terraces indicate.

Remnants of ancient settlements have been found on almost every hill. Scores of archeological excavations cover the hilltops, which mainly feature the Jewish communities of the second temple period, the days of the Bar Kochba revolt and the era of the Mishnah and the Talmud (concurrent with the Byzantine period).

The natural woodland that covers the hills of Adulam is comprised primarily of carob trees with large mastic bushes between them. They are often accompanied by low growing buckthorns and oaks. In places where the natural woodland has disappeared, and on the steeper slopes where the hard nari stone has eroded and vanished, low brush prevails, primarily poterium. In winter and spring the open meadows are covered with beautiful wildflowers, and there are magnificent Atlantic terebinth trees near the ruins of Adulam.

Israel’s larger mammals are well represented in the park. These include the gazelle, the golden jackal, the fox, the wild boar, the badger and the hare. One may also find their rodent friends, the hedgehog, the porcupine and the gerbil, and many other rodents and birds.

A Gift from KKL-JNF to Israel at 60

Just before Israel’s 60th Independence Day, KKL-JNF presented the State with a unique gift, the Adulam biospheric park. The park was presented by KKL-JNF to the prime minister and the people of Israel at a gala ceremony in April 2008. On the occasion of the ceremony, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert toured the Etry Ruins and the ancient synagogue, after which he signed the Declaration Scroll of the park, which was initially named Adulam Caves Park. He was accompanied by Minister of the Environment Gideon Ezra; Ruhama Avraham Balila, Minister appointed to preside over the 60th Independence Day celebrations; KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler; and Director General of the IAA, Shuka Dorfman.
Amud Caves. Photo: Gidi Bashan.
Amud Caves. Photo: Gidi Bashan.
“There could be no more precious gift presented to the State of Israel,” declared the Prime Minister, “than this splendid Adulam Park, which was a densely populated Jewish area in the time of the second temple. Slowly and surely we are renewing our connections to the past. This is our land, no doubt about it. If anyone is uncertain, we can bring him here to see how Jews lived here over two thousand years ago. Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, the Jewish National Fund, has always been dedicated to the redemption of the land. I am proud to possess a blue box, and I believe it will be possible to sense the magic of the past on the bicycle paths here.” Prime Minister Olmert deplored the phenomenon of antiquities theft, which is frequent in Adulam. “The Antiquities Authority,” he said, “is combating this phenomenon of people who are trying to steal the past and traffic in our history.”

At the ceremony, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler said, “Adulam Caves Park is part of the biospheric expanse of the Judean Plain, a green belt that crosses the country, where we are working to maintain the character of the terrain and the balance between development, agriculture, nature and open spaces. We see this green strip as an important contribution to the quality of life of the population of Israel. The hundreds of thousands of people who visit this region annually prove that this is not a luxury but an existential necessity. KKL-JNF invites the public to a giant festive event on Independence Day for the inauguration of the park and to celebrate sixty years of statehood.”

“Here, in the Judean Plain,” said IAA Director General Shuka Dorfman, “was the heart of Jewish settlement of the land of Israel. This pastoral location was thriving with life in those days. We found one of the oldest synagogues in Israel here, and underground tunnel systems that Jews constructed before the great revolt, and here we are today, two thousand years later, celebrating sixty years in the State of Israel. We are a point in time in the continuum of history, and it is our duty to continue and transmit our heritage to the next generations.”

The Ruins of Adulam

The Ruins of Adulam (Hirbet a Sheikh Madkur) are identified as biblical Adulam, one of the 36 kingdoms of Canaan that were defeated by Joshua. The name of the ruins, as found at the foot of the mound, is Eid el Miye, a name that preserves the sound of the biblical name. Adulam is located near the land of the Philistines, which is why David hid in the caves of Adulam when he fled from King Saul, who was at war with them. Adulam commands a view of the main road that passes through the Ella Valley. A Christian community lived here in the Byzantine period.

Prior to the Six Day War, the ceasefire line between Jordan and Israel passed below the Ruins of Adulam. The security fence is located several hundred meters away from the present site. A tour of the site takes 1 to 1.5 hours.

The Etry Ruins

The Etry Ruins are on a hill 406m above sea level. The place has a strategic view of the vicinity. There was a typical village there in the time of the second temple, which was discovered by Dr. Boaz Ziso and Amir Ganor of the IAA. It is characterized by its many baths and a large public building that served as a house of prayer before the destruction of the second temple.

Numerous winepresses attest to a major industry of that era—vineyards for wine production on the slopes and valleys in the vicinity. Findings at the site reveal other sources of income—a columbarium facility for breeding doves and producing fertilizer, and loom and spindle weights for spinning and weaving.

A shard with the name “Etry” on it was found at the site and was part of a record that served as a receipt for agricultural produce delivered. The name corresponded to “Kfar Atra”, a village mentioned as having been destroyed and burned by the Fifth Roman Legion. (For a detailed route map, please see the Hirbet Etry pamphlet for experienced hikers.) A tour of the Etry ruins takes 1 to 2 hours. Bring a flashlight for touring the tunnels and caves.

Photo: Gidi Bashan.
Photo: Gidi Bashan.

The Burgin Ruins

Archeologists Dr. Boaz Ziso and Amir Ganor from the IAA identified Burgin as Kfar Bish, a large, fortified town mentioned in The Jewish War by Josephus Flavius, which surrendered to the Fifth Roman Legion. In 2008 Amir Ganor excavated the site and discovered the remains of fortifications, underground chambers for hiding out, burial caves, storage rooms, cisterns, agricultural implements and remnants of dwellings.

A Tour of the Site

- The numbers below refer to marked signs at the site.
- Beware of open pits; Follow the marked path only.

Photo: Yossi Zamir.
Photo: Yossi Zamir.
A path going southeast ascends from the parking area, between agricultural terraces and ancient trails. The path passes the Patum Ruins (1), proceeds past a structure with two arches and continues up the slope to the Cave of the Column (2). A narrow passageway with stairs enters a remarkable burial cave hewn in the rock. On the sides of the cave there are vaults, each one with a hewn trough that was covered by stone tablets, which have not been found.

In the middle of the room there are two columns hewn in the Greek style. Antiquities thieves damaged one of them, which has since been restored. The front of the capitals are decorated with medallions with a cross carved in each one. The character of the cave and its decorations are indicative of the Byzantine period.

A bit to the west is a burial cave from the Second Temple era (3). It is a large cave with a wide staircase, a yard, a vestibule whose ceiling has collapsed, and a burial chamber. To the south of the staircase there is a small water pool identified as a ritual bath. Across from it there is a columbarium cave in digging stages. On the sides of the room there are hewn burial niches, which were sealed with stone tablets. North of the entrance there is a carved round pit that was for collecting the bones.

The path passes the Jackdaw Pit, where flocks of jackdaws congregate—black, noisy birds related to the crow—and then some bell caves, each with a fig tree peeking out of it. This kind of cave is typical for the Plain. From there the path proceeds to a cave with an olive press (4) and from there to the crest of the hill (5), which provides a beautiful view of the expanses of Adulam Park and the foothills of the Hebron ridge. The ruins there are remains from a small Arab village called Umm el Burj.

The path goes down the slope eastward and arrives at the opening of a large underground tunnel system (6). A hewn staircase under remains of a domicile leads to chambers that served as a cistern and storage rooms. On the west wall there is a carved opening to a secret tunnel. One can identify a facility for sealing the cave with a stone, and bell shaped “bottles” that served as small storage spaces, 1.5m in diameter, sealed by round stone covers. The character of the secret cave and the few findings uncovered there indicate that it was used in the days of the Bar Kochba revolt. It is likely that those who dug the hidden tunnels took advantage of more ancient underground chambers.

The path continues north down the slope and back to the parking area. On the way you can see a winepress on display.

The tour takes about 2 hours. It is required that one be equipped with a flashlight and not enter any unmarked sites. The tour in the underground tunnel system (7) includes crawling.

Adulam Woodland Nature Reserve

The Adulam Woodland Nature Reserve covers an area of around 5,000 dunams (5 km2) and comprises Mediterranean woodland at its best. Predominant are buckthorn, oak, carob, arbutus, hawthorn and mastic, two kinds of rockrose and hyssop.

In the area if the nature reserve there are ancient sites, most prominently the Midras Ruins (Hirbet Dursia), where there are remains of an ancient town covering an area of more than 250 dunams. Over fifty underground caves and cisterns were found there. The town existed from the Hellenistic period (2nd century BCE) to the Byzantine period (5th and 6th centuries CE). The INPA constructed a marked trail at the site (marked in blue) that passes the important sites at the ruins: the tunnel system, a monument in the form of a severed pyramid 3.5 meters high, burial caves and a columbarium.

The Bicycle Path

The marked trails in Adulam-France Park make it a great place for cycling, but one must beware of motor vehicles when cycling on the paved roads. There is a path that traverses the park from north to south, which was constructed by KKL-JNF for cyclers and pedestrians.

The path includes ATV roads and a bicycle single, which requires some skill, but it was made to be suitable for most levels of cycling. The trail begins at the Ella gas station, and the path is soon to be completed all the way to Beit Guvrin Junction. Due to its length, about 28km one way, the path will be marked in several colors, but the KKL-JNF signs will retain the direction and the continuity.

Cycling Routes on the Path

  • The Shucha Route (13 km) – Ride from the gas station to Har Shucha and then on an easy single to Nahal Shucha. Return to the gas station along Nahal Shucha.
  • The Burgin Route (23 km) – Proceed south from Nahal Shucha on a series of challenging singles to the Etry Ruins and then farther south to the Burgin Ruins. A paved road returns to the trail head via Nahal Hachlil, which is the main thoroughfare of the park.