Hamalachim-Shahariya Forest - Cycling through History

Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Hamalachim – Shahariya Forest is located 4 km east of Kiryat Gat. The forest was named after the Shahariya transit camp, which was established in 1956 slightly west of where the forest was planted, one of the first in Israel.

  • How to get there

    From the Dan metropolis, northern Israel and the vicinity of Beersheba, drive to Plugot Junction and turn east (Highway 35). Pass Kiryat Gat and continue another 4 km eastward until the access road to the forest (between the 23-24 kilometer signs).

    From Jerusalem, drive to Beit Shemesh and continue to Beit Guvrin (Highway 38). Proceed westward from Beit Guvrin toward Kiryat Gat (Highway 35) until the entrance to the forest.
  • Geographic location-

    Northern and western Negev
  • Area-

  • Facilities-

    Picinic - Barbecue area, Lookout, Active recreation area, Archeological or Historic site, Marked path, Restroom, Drinking fountain, Accessible site.
  • Access-

    Special (adapted for the disabled)
  • Type of parking-

    Accessible parks,Overnight parks,Picnic parks
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks,Lookouts,Archeology

Projects and Partners Worldwide

Hamalachim – Shahariya Forest was created and is maintained thanks to contributions of friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, including the USA, Germany and Australia.
Shahariya Forest. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive.

About the Forest

KKL-JNF started planting the Shahariya Forest in 1956. The Jewish community of Los Angeles raised funds for the project, and in honor of their contribution, the northern part of the forest was named Hamalachim Forest, which means the Angels Forest, true to the meaning city's name in Spanish – City of Angels. Some of the forests of the lowlands, including Hamalachim Forest, were planted on the initiative of KKL-JNF by residents of the transit camp established there in 1956.

KKL-JNF has recently completed development in the northern part of Shahariya Forest, which is situated north of the Kiryat Gat – Beit Guvrin highway (35). The forest offers many hidden treasures. The forest roads lead to its recreation areas and sites. The recreation areas have been equipped with picnic tables and playground facilities. A recreation area for the physically disabled was completed including accessible bathrooms. Archeological excavations have exposed a number of historical sites, and cycling trails on varying levels of difficulty are marked out, for the enjoyment of everyone. The development of the forest and park has been made possible thanks to friends of KKL-JNF in the USA and Australia.

The Judean Lowland

The Judean Lowland is comprised mainly of soft white stone called chalkstone, which erodes easily. Consequently, the topography is one of rounded hills with gentle slopes. Sometimes the slopes are covered with a layer of harder stone called caliche, also known as hardpan, which is not usually more than 10 cm thick. The chalk slopes are not fertile, so KKL-JNF planted coniferous trees on them, which can thrive in harsh conditions. In the valleys, however, fertile soil does accumulate, so they are suitable for planting deciduous trees such as carob, fig and olive.

Observation point in Hamalachim Forest. KKL-JNF Photo Archive.
Since ancient times, people knew how to utilize the quantities of stone in the lowland for carving out caves with diverse purposes such as dwelling, cisterns, storehouses, olive presses, winepresses, dovecotes and burial. From the large bell-shaped caves, building material was quarried. Another kind of cave, which has become popular with tourists, are caves with secret tunnels. Tradition holds that the warriors of Bar Kochba emerged from these caves to ambush the Roman legions sent to subdue the revolt.

In the open expanses that surround Shahariya Forest, the vegetation that grows is primarily desert brush. The most ubiquitous shrub is the buckthorn, which is known for its tiny leaves, its round berries that turn black and its branches that end with thorny points. Other ubiquitous plants are the Thorny burnet and the common thatching grass, also known as Coolatai grass, a perennial grass originating in East Africa. This plant has flourished between the rocks of the Judean Lowland. One should also note the wild marjoram, also known as hyssop, which is the main ingredient of the famous Middle Eastern spice zaatar, and is also an endangered species and is forbidden to pick.

Many pretty flowers can be seen in the spring, such as anemone, cyclamens, buttercup and more. In the winter, mushrooms can be seen among the trees, mostly pine mushrooms.

Shahariya Forest was planted in the southwestern foothills of the Judean Lowland, an intermediate region in between the Judean Hills and the Coastal Plain. The summits of the region, in the vicinity of Beit Shemesh and Beit Guvrin, reach an altitude of 400 meters above sea level. The hills continue westward, and in the Shahariya area they reach an altitude of 230 meters above sea level.

Trails and Sites in the Forest

The Main Forest Trail

The trail branches off from the Beit Guvrin – Kiryat Gat Highway, and the entire length of it is paved. It is a one-way trail and encompasses the heart of the forest in a loop that returns to the starting point. The trail passes the Western Carob Valley Recreation Area and continues to the Foresters House, which is next to the main recreation area of the forest constructed by KKL-JNF and a watchtower (the watchtower was previously used for fire alerts, it is now being rebuilt as as a visitors center). The trail continues to a lookout that faces west and ends near the entrance to the forest. The Main Forest Trail is marked in green.
Hamalachim Forest. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik.

Kedem Trail

This trail branches east (right) off the Main Forest Trail near the Eastern Carob Valley Recreation Area. A hundred meters up the road, there is a large recreation area, which was developed by KKL-JNF. On the other side of the recreation area there is a lime pit, which gave the recreation area its name. The trail continues along the edge of the forest and provides a good view of Tel Maresha and the hills of Hebron. It proceeds to the Karua Ruins and then merges with the Main Forest Trail again. The Kedem Trail is marked in red.

The Olive Press Route

On the northern slope of the forest, which faces the bicycle route, remains from an ancient olive press were discovered. The findings include the crushing stones—large, awesome, round stones by means of which olives were crushed in the first stage of producing oil. Excavations also revealed benches carved in the bedrock and winepresses. The trail is marked in black and takes about fifteen minutes to complete.

Hamalachim Forest view. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive.
Hamalachim Forest view. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive.

The Winepress Trail

This footpath goes from the Lime Furnace Recreation Area to the Karua Ruins. Along the trail there are cut stones that have been identified as parts of ancient winepresses. The trail is about 600 meters long and is marked in blue.

The Herb Gardens Trail

This is a short trail that descends the length of a vale with carob tree and connects two segments of the Main Forest Trail. At the top end of the trail KKL-JNF planted herb gardens with assorted varieties of sage, lavender, thyme, white leaved savory and rosemary. Scattered among the herbs there is also vetiver, whose roots are used in producing perfume. The Herb Gardens Trail is marked in brown.

Karua Ruins

The Karua Ruins cover an area of 30 dunams (7 acres) in the northern part of the forest. Its Hebrew name retains the sound of its Arabic name, Khirbet Kharua, which means the Castor Ruins. There is a recreation area with water faucets nearby. Findings from archeological excavations here included the remains of a public building and a cistern next to it.

Karua Ruins. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik.

The building that was discovered has three levels. The upper level (the latest one) includes cattle fences. The second level, from the Byzantine Period, originally included a building with two rooms, 16 meters long by 8 meters wide. Later, a third room was added on the eastern side of the building. The building was constructed on an east – west axis, and it may have functioned as a synagogue. The lower level of the building (the earliest) has not been investigated.

The cistern next to the building is rectangular. It has three layers of plaster and is roofed (part of the ceiling was destroyed). There is an opening in the ceiling through which water was drawn. The staircase, which has five stairs that are still intact, descends to the bottom of the cistern and indicates that the cistern served at some time as a ritual bath.

The Lime Furnace

The lime furnace is next to the recreation area named after it, the Lime Furnace Recreation Area. The furnace is a pit that was dug in the ground and lined with stones. Limestone was burned in it in order to produce lime. In this case the furnace was well preserved and well restored. It is six meters deep and its diameter is about 4 meters. It is not known when in the course of history people started producing lime, but it was a necessary product.

Sculpture in Hamalachim Forest by Ruslan Sergeev. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik.

Cisterns were plastered with lime in order to prevent seepage and safeguard the precious liquid without losing a single drop. When the furnace was in operation, a structure resembling a dome was built above the pit, in which the limestone to be fired was placed. Inside the pit the fuel was kindled, which was inserted through a special opening. The furnace would burn for 3 to 6 days, depending on the size of the furnace. When the dome started turning red, it was the sign that it was time to stop adding fuel. The opening was then closed and after a few days, when the furnace cooled, the walls were disassembled, and the product was taken out—burnt lime.