The Sculpture Trail in Tzora Forest (The President’s Forest)

Difficulty: Basic| Distance: 6 kilometers | Length of time required: 3-5 hours| Area: Central Israel; Judean Plain | Type of route: Disabled-accessible, picnics, scenery and observation points, flowers, history, art | Recommended Season: All year round
Photograph: Avi Hayun, KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Photograph: Avi Hayun, KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Tzora Forest extends over an area of around 11 thousand dunam (approx. 2,750 acres) across the hills of the Judean Plain, to the north of Beit Shemesh. Its northern edge is bordered by Highway no. 44, which runs along the bed of the Nahal Harel stream, while to the east it abuts Telem Valley Forest on the line that divides the plain from the Judean Hills. Highway no. 38 runs through this valley. The highest points in the forest reach around 400 meters above sea level before dropping steeply southward towards the broad valley of the Sorek river (Nahal Soreq). On the southern slope of the ridge, hard by the river valley, lies Kibbutz Tzora.

The Judean Plain is an intermediate area between the Judean Hills and the Coastal Plain. Formed from soft chalk rock that erodes comparatively quickly, it has been weathered by rain and the passage of time into a gentle landscape of rounded hills from which cliffs are conspicuously absent.

KKL-JNF began to plant Tzora Forest in the 1950s. The first planters were immigrants who had settled in the surrounding moshavim, and initial plantings were mainly of Jerusalem pine and eucalyptus. In a special employment drive organized by KKL-JNF in 1993, immigrants were taken on to do forestry work, prepare recreation areas and construct and mark new footpaths.

Tzora Forest forms part of “Samson territory,” as described in the Book of Judges: “And the spirit of the Lord began to move him in the camp of Dan between Zorah (Tzor‘a) and Eshtaol,” (Judges 13:25). In the heart of the forest is Tel Tzora, which is identified as the birthplace of this Biblical hero. Forest footpaths and explanatory signs throughout the woodland make mention of Samson (Shimshon in Hebrew), who departed from here on his daring exploits that so greatly alarmed the Philistines.

In winter and spring the forest fills up with an abundance of wild flowers. In early winter, narcissi and autumn crocuses (Colchicum stevenii) emerge from pockets of soil among the rocks, to be replaced later by cyclamen – which grow here in remarkable profusion – anemones, ranunculus, assorted orchids and many others.

KKL-JNF constructed the Sculpture Trail, which is suitable for all types of vehicle, along the entire length of the forest. Beside the trail are numerous recreation areas, scenic lookouts and footpaths, interspersed with the environmental sculptures for which it is named.

Part of the forest is dedicated to the memory of Chaim Weizmann, the first president of the State of Israel, who has also given the forest its other name: the President’s Forest

Tzora Forest can be accessed by private vehicles in three ways:

1.From Highway no. 44, about 2 kilometers from the Shimshon Junction at the northern end of the Sculpture Trail (green trail markings)

2.From the road that leads to Kibbutz Tzora and Deir Rafat convent (Route no. 3835), at the southern end of the Sculpture Trail (green trail markings).

3.A short trail leads from Moshav Tarum and meets up with the Sculpture Trail adjacent to Mitzpe Tzora (no access from Highway no. 44 on Shabbat or Jewish holidays).

Note: The entire length of the trail is open to private vehicles. The section between Tel Tzora and Route no. 3835 is closed to buses.  
Along the Sculpture Trail
The Sculpture Trail, which is 9 kilometers in length, makes its way along the entire length of the forest. KKL-JNF came up with idea of decorating the path with sculptures, and to this end it provided artists with large lumps of stone and the tools to sculpt them. The resulting works, which were placed at the side of the trail, form a remarkable collection of environmental sculpture inspired by local scenery and memories of the past that accompany it. Some works blend emphatically into their surroundings, while others focus on local history. For example, one work depicts the heroism of Samson, while in another spot two rocks have been fashioned into a representation of a comb – perhaps the comb of Delilah, the Philistine who sealed Samson’s fate.

Now we shall describe the main sites along the Sculpture Trail, from the direction of Highway no. 44 towards Kibbutz Tzora. Dozens of sculptures are scattered between one site and the next, and you are invited to pause and enjoy them.

The Split in the Rock Scenic Lookout
As soon as we set out along the Sculpture Trail, close to the plaza that contains the sign announcing the entrance to the forest, a convenient dirt road descends to the left. After around 100 meters you will see on the right-hand side of the road the Ezer Weizman garden, which includes a small recreation area and a planting center for visitors. The Split in the Rock Scenic Lookout 200 meters further on is a memorial to six IDF combatants who fell in 2000, and there you will find a small, intimate recreation area with a seat overlooking the landscape. The continuation of the trail leads to a stone building, purportedly the site of the tomb of Dan Ben Yaakov (who is he?). A yeshiva has taken over the site, and visits are not recommended.

The olive-tree dams
Beyond the plaza we pass first a point where our trail meets up with the Southern Scenic Route (red trail markings), and then a number of recreation areas. After about 2.5 kilometers our route brings us to a clump of about 20 impressive olive trees growing in their own plot, separate from the rest of the forest. Nearby, KKL-JNF has provided two recreation areas accessible to visitors with disabilities. The first is the Hedgehog (HaKipod) Recreation Area, which is named after the sculpture close by, while the Arik Bauer Recreation Area, slightly to its west, has paved paths that lead to disabled-accessible recreation sites.

The low curved stone walls placed on the slope where the olive trees grow are well worth a look. These small dams have three functions: they halt the runoff water on the slope where the olive trees are growing and direct it towards the trees; they curb erosion of the slope; and they serve as seats for visitors who want to enjoy the shade of the olive trees. The walls are constructed in a way that directs surplus runoff water to flow down the slope in a controlled manner, from one dam to the next.

Mitzpe Tzora
Some 600 meters further on we arrive at Mitzpe Tzora, a KKL-JNF scenic lookout in the form of a large wooden platform shaped like the bow of a ship. The stone structure on which the lookout rests is a remnant of the Arab village of Sar‘a. During Israel’s War of Independence this building served as a temporary command post of the Palmach’s Harel Brigade, then later as temporary accommodation for the first members of Kibbutz Tzora, before they moved to the community’s permanent site. From the lookout we have a beautiful view of Nahal Sorek Valley, Beit Shemesh and the Jerusalem Hills. Tel Tzora, which rises to a height of 300 meters to the west of the lookout, can clearly be seen from here.

The Samson Trail and Tel Tzora
If you want to reach Tel Tzora quickly, continue along the Sculpture Trail, which makes a left-hand detour around the tell before arriving at the foot of its western side. From here you can follow a short path to the top. If, however, you prefer a real hike, walk westward from the scenic outlook and you will soon come to a group of pillars erected in commemoration of donors. This is the start of the Shimshon (Samson) Trail, which is 1.5 kilometers long and will lead you through woodland and orchards, with KKL-JNF picnic spots waiting for you under the trees. Beside the trail, at intervals, are signs bearing verses from the Bible that describe incidents from the life of Samson, the miraculous offspring of Manoah, whose wife was supposedly unable to bear children: “And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and bare not,” (Judges 13:2)

The Samson Trail climbs up the eastern side of Tel Tzora to its summit, where two blue-and-white tomb markers represent Samson and his father Manoah. This site is commonly identified as that of the Biblical Zorah (Tzor‘a), the hometown of Samson’s parents. On the slopes of the tell are caves, tombs, cisterns and ancient winepresses, all evidence that wine production was an important agricultural enterprise in ancient Tzora.

The path descends to the Sculpture Trail on the western flank of the tell, and there it comes to an end.

The Samson Ridge Trail
The Sculpture Trail continues westwards from the foot of Tel Tzora, among attractive plots of woodland. Driving for 1.7 kilometers brings us to the start of the Samson Ridge (Rekhes Shimshon) Trail, whose starting point is indicated by the sculpture entitled “Samson’s Mane,” by David Sondlowitch. The path ascends to the top of the Tzora Ridge, and if we walk along it we shall have an excellent view of the magnificent slopes of the Jerusalem Hills. The entire path to the tip of the ridge is about 1.5 kilometers long. However, we can also leave the path halfway along, at the Rami Gol Recreation Area; and if we prefer to forgo the walk altogether, we can access the main lookout sites by car, too, as described below.

The Samson and Delilah Footpath
We continue driving along the Sculpture Trail for another 1.5 kilometers or so and pull up at the Rami Gol Recreation Area, a disabled-accessible spot easily identifiable by its eucalyptus trees. From the recreation area, the Samson and Delilah Footpath leads us along a short circular route that joins up with the Samson Ridge Trail. The path ascends southwards to the Danny Raviv Recreation Area, from which we have a magnificent view of the Sorek River Valley and the slopes of the Jerusalem Hills. Those who wish to do so can continue for around another 400 meters on foot to the end of the ridge, and complete their walk at the start of Epilogue Trail (Shvil Aharit Davar)

The Epilogue Trail
Visitors travelling by car will reach the start of the Epilogue Trail after 350 meters. The route takes its name from the signs that describe Samson’s end in verses quoted from the Bible, when he brought the temple of Dagon down upon himself and the Philistines. At the end of the ridge, opposite the open landscape, the Sorek River Valley is revealed in all its glory. At our feet is the Deir Rafat convent, with the expanses of the Judean Plain and the Coastal Plain visible beyond it. Now we need only drive carefully along the trail that leads down from the ridge to complete our route beside Kibbutz Tzora (Route no. 3835).

The Sculpture Trail is being upgraded with the help of KKL-JNF’s Friends in Germany. KKL-JNF Israel and KKL-JNF’s Friends in Italy, Canada, Australia, Peru, Sweden and France contributed to the forest’s leisure and sports facilities.
Text: Yaakov Skolnik

Photographs: Yaakov Skolnik and Avi Hayun, KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Professional consultant: Mira Zar, Coast and Plain Community and Forest Coordinator, KKL-JNF Central Region

Map: Avigdor Orgad Maps

Published: August 3, 2016

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