Golan Trail - From the Daliot Campsite to Kashtot Rehavam
This route, which begins at the special overnight campsite created by KKL-JNF at Daliot Recreation Area, leads the walker for 10 kilometers (below it says 6 kilometres, have I misunderstood something?) from the Golan Trail to the area below Kashtot Rehavam (Umm al-Qanater). The Golan Trail continues southwards, crossing Nahal Semekh and ascending to Route no. 789, but we shall make our way up to the spring and the remains of the fascinating ancient synagogue currently under restoration. And there’s flowing water, too…
• Geographic location: Northern Israel, the Golan Heights
• How to get there:
Route to the starting point: The Daliot Recreation Area, some 700 kilometers to the west of Daliot Junction (Route no. 869, between kilometer markers 15 and 16).
Route to the finishing point: The parking lot at Kashtot Rehavam (Umm al-Qanater). How to get there: Follow the access road to Natur for 3.3 kilometers then, about half a kilometer before you reach the community itself, turn left and follow the paved road for about 3 kilometers until you come to the Kashtot Rehavam (Umm al-Qanater) parking lot. There are picnic tables and chemical toilets at the site.
Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.
The Kashtot Rehavam synagogue, general view. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.
The basalt plug at the bend in Nahal Semekh. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik
The main sanctuary at the Kashtot Rehavam synagogue. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik
Mazraat Quneitra and the water faucet
The Golan Trail departs from the Daliot Recreation Area and leads southwards through the entrance, crossing Route no. 869 (careful!) and thereafter skirting the ruins of Mazraat Quneitra for several hundred meters. The history of this community is bound up with the fall of Gamla, the city that was capital to at least twenty-three villages. A survey conducted by archaeologist Chaim Ben Dor shows that a settlement founded at Mazraat Quneitra around the year 100 BCE occupied the gap left by Gamla. Another three communities were founded in the Gamla region at around the same time: Deir Qaruh, very close to Gamla; Jurniya, on the route of the Roman road that the Golan Trail crosses at this point, some 3 kilometers to the north of Tel al-Saqi; and Wahshara, approximately 2.5 kilometers to the northwest of Gamla. Some 100 meters to the south of the ruins we come to a dirt road. The Golan Trail continues straight on ahead of us, but if you need to refill your water canteens, you can walk 300 meters eastward to a Mekorot facility close to Route no. 808, where a faucet has been installed for the convenience of hikers.
The remains of the Roman Road
We continue southward for another 1.5 kilometers or so until we reach another dirt road that follows the ancient route of a Roman road. Originally it was paved with stone, and had curbs constructed from larger, more prominent rocks. The route ascended from the fields of Moshav Ramot and made its way to Rasm Balut, about half a kilometer to the west of our present location. This route partially coincided with an Iron Age trail that led to Hanut Orha (Juhdar) and from there to Damascus. In Roman times this would appear to have been the main route connecting the Land of Israel to Syria.
The Roman road and the Golan Trail both pass through the ruins of Rasm Balut. The Arabic word rasm means “trace” or “impression,” and the Tabor oak is referred to in Arabic as balut (though in some areas this word is used for other varieties of oak). The mediaeval Jerusalem Arab geographer Al-Muqaddassi, who visited the Golan Heights in the tenth century CE, wrote of local people who made their living from harvesting acorns. He described how they would gather the acorns of the Tabor oak, soak them in water, dry them and grind them. The resulting acorn flour was mixed with flour made from Tabor barley, which grew in profusion in the Golan, and then baked to make bread.
Revaya (Semekh) Reservoir
Near Rasm Balut we come to the northern edge of the embankment of the huge Revaya (Semekh) Reservoir, which was established in 1984 and has a potential capacity of 4.5 million cubic meters. The Golan Trail continues for 700 meters along the top of the reservoir dam before descending into the riverbed. In February and early March the areas to the west of the reservoir are covered with a magnificent carpet of red and violet anemones.
A winter pond in the plain to the east of Nahal Semekh. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik
On the way to Nahal Semekh. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.
We are now in the catchment basin of Nahal Semekh, which, with a length of some 20 kilometers, is the longest stream in the southern Golan Heights. It rises at the springs beside the village of Shaabaniya, to the east of Gilgal Refaim. In the past its upper reaches were known as Al-Mawaqer, and the stretch between its meeting point with Nahal El-Al and the Kinneret was referred to as Wadi al-Samak (“Fish Stream” in Arabic), possibly because the fishing grounds in the estuary beside Kursi are considered to be among the Kinneret’s best.
We pass by a depression that fills up with water in winter, as we can see from the tamarisks growing nearby. To the north of the depression is a small cliff populated by fig trees, which teaches us something about their preferred habitat. To our left the gully slowly deepens until suddenly it develops a kink and turns sharply to the left. This bend in the river is dominated by a large and impressive basalt plug that soars to a height of about twenty meters, creating a cliff face scored by scarred pillars. Geologists explain that this is a remnant of a volcano that has eroded away, leaving only the hardened basalt that once plugged its vent.
Now the path descends to the bed of the flowing stream. We make our way through a “tunnel” of reeds and arrive at a large bridge made of basalt rock, commonly known as the Syrian Bridge. Note the plane trees growing along the riverbed.The Syrian Bridge and the route of the diversionary canal
A humpbacked basalt bridge serves the dirt road that crosses Nahal Semekh. The shade offered by the bridge and the water flowing below it make this the perfect spot for a break and a rest. The Syrians built this bridge while engaged in digging a canal designed to divert the waters of the Banyas and the Hatzbani to the Golan and thence to the Yarmouk River, in order to prevent their reaching Israel’s National Water
Carrier. Work on the diversion began in 1964 in accordance with a decision taken by the Arab League, whose member states also provided some of the funding. Israel objected strenuously to the canal, whose construction was later one of the reasons for the outbreak of the Six-Day War. Had Syria managed to carry out its plan, around two thirds of the water sources of the River Jordan would have been diverted.
The Golan Trail climbs now on its way southwards. To the left a fig tree can be observed growing out of the cliff wall about 1.5 kilometers from the bridge. Its roots are nourished by water that drips from a spring.
After another half-kilometer or so a signpost informs us that we have arrived at the end of this stretch of the Golan Trail. Now we ascend to the left along a black-marked trail that meets up with a blue-marked trail about 200 meters farther on. Here, on the rocky cliff face opposite, the Ein HaKeshatot spring rises.
The Syrian bridge. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik
The Semekh (Revaya) Reservoir in summertime. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik
Remains of the village of Umm al-Qanater in summertime. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.
The Arches Spring (Ein HaKeshatot, or Umm al-Qanater)
The Hebrew name of this spring, which is more or less a translation of the Arabic Umm al-Qanater – literally, “Mother of the Arches” – speaks for itself. The spring waters flow into troughs constructed in the shade of three magnificent stone arches whose style proclaims them to be of Roman origin. Today only one whole arch and part of another are still standing. Such a monumental structure would be much better suited to a large wealthy city than to the little village once situated here, whose very name has long been forgotten. So far no convincing explanation has been found for the presence of the arches. Some believe that the site once served as a linen-blanching works, providing the main source of income for the village people. In ancient times linen garments were expensive and considered to be especially prestigious. As their tendency to yellowness was, however, greatly deplored, such clothes required bleaching. The villagers may have had special knowledge and techniques for producing blanched linen garments of which wealthy wearers could be proud, and this may have enriched them very considerably.
The spring that flows in such abundance opposite the stunning landscape of Nahal Semekh and the Kinneret may also have been a holy site for pagans who revered the forces of Nature. Another arched site built in a similar style has been discovered at Deir Aziz, adjacent to Moshav Kanaf.
Today Ein HaKeshatot is sometimes referred to as Kashtot Rehavam (“Rehavam’s Arches”), because the late Minister of Tourism Rehavam Zeevi visited the site in 2001, just a few days before he was assassinated by terrorists. A paved path bordered with trees and seats leads to the ancient synagogue belonging to the Jewish community that lived here in the time of the Mishna and the Talmud.
Thanks to the remote location of the synagogue, most of the stones that once composed it can still be seen at the site in a large pile of ruins. At the end of the 19th century these stones had already been identified as the remains of an ancient synagogue. In 1905 Heinrich Kohl and Carl Watzinger carried out excavations at the site and produced a plan of the building. In 2003 an excavation and restoration project was begun under the direction of Joshua Drei (“Yeshu”) and archeologists Ilana Gonen and Chaim Ben David.
The synagogue is surrounded by a fence, but it is possible to gain an excellent impression of it from the outside. It is quite a magnificent sight: the façade and entrance of the building are almost complete, as are significant sections of the other walls. Two rows of columns from the main sanctuary stand in place.
A magnificent Torah Ark adjacent to the wall of the southern façade, which faces Jerusalem, is one of the highlights of this site: the five-meter-high structure has been almost completely preserved. The entrance to the bimah is an arch borne by two ornamented columns. Beside each column is a pillar with a capital decorated by an eagle and geometric shapes. Stone steps lead up to the bimah, whose sides are decorated with magnificent reliefs of vines growing out of an amphora, arches, geometric figures and ornamented moldings. Each pillar is topped with a relief depicting a menorah. Other Jewish symbols such as a fire pan, a ram’s horn and the four species were also found. The synagogue is estimated to date back to the Byzantine period and would appear to have been destroyed by an earthquake or some form of engineering failure. Within the compound remains of houses belonging to the abandoned Jewish village were also found.
From the synagogue a stepped path ascends to the site’s parking lot, which can also be accessed by a paved road.