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Yodfat-Har Atzmon Route

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Yodfat-Har Atzmon Route

Duration: 4-5 hours
Recommended season: Autumn
Features: Archeology, Observation point, Nature,
Length: 6

How to get there

The Route

After parking the car, we will return 100 meters to the north on the dirt road we drove on, until we reach the right hand turn towards the dirt road marked with red markings. We continue with this trail until we reach Tel Yodfat [5]. We see the Yodfat community village (established in 1960) on the left, on the Yodfat hills.

 

The ancient city of Yodfat became famous during the Great Revolt. This war that began in the year 67 and ended in 70, when the 2nd Temple was destroyed, was fought all through the land, including the Galilee. During the Great Revolt, Yosef Ben Matityhu was the commander of the Galilee and he positioned himself in Yodfat. The Romans, led by Aspasyanus, attempted to crush the revolt by conquering the sources of resistance.

 

A difficult battle was fought in 67 in Yodfat, a city planned to be able to withstand an extended siege. This was described in detail in the book: Jewish Wars 3:7:7: "The city of Yodfat is almost completely at the top of a high hill, surrounded by deep gulfs. Anyone attempting to surround it from below will be darkened by the depths of the gulf and only from the north a path to the city was found because there it was built on the side of the hill descending…additional hills surrounded the city and therefore it was hidden from those who didn't know it. That was the nature of the fortified Yodfat".

 

We will climb to the top of the hill that is currently bare, from its moderate northern side. Here from the top of the hill, we understand Yosef Ben Matityahu's description of the geography of the city. Yosef Ben Matityahu was not satisfied with these natural conditions and fortified the city by building a wall and digging cisterns for a supply of water during a siege. The Romans however, had efficient methods of carrying out sieges. They fired metal arrows over the wall, as found in archeological excavations, as well as catapult rocks and they built a large ramp by pouring earth near the wall.

 

From the north side observation point, we can imagine the 160 sling machines Aspasyanus positioned to kill the guards, the huge Roman camp with thousands of soldiers on horses and on foot, marksmen and bow carriers.

 

Instead of an exposed hill, you can imagine a crowded city facing a difficult and vicious siege.

 

The besieged soldiers used different methods of defense including: rocks they rolled down on the attacking Roman soldiers, protecting the wall against the battering ram with sacks full of straw and chaff and attempts to burn the rams with torches and pouring hot oil on the bridges so the soldiers crossing them would slip. During the siege soldiers left the city undetected to attack the Roman camp and to bring food and ammunition.

When the Romans started to build the ramp, Yosef Ben Matityahu ordered his soldiers to raise the wall and he used bull skins to protect the builders from the arrows fired at them.

 

After a 47 day siege, on July 20th, 67 AD, the wall was broken through.

 

Many Jews killed themselves, others were killed in face to face combat. Those hiding in caves, were slaughtered without any mercy. The Romans only captured 1,200 people and the number of dead, Yosef Ben Matityahu writes, was 40,000. At the end of the battle, 40 rebels hid in a cave, with their commander Yosef Ben Matityahu. Following a motivating speech, Yosef convinced the soldiers with him to kill themselves (like in Mazada). However, following a series of lotteries, he and one other soldier remained alive. Yosef Ben Matityahu became a prisoner of the Romans and during his captivity he prophesized that Aspasyanus will become the Caesar to replace Niron. When this happens, Yosef Ben Matityahu becomes Yosefus Flavius who acts as the historian of the Great Revolt and he writes The Antiquities of the Jews and The Jewish Wars (two books that are a central source of information on 2nd Temple Jewish history).

We now take a short tour of the site and we will notice the many cisterns and the small channels in the stone used to transfer rainwater to them. (Walk carefully because some of the cisterns are unmarked). A large pile of human bones was discovered in one of them during archeological excavations, these apparently are the remains of those killed in the battle. A monument was recently built in their memory at the bottom of the hill, on the trail we walked on.

 

We continue on the blue trail along the remains of the wall and we begin our descent from the hill in the southwestern direction. The descent is steep and is another opportunity for us to enjoy the spectacular view of the lower Galilee hills.

 

We walk between all kinds of trees including oaks, carobs, olives, pistacias and others.

 

When we get to the bottom of the channel, the trail [6] starts its moderate climb up to Mt. Atzmon. After half a kilometer, the trail reaches a dirt road where it turns to the right. After another 250 meters the blue trail turns to the left and leads up to the top of the hill (look for the mark). During the right season we can see the beautiful blossoming of the orchids.

The climb is worth the effort because it will present a breathtaking view from the top of the hill [7]. Far in the west, we see the Mediterranean, The Bay of Haifa and the Carmel, in the south we see the Netofa valley and in the east we see the Galilean hills and the Kinneret.

 

Yosef Ben Matityahu writes of Mt. Atzmon:

"All of the rebels and thieves in the Galilee survived to the mountain in the center of the land and looking over Zippori, called Mt. Atzmon…and all the nation the rebels were at the top of the hill, it was easier for them to defend themselves against the Romans attacking them and they killed 200 of them. However, when the Romans surrounded the mountain and stood tall, the rebels very soon fell before them because they had no weapons and did not have the strength to face the force of the armed military and they could not hide from the horses. Only a few escaped to forgotten places on foot and thousands were killed' (The Jewish War B, 18:11).

 

Presently, at the top of the mountain there are the remains of a small fortress with a double wall and to the north of the wall a burial cave was discovered.

 

The Netofa valley, spread out  beneath the mountain, is the largest valley in the lower Galilee. Part of the valley is flooded in the winter and therefore you will not find populated areas in its center. In the spring months, the view of the mosaic of agricultural fields is spectacular. Through the 16 km long and 3 km wide valley we can clearly see the National Water Carrier. In its western side, the carrier flows to the Eshcol reservoirs. South of the valley we see the Tiran mountain with Beit Rimon at the top of it and the Nazareth hills to the south, with the Zippori national park on its northern side.

 

From the mountain top we continue down to the trail and we turn to the east (left). After another 200 meters, the trail joins another trail marked with black. We continue towards the right and walk at the same height. After another 200 meters we reach a crossing point of the blue trail with the black trail. We turn right with the blue trail to the west. The descent that starts out as moderate, turns into a goat trail after 200 meters. At some point the trail makes a strong left turn and takes us steeply down between the Pistacia trees, rocks and beautiful natural terraces down to the wadi. This is a steep part of the trail and be careful not to slip.

 

At the bottom there are two seasonal fountains, Al Wasta and Al Kaziza. The fountains drip into a wide pool and even though the bottom of it is green, the water is very clean. These are layer springs and there usually is water in them all year round. We can cool our feet in the water [8].

 

From here the blue trail continues to the north and we will continue on it for another km. Since the trail passes through the seasonal stream that is used for the agricultural growths for the residents of the Caucab Abu Alhija village [9], you may have difficulty finding the blue trail mark. About a km from the springs there is a trail leading away from the blue trail to the right (east), on to a dirt road marked red. This trail will lead us back to the forest where we parked, 1.25 km back.

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