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A Trip To The Banias

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In the 7th Century, the Arabs conquered the land, renaming it Banias (Arabs pronounce “p” as “b”), and the city continued as the capital city of the Golan area. From documents in the Cairo Geniza we know that there were two Jewish communities residing in the Banias — one Babylonian and one Jerusalemite. Their synagogue was excavated in the vicinity of the palace of Agrippa. In 1120 CE, Banias became the headquarters for a messianic sect of Karaites, led by the false Messiah Shlomo HaCohen. Apparently in the year 1126, the community was forced to desert the city, when the extreme Shi’ite sect of Isma’ili Hashishim took over.

Arriving in the Galilee in 1099 and in Banias at 1129, the Crusaders realized the strategic asset of Banias as a frontier city, located on the trade route to Damascus. They built a large wall and gate around it and fortified the Arab fortress of Kil’at Subeiba (Large Cliff), located 6 km above the city, calling it by the Biblical name Nimrod Fortress. The Crusaders controlled the city and fortress until 1164 when it was conquered by the Syrian ruler Nur al-Din.

During the Mamluk Period, in the 13th and 14th centuries CE, the city prospered. However, during the Ottoman Period, Banias was a small village of no special importance.

After World War I, the 1920 treaty between the British and the French placed Banias in the French Mandate. On June 10, 1967, Banias was captured by the IDF and restored to Eretz Yisrael.

After years of planning, the hanging bridge was inaugurated at the Hermon Stream in March 2010. 80 meters long, the bridge stretches over the strongly flowing clear, almost white stream, while surrounding it are majestic black/brown basalt and travertine canyon cliffs covered in abundant vegetation.

Those who opposed the building of bridge asserted that it would make the nature reserve into an amusement park. However, this didn’t happen, and the bridge trail blends right into the surroundings and has become an inseparable part of the reserve. A visitor who stands on the bridge can observe stunning views that were not accessible before its construction. The views are especially dramatic since visitors are walking in the opposite direction to the water current.

Climbing the steps at the end of the hanging bridge trail, you enter a picturesque rain forest. This more “natural trail,” leads to the Banias Waterfall which falls from a height of about ten meters. The lovely viewing-balcony provides the perfect place to observe the waterfall and relish its cool spray.

If you bring children with you, show them how to enjoy nature by instructing them to do some or all of the following things. Ask them to touch an exposed tree root and feel the texture of different leaves. (Only beware they don’t touch Oleander with its dark green spear-shaped leaves and beautiful fragrant white or rouse-pink tufty flowers since it’s highly poisonous.) Tell them to watch how the leaves or branches sway in the breeze. Suggest they listen to the sounds of the birds and the leaves. Instruct them in making a bracha on smelling trees or hardy woody stems (boray atzei b’somim), on plants with soft stems (boray isvay b’somim), a mixture of both (boray minay b’somim), or if you are not sure what it is (boray minay b’somim). Or just ask them to close their eyes and concentrate on the sound of flowing water and chirping birds.

The thick foliage of the woods along the trail contains many species of trees. Among them you’ll find Common Oaks, Oriental Plane Trees (easy to recognize, due to their large leaves shaped like the palm of a hand that are shed in the winter and its ball shaped long haired fruit), Syrian ash (can be spotted by its dentate leaflets), Poplar Trees, Willows, Figs, True Laurel (Bay Leaves), Carobs, Almonds, Storax, and many, many more. Among the vine and plant species are grapes and rough bindweed, blackberries, reeds, ferns and heart shaped ivy. Adding to the great profusion of trees near the streams and stream bank flora are orchard trees such as walnut, lemon, and other fruit trees.

About the Author: Originally from south Africa, Vardah has been living in Eretz Yisrael since 1974 and the more she learns about our glorious Holy Land the more she gets to love this prime property that Hashem has given to the Jewish People. She is studying to be a tour guide and hopes with the help of Hashem, through this column to give readers a small taste of the land.


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