Photo Credit: wikimedia ccl2.0
Royal Palace, Tell el-Ful

“Saul… went to his home, to Gibeah (1 Samuel 10: 26)”

While there are many off-the-beaten-track treasures in Israel, some are so little known that even many Israel experts have never heard of them. Today’s historic site, Tel el Ful, rarely sees visitors but this unique treasure is our next stop.

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File:ארמון חוסיין ב תל אל פול.JPG
Royal Palace, Tell el-Ful
The top of Gibeah today.
Photo Credit: Eli.berckovitz

This location, North of Jerusalem’s Old City, is known in the Bible by several names. One of them is Gibeah, Hebrew for “Hill” because of its conspicuously high elevation from its surrounding areas.

Tel El Ful

Indeed, this place offers one of Israel’s best views! On a clear day one looking westward will see Israel’s lowlands, the Judean Forest and coastal region. Looking eastward, the Judean Desert, Dead Sea and the Biblical mountains of Jordan are visible.

It is also known as the Gibeah of Saul (1 Samuel 11:4), because this is where Israel’s first King, Saul, had his palace. A third name for this location is Gibeah of Benjamin (1 Samuel 13:15) as this is found in the tribal territory of Benjamin. King Saul was a native Benjamite.

Indeed, between 1922-23 renowned archeologist William Albright excavated the site and found a palace dated to the time of the United Monarchy of Israel, whose era includes the tumultuous reign of Saul.

Blueprint of Saul’s palace by Dr. Albright

One of the more well-known Biblical stories took place here before Saul’s reign, during the time of the Judges and once again the archeology matches the Biblical narrative.

In Judges 19 and 20, due to the actions of the Tribe of Benjamin against the Levite’s concubine, the other 11 tribes declared war and destroyed Gibeah by fire.  William Albright found the original “Gibeah” underneath the ruins of where King Saul would shortly build his palace, and it was covered in a deep layer of a type of ash found only on ruins which has been destroyed in flames.

Additional proof of this being the exact location of Gibeah, is the route the Levite and his concubine took to return from Bethlehem in Judah to his home on Mount Ephraim. As the sun was going down, they were passing Jerusalem but the Levite said let us continue further and “Spend the night in Gibeah or in Ramah (Judges 19:13)”. All of these cities, on route to his home, are on the Biblical “Spine route” today known as Highway 60. To be sure, the city Dr Albright excavated was on this very route.

The Biblical Spine Route (Today’s Highway 60). Gibeah was just North of Jerusalem at the place where the Red Line exists the blue line on this map

During the siege of Jerusalem culminating in the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, General Titus, who later became the Emperor of Rome, set up his camp here because of the great view of the battlefield from this vantage.

Where are the remains of King Saul’s palace today and what is the structure you currently see on top of the hill?

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Inside King Hussein’s incomplete palace on top of Tel El Ful. The Panoramic view from here is spectacular
Photo Credit: Bukvoed 

In 1948 Jordan Illegally took control of much of Israel, and tried to destroy any ancient Jewish remains they could find to deny that Jews ever had a connection to their historic homeland. On this location in 1965, on top of King Saul’s palace, King Hussein (father of Abdullah,  the current King of Jordan) began building his palace, initially destroying the ruins. In 1967 Israel liberated this land, and the skeleton of the building, never completed, remains. Israel legally annexed here in 1980 and in 1988 King Hussein officially relinquished any claims to it.

Today is it possible to visit this unique site, enter its structure and savor these superior views. While this site in generally safe to visit, one should first check with a licensed tour guide who is familiar with the building and security situation well.

Please visit the author’s site: https://guidedtoursofisrael.com

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Nosson Shulman, veteran tour guide makes Israel come alive for you. www.guidedtoursofisrael.com; info@guidedtoursofisrael.com;