The city on the hill

Recently recognized as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites, Tel Hatzor boasts the remains of 21 cities, an intricate water system from the ninth century BCE and more.

hatzor1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The Canaanites who lived in Hazor during the biblical era were pretty smug. And for good reason: not only was Hazor a metropolis comparable in size to the biggest cities in powerful Babylonia and Egypt, but it towered above the Via Maris - the main trade route utilized in ancient times. They had other reasons to be complacent as well, for they knew that their military capabilities were formidable. Indeed, their fortifications were so daunting that they assumed any soldiers daring to try an attack would shiver with fear as they anticipated the burning tar, spears and arrows the defenders would throw down from the walls. Nevertheless, as the king of Hazor and other cities in the region watched the Israelites conquer area after area in the Promised Land, they became concerned. By now quite worried that he and his people could possibly fall into Israelite hands, King Jabin of Hazor initiated a union between his city and others in Galilee that 'made camp together at the Waters of Merom, to fight against Israel' [Joshua 11:5]. But before the Canaanite armies had consolidated their forces, Joshua carried out a vastly successful surprise assault on Hazor. And when it was over, he commanded his soldiers to devastate the once proud city. 'So Joshua and his whole army came against them suddenly at the Waters of Merom and attacked them, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel... Israel did not burn any of the cities built on their mounds - except Hazor, which Joshua burned' [Joshua 11:7-13]. After putting this important city to the torch, Joshua could finally settle the Land of Israel. 'So Joshua took this entire land: the hill country, all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon'(Joshua 11:16-17). In 2005, UNESCO added Tel Hatzor to its list of World Heritage Sites of outstanding universal value, and over the last few years Hatzor has undergone an incredible face-lift. While in former years it featured only a few rather neglected excavations, today the area is a fascinating site with partially restored and reconstructed structures and excellent signs. It is also the largest biblical-era archeological site in Israel. No wonder UNESCO considers Hatzor 'a testimony to civilizations that have disappeared... [and that it] exerted a powerful influence on later history through the biblical narrative.' Together with Megiddo and Gezer, Hazor was mentioned in Kings (9:15) as part of Solomon's vast building and fortification program. The newly well-protected city now had everything it needed to survive as a settlement: fertile land, lush springs, a major thoroughfare and hills so high that its soldiers could spot an attacking army long before it reached the city gates. But there was still one glitch: Hazor's water sources were located outside the city walls. Enemies who couldn't charge up the heights, or make it through the massive gates, could simply lay siege to the city and wait until the inhabitants began dying of thirst! King Ahab, ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel, ordered his engineers to find a solution. The highly professional result, executed with hammer and chisel in the ninth century BCE, was a monumental, sophisticated water system that kept the water supply safe inside in the city. During this period Hazor doubled in size and became the greatest city in the land of Israel. Fortifications, the water system, and the loftiness of Hazor all proved useless when the Assyrians attacked in 732 BCE. After the battle, the people of Hatzor were led into exile. 'In the time of Pekah King of Israel, Tiglath- Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel-beth- maacah, Janoah, Kedesh and Hazor. He took Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria' (2 Kings 15:29). Hazor never recovered even a shadow of its former glory. All that remains are ruins from the 21 cities that stood here, one atop the other. In short - a veritable wonderland for archeology buffs. This article was taken from the Christian Edition of The Jerusalem Post Aviva Bar-Am is the author of six books about Israel. Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide and photographer. They can be reached at Israel Travels