Hilltop history

Givat Titora, rich in history and tradition, has recently been saved from development.

Givat Titora, now an integral part of the city of Modi'in within easy walking distance from the city center, is a 652-dunam archaeological and botanical sanctuary.

Nestled on the northeastern border of the city, it is flanked by Road 443 to the north and by the city's roads, planned parks and residential homes on its inner parameters.

Over the centuries Givat Titora has served as an ideal lookout point, a feature which was exploited by the peoples of the region as well as the conquering armies and the insurgents who opposed them.

The summit of Titora provides a sweeping and uninterrupted panorama of the region: To the north, the view extends from Kfar Rut and Shilat to Kiryat Sefer and the hills of Shomron. To the south, one can see all the way to Shoresh, Neveh Ilan, Emek Ayalon and on a clear day, Gush Etzion. To the east, Maccabim, Bet Sira and further afield the gray/blue hue of the Judean hills beckon. To the north-west the view is defined by the Ben-Shemen forest and the Ramla-Lod region.

Underground, a labyrinth of caves and tunnels offered inhabitants a place of refuge during times of crises and provided space for both storage and burial.

Investigations carried out by the Palestine Exploration Fund and the Israel Antiquities Authority have helped peel back some of the layers of the multifaceted history of Titora. Some of the oldest findings, located in one of the underground tunnels, are perfectly preserved clay vessels used for cooking and storage that date back over 6,000 years. (Chalcolithic Period, 4000-3150 BCE).

Other early relics found are flints and potsherds dating back to the early Bronze Age II (2900-2600 BCE).

According to the Mishna, the Temple in Jerusalem (960 BCE-586 BCE), was 21 kilometers to the east of ancient Modi'in (15 Roman miles from the Temple Mount). First Temple-period remains demonstrate that life on the hilltop was an extension of events occurring in Jerusalem at the time. This is evidenced by the findings of a burial cave which is fashioned according to burial practice of the time. Other First Temple-period artifacts such as arrow heads, jewelry, signet rings and glass vessels have also been found.

In 586 the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Jews were expelled to Babylon. When King Cyrus (Koresh) the Great of Persia conquered the region, in 536 BCE, the Jews were repatriated. Cyrus also sanctioned the rebuilding of the Second Temple, which was completed in 515 BCE.

The Jews returned to the Modi'in region and to Titora, where they built ritual baths and set up their agricultural equipment, remnants of which can be seen today. An Antiquities Authority excavation (2000) revealed a Second Temple-period burial complex which includes a courtyard surrounded by hewn tombs that were secured by blocking stones.

During 333/331 BCE, the region was again conquered, this time by Alexander the Great of Greece, ushering in Hellenistic rule.

In 175 BCE the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV assumed power, attempted to impose Hellenistic culture and customs on the entire population, prohibited Jewish religious practice and desecrated the Temple - leading to the well-known Hasmonean rebellion (168/167 BCE), which originated in the town of Modi'in. The revolt succeeded in securing the liberation of the Temple and establishment of Jewish autonomy under the Hasmonean dynasty which lasted until the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans in 63 BCE.

Without extensive archaeological excavation, no one can say for sure where the exact location of the ancient town of Modi'in was. Hasmonean period remains discovered on Titora are comprised of carved building rocks, wine and oil presses, as well as graves, all of which reveal that the Hasmoneans did indeed live, work and bury their dead on this hilltop.

According to the Mishna, pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem during the festivals of Succot, Pesach and Shavuot would stop over at ancient Modi'in before their final ascent to the Temple. The 180 cisterns discovered to date exceeded the water requirements necessary to support the local population.

In support of the idea that Titora was indeed a way-station for pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, Alex Weinreb, deputy mayor of Modi'in and archaeological expert on the region, has suggested that the 50 to 60 larger cisterns were used for commercial purposes.

Bolstering this argument even further, researchers have found large columbaria in the area, which indicates that pigeons were bred here for sacrificial purposes. Due to their relatively cheap cost, pigeons were the most common form of sacrificial offering at the Temple.

In 63 BCE Jerusalem was conquered by the Romans, thus ending Seleucid power in the region. Increased Roman suppression resulted in sporadic violence which ultimately escalated into a full-scale revolt in 66 CE. The revolt was ruthlessly crushed by the Romans and ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Sixty-two years after the destruction of the Temple, the revolt led by Shimon Bar Kochba in 132 CE against the Roman Emperor Hadrian brought the region back into Jewish hands for three years, but ultimately led to the total destruction of the area and the end of Jewish sovereignty.

A coin dating back to the 2nd or 3rd year of the Bar Kochba revolt has been found in a pottery container in the tunnels under Titora. The coin is inscribed with the words "For the redemption of Jerusalem," which may indicate that Titora was used as a rebel hideout.

Following the Bar Kochba rebellion, a long procession of peoples occupied and ruled the land, including Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans and British. All of them have left their archaeological footprints on Titora.

During the 1948 War of Independence, Givat Titora was the location of the El Borge military post which played a central role in the repulsion of the Arab Legion during the IDF military offensive known as "Operation Danny." Remains of the military post can be seen on the hilltop today.

During the war, residents of the Arab village on Titora fled the area, leaving behind them remains of the village of El Burg.

The historical and archaeological richness of Titora is rivaled by a rare botanical abundance on the hilltop.

The centuries of accumulated organic remains on the hill have helped create a rich fertile soil, complemented by an abundant water supply from the ancient water cisterns. Winter rains collected in the cisterns seep out of the cracks and slowly irrigate the land throughout the year. During the spring, there are over 80 different types of wild flowers on the hilltop. A walk on Titora offers a landscape that changes radically with each season, each season bringing its own beauty.

According to Weinreb, there are growing numbers of citizens of Modi'in who understand the true value of Titora. In an effort to increase awareness, Weinreb conducts regular tours of hilltop.

Weinreb was one of the local Modi'in activists who acted against Construction Ministry plans to build 120 housing units on Titora. The conflict was taken to the High Court of Justice which ruled in favor of preserving Titora in its totality.

Today, Deputy Mayor Weinreb is leading a campaign to have Titora re-zoned as a green area. Weinreb emphasizes that Titora is of major archaeological importance and feels it is not only a vibrant educational tool, but is also part of the people's heritage.