A winter full of hiking

Wander during winter season and enjoy seeing the landscape adorning itself afresh. Should you be lovers of rain showers and not easily intimidated by puddles, here are a few ideas for the winter.

ENVELOPED IN a cave in Beit Guvrin. (photo credit: MANU GREENSPAN)
ENVELOPED IN a cave in Beit Guvrin.
(photo credit: MANU GREENSPAN)
Wander during winter season and enjoy seeing the landscape adorning itself afresh. Should you be lovers of rain showers and not easily intimidated by puddles, here are a few ideas for a winter weekend trek or two.
The Beit Guvrin National Park, land of 1,000 caves, includes architectural marvels from the ancient world, including a Roman amphitheater, the remains of a Crusader church, burial caves and even an underground maze. This is the only Roman amphitheater open to the general public in Israel, and from the various observation points visitors can enjoy the view of the plains of Judea.
During the entire month of January, live demonstrations of crafts from the ancient world, such as minting coins and weaving rugs, will be held on Saturdays from 11 a.m to 3 p.m.
Cost: Adult, NIS 28; child NIS 14.
Another place where you can feel history come to life is the ancient city of Tzipori, once the capital of the Galilee and the seat of the Sanhedrin. This was the city in which the Mishna was completed. In our own times, delightful mosaics were found there that reveal the rich cultural life shared by Jews and non-Jews who used to live in the city. Not to worry, you won’t have to get wet to explore it!
Our trip begins with the fortress used by the Crusaders to embark on the fateful 1187 Battle of Hattin, in which Saladin defeated Guy of Lusignan. The Crusaders did not erect the fortress but built it using an existing structure. Those who wish to enjoy the view are advised to go out to the roof.
An example of the mixed cultural life in Tzipori during Roman times is the Bacchus Villa, so named after the Greek god of grapes, wine and intoxication.
The villa includes impressive mosaics depicting scenes from the life of the deity and include a depiction of a woman so beautiful she is known as the Mona Lisa of the Galilee. Those who enjoy art from the ancient world claim this is an unrivaled example of the lessons the ancients bestowed upon us.
Tzipori also boasts an ancient water reservoir, which is 260 meters long. It was in use from the Roman period of roughly the second century until the seventh, nearly 500 years. It is possible to walk around in it and learn about how the ancients maintained their water quality.
Another attraction is the Byzantine synagogue, which includes mosaics of the zodiac, the Binding of Isaac, and the Temple in Jerusalem. Educational activities allow the visitor to learn about the lives of the Jewish people at the time of the editing of the Mishna.
Cost: Adult, NIS 28; child NIS 14.
Beit She’arim National Park can be found in a little valley surrounded by green hills. From these hills one can view the Jezreel Valley fields and the communities that dot the landscape. To the west looms Mount Carmel and, at its highest peak, Muhraka (Keren Carmel), the site of a Christian monastery. (“El-Muhraka,” Arabic for “place of burning,” refers to the story of how the Prophet Elijah brought fire from heaven.)
Nearby is a monument to Alexander Zaïd, one of the major figures of the Zionist vision, due to his commitment to Jewish self-defense. Zaïd, who was murdered by a Bedouin in 1938, is immortalized in the monument created by David Polus in the 1940s.
Known as “the wandering sculptor,” Polus was famous for wandering the land and creating monumental works that, to him, celebrated the revival of the Jewish national home. The current statue is a bronze copy of the original work and was created in the 1960s.
Zaïd is central to our trek as, in 1936, his sheep was lost in the area. While he was looking for it, he found the entrance to a cave, walked inside, and found the necropolis that would later be identified as the Jewish community of Beit She’arim. Today, this is the national park we intend to visit.
During the second century, Beit She’arim was the seat of Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, who served as the spiritual leader of the people of Israel during the years of Roman occupation, and it was under him, at this location, that the Mishna was edited. Jewish sources claim that he chose to be interred there and that his tomb had been made ready for him during his lifetime.
Recently, the Caves of the Menorah were opened to the general public to enjoy. Decorated with art that is 1,800 years old, they tell the story of the Jewish people and of the Menorah used in the Temple in Jerusalem.
You might tour the park or sign up for a viewing of the film The Journey of the Menorah, which is shown inside one of the caves. It is important to notice that the caves were all used as burial caves for Jewish people from this land and beyond, and so the site contains inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, as well as beautiful stonework depicting such Greek motives as Leda and the Swan.
Details: (04) 983-1643
Cost: Adult, NIS 22; child, NIS 9.
Perhaps you always wondered how early humans, before Romans and Jews even existed, lived in caves? If so, you are in luck, for here you will gain a peek into the lives of the local people who lived here at the dawn of human civilization.
The site contains four caves that were excavated over the course of 90 years and was recognized by UNESCO in 2012 as a World Heritage Site.
We begin the tour at the Cave of the Oven, from which we can see the coast. This cave contains evidence of half a million years of human settlement as hunters-gatherers.
The remains of a Neanderthal woman were found here, which is partly why the site is so important for all mankind. If you are reading this, you yourself are a Homo sapiens, a “wise man,” and it is still an ongoing discussion what exactly happened to the Neanderthals.
Incidentally, while “Neanderthal” means “New Man,” it is a coincidence, as the name was given after the Neander Valley, where the remains of such early humans were found. The valley was named after German pastor Joachim Neander.
From the Cave of the Oven we go to the Cave of the Camel, which hosts an exhibition on the lives of hunter-gatherers, and from there we go to the Cave of the River, the longest known cave in the Carmel and a site of human settlement since the Mousterian period, which means since humans began making stone tools 250,000 years ago. This cave features a film about the lives of our early ancestors.
At the feet of the cave is evidence of the greatest shift of human culture, that of the move from hunting animals and gathering plants to domesticating animals and working the land. It is suspected that this change brought about the ability to store food, which caused human civilization to leap forward. Archaeologists found early art from this time period, including shell necklaces.
As you walk, you will enjoy the unique nature of this region, which combines the coast, the mountain and unique plants.
Please be wary of possible floods. Should the weather conditions a llow, enjoy the circular hike marked in blue, which will take you via a forest and back to the starting point.
Another option is the geological route. This route is marked by wooden poles on which arrows are painted.
Guided Tours: On geology, 10:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.
Cost: Adult, NIS 22; child NIS 19.
Translated by Hagay Hacohen.