A hidden treasure

Sussita is just one of many archeological treasures hiding in the Golan area and boasts impressive artifacts, an amazing history and breathtaking views of the Kinneret and surroundings.

Sussita Mountain 521 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Sussita Mountain 521
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
There are some places in Israel that no matter how many times you visit over the years, you’ll always discover some hidden corner you hadn’t noticed before. For me, the Kinneret is one of these places. We vacation there all the time; we swim in the water, check to see how high (or low) the water level is, do a little sunbathing on the beach and yet we’ve never really gotten to know the national treasures and archeological sites in the surrounding area.
One example of the fantastic sites hiding near the Kinneret is Sussita (also known as Hippos) – an ancient city destroyed by a huge earthquake that struck the region in the eighth century. The city stood south of the Ein Gev River, on top of a mountain that looks like the head of a horse (well, at least it does for people who have highly developed imaginations). Mount Sussita, which stands 350 meters above the Kinneret, offers a stunning view of the valley, especially at dusk, when the sky is full of changing colors. The view from there is absolutely breathtaking. As you drive up the winding road towards the top of the mountain, every few meters you’ll discover another piece of history.
In addition to the great view, at the top of the mountain there are remains of the vibrant city that existed there during the Hellenistic period. Apparently, more than 1,000 people lived there, which was very unusual for that time. The metropolis’s original name was Antiochia Hippos (which means horse in Greek), supposedly due to the shape of the mountain. At a later date, the name of the city was changed to Sussita, also meaning horse. The city, which flourished tremendously during the Roman period, attracted many visitors and, following the Arab conquest, its name was once again changed to Qal’at el-Husm (which means fortress of the horse), suggesting that it was a very important place.
According to Jewish lore, Sussita was probably the “good land” to which the judge Jephthah fled in an effort to escape from his brother (Book of Judges, Chapter 11).
There are artifacts that attest to Sussita’s rich history on the mountain. While walking around the mountaintop, you will also see remains of temples and churches that were built during the Byzantine era, such as the incredibly impressive granite pillars that fell down during an earthquake and remains of a highly advanced aqueduct. In addition, from our more modern history, there is an IDF outpost which was built and manned by soldiers to protect citizens during the Six Day War.
When you reach the site, walk up the trail following the black trail markers. It’s important to stay on the path and not deviate from it, since, like many other areas in the Golan Heights, there is barbed wire surrounding areas where there might still be mines.
The trail begins in the small parking area. From there, walk up the slightly sloping path; this used to be the main road of Sussita. As soon as you cross over what used to be the city’s gate, you will see the remains of the aqueduct used by the residents many centuries ago.
The path continues and then splits up into smaller roads. Toward the north, you will see the remains of a small wall from the Byzantine era that was also used more recently to build the IDF outpost.
Further down the main road is a large military structure. If you go inside and look out from the western window, you’ll see the large church that was in use during the Byzantine period. On the ground nearby lie dozens of pillars that fell during the earthquake, which makes you realize how powerful natural disasters can be.
You can also walk around and see the ruins of the five other churches that used to stand in the city, the underwater water reservoir, the bathhouse, as well as the remains of an ancient temple.
When you’re finished, retrace your steps along the main road, which will lead you back to the entrance.
Location: Kinneret area Type of hike: For the whole family, but make sure to bring hats and plenty of water and a flashlight if you want to go into the tunnel Length: Up to two hours Directions: Drive north on Road 90 as far as Tzemah intersection. Turn east onto Road 92 towards Kibbutz Ein Gev. Turn onto a dirt road that reaches the small parking area.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.