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This website is designed to help you plan your vacation in the north of Israel. Sites are listed under 3 categories - family activities, hiking and historic.  Five areas are covered, and each is proceeded by a general introduction. This section introduces the Golan Heights, which is a popular vacation area.




The geography of the Golan Heights


The Golan Heights is a large rocky plateau measuring about 40 miles in a north-south direction and on average about 12 miles in an east-west direction. It is bounded to the south by the Yarmouk River valley, which separates Israel from the northern part of Jordan, and to the west by the Sea of Galilee and Hula Valley, which are part of the Jordan Rift Valley. The northern part of the Golan Heights is Mount Hermon, which has an elevation of 2,814 meter. The plateau is bounded to the east by Wadi Raqqadin. 


The western two-thirds of the Golan Heights was captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and it was annexed in 1981. Its eastern one-third still belongs to Syria. The highest part of its plateau is 1,100 meters above sea level in the north and its lowest point is 330 meters above sea level in the south, north of the Yarmouk River valley. The strategic location of the Golan Heights due to its elevation has been a significant factor in the recent conflicts between Israel and Syria.

The Golan Heights supplies about 30% of Israel’s water from rainwater draining into its ravines, especially from the northern Golan which is often snow-covered.

​The predominant rock of the Golan Heights is basalt, which is a dark volcanic rock formed about 4 million years ago from the cooling of hot lava. There are many dormant volcanos on the eastern border of Israel’s part of the Golan Heights and these are part of a volcanic field that extends as far as Damascus. Because of their height they form a useful defense shield for Israel against Syria (see for example the essay on Tel Saki and the Yom Kippur War). With good eyesight, this line of volcanic hills can often be seen from the other side of the Rift Valley.  There is no risk that these volcanos will become active again in the foreseeable future. The basalt layer covering the Golan is up to hundreds of meters deep in the north, although only a few dozen meters in the south. The Hermon mountains in the north are different geologically from the rest of the Golan and are formed of sedimentary limestone.

It is helpful to divide the Golan into three areas - southern, central and northern Golan.


The Southern Golan is the area south of the Daliyot Valley, which traverses the Gamla Nature Reserve. It is warmer and more arid than the rest of the Golan. Its deeper soil, however, makes it very suitable for agriculture.


The Central Golan extends from the Daliyot Valley to the Jilabun Valley. It has a gradual downward slope southward and westward and a steep drop to the Bethsaida Valley and Sea of Galilee. Deep canyons traverse the plain and many of these are wonderful for hiking. The rainfall is average. The soil is rocky, but it has been possible to move the rocks and grow crops. The land is particularly good land for grazing cattle, although it has been difficult for the beef industry to compete economically with Argentina. Typically, its woodland is covered by dense herbaceous vegetation creating a savannah-like landscape, with only a sparse growth of trees. Katzrin is in the central Golan and is the main city of the Golan Heights.


The Northern Golan is considered that part of the Golan north of the Jilaban Valley. This area is mountainous, cold and rainy. At its eastern border is a chain of steep volcanic hills. At its northern border is the majestic Mount Hermon.


As distinct from the rest of the Golan, Mount Hermon is not covered by black basalt rock but by sedimentary limestone. Only a small amount of Mount Hermon belongs to Israel, the rest belonging to Syria and Lebanon. All of Israel’s part of Mount Hermon is a nature reserve because of its unique fauna and flora due to its high altitude. Spring comes late to the Hermon and many of the flowers only start blooming in early summer. Many of these are flowers not seen elsewhere in Israel.


It is possible to drive up to the ski resort, and then take the lift up. There are no defined hikes when you get to the top, since you are so close to the border, but there are still paths on which to walk.



The history of the Golan Heights

The Golan Heights constitutes the small western part of what was known in Biblical and Roman times as the Bashan. Most of the Bashan was located in Syria. The early history of the Golan Heights cannot be separated from that of the Bashan. It was only during the Second Temple period that the Bashan was called the Golan, being named after the city of Golan, a city of refuge (Deuteronomy 4:43). The location of this city is not known. 

The Book of Deuteronomy (3:1-14) relates that the Bashan was occupied by the Amorites. These were Canaanites and were ruled by Og the king of Bashan. This would have been in the Bronze Age, between about 3,300 BCE to 1,200 BCE. Og’s kingdom was thought to be impregnable because of its high walled cities. However, he was defeated by Moses when he attacked the Israelites on their way to the land of Canaan and his territory was given over to half the tribe of Manasseh.

Prior to the Canaanite period, the Golan Heights was intensely settled during the Chalcolithic period. This was in about 4,300 BCE to 3,300 BCE and was a period between the Stone Age and Bronze Age. It was a time of transition between simple farming communities and more complex sociopolitical communities. Chalcolithic means copper and a feature of this period was the widespread use of copper. An example of one of their homes is displayed in the Golan Archeological Museum in Katzrin.

During the Iron Age this area became part of the kingdom of Geshur (see the webpage “Family time in the Jordan Park” and the discussion on Bethsaida on page XXX). King David married a daughter of the king of Geshur and also extended his kingdom by conquering the capital city of Damascus. The Bashan was conquered by the Arameans in the 9th century BCE. Because of its fertility, this area was subsequently contested for the next 300 years by the Northern Israelite and Aramean Kingdoms. The area was finally conquered by the mighty Assyrian Empire in the 8th century BCE.

The returning Jewish exiles from Babylon settled in this area in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, although the population of the Golan was never that great during either the preceding Babylonian or subsequent Persian periods.

The Golan Heights was conquered by Alexander the Great, and during the Hellenistic period (333 to 63 BCE) new cities were built such as Sussita and Banias and both these places can be visited. The Hasmonean king Alexander Jannai (reigned 103 to 76 BCE) subsequently added the Golan Heights to his independent Jewish kingdom. During the Roman period the Golan became part of the Roman province of Syria and it was at this time that Gamla was established.


​Following the Bar Kochba Revolt (132 to 135 CE), the country of Judea was decimated and Jews were forbidden to return. It became first a Roman and then a Christian Byzantine country. Many Jews who survived the revolt moved to the Galilee. In the 4th century, in the Byzantine period, many Jews moved to the northern Galilee and Golan Heights, and there were about three-dozen thriving Jewish communities in the Golan Heights. These communities were destroyed in a severe earthquake in 749 CE and were abandoned. It is possible that the economic situation for these communities during the Islamic period contributed to their decision not to rebuild their communities.

The British conquered the Golan Heights during World War 1 from the Ottomans, but transferred it to the French after the war, together with what would become Lebanon and Syria. When Syria became independent, the Golan Heights became part of the Syrian state.


Vacationing in the Golan Heights

The southern and central Golan:

Hiking is a very popular activity in the southern and central Golan. Many of the popular hikes are rocky and not particularly easy, but they are still usually suitable for families. All the hikes described in this website are worthwhile and recommended. A particularly interesting hike is to the ancient (destroyed) city of Gamla, which provides a perspective on the Great Revolt of the Jews against Rome. To fill in gaps, a visit either before or after the hike to the archeological museum in Katzrin is helpful.


An easy and very pleasant trail is the Dolmen Trail to the Gamla Falls in the Gamla Nature Reserve. 

Nice walks involving little exertion are to Ein Pik and the lookout at Mitzpe Afik in Kibbutz Afik, the Peace Vista, and Eden Spring Park. Another popular and less active family activity is a visit to the Aniam Artist Village. 


The rebuilt synagogue at Ein Keshatot is a popular tourist site. A short movie is shown in their comfortable theatre. There is also plenty to see at the Talmudic village in Katzrin.

The northern Golan

The Banias should not be missed. It has two areas and both are worth visiting. Mount Bental is certainly worth a visit. The hike in the Jilabun Nature Reserve is very popular and not unduly difficult. A visit to Nimrod Castle is also worthwhile.

There are several ways for locating individual sites in the Golan Heights on this website. Using your computer, you can click on the purple icons in the Home Page under the heading The Golan Heights or hover on the heading The Golan Heights at the very top of of the page and a menu will come down. On your smartphone, click on the item under the heading The Golan Heights or click on the three horizontal lines for the menu of the entire website.

     Do you find my website interesting and helpful?

Then you are sure to love my two new books "In and Around Jerusalem for Everyone - The Best Walks, Hikes and Outdoor Pools" and "The Struggle for Utopia - A History of Jewish, Christian and Islamic Messianism". Both books are available on Amazon and in Jerusalem bookstores. Click on each of the titles for information, reviews and purchase information.

Links to the HOME PAGE and best family activities, hikes and historic sites in the GOLAN, EASTERN GALILEE, UPPER GALILEE, LOWER GALILEE, JORDAN VALLEY & LAKE KINNERET, the SHEFELAH, TEL AVIV-YAFFO and surroundings, NORTH of TEL AVIV, and SOUTH of TEL AVIV.

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