Views, adventure and historic site in Arbel National Park and Nature Reserve

Arbel National Park is on the northeast part of the Arbel plateau. Its cliffs tower over the Ginossar Valley and Lake Kinneret. A popular family hike on top of the cliffs offers wonderful views over the northern part of Lake Kinneret and the Eastern Lower and Upper Galilee. A challenging hike on the side of the cliff uses ladders and footholds to visit caves and a fortress used as hideouts by supporters of Antigonus against Herod and by Jewish defenders during the Great Revolt. A short walk to the ruins of the ancient synagogue of Arbel is also of interest. There are additional trails for experienced hikers.

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People have lived in the many caves on the cliffs since prehistoric times. In 38 BCE, the villagers of Arbel supported the Hasmonean Antigonus against Herod and barricaded themselves inside the caves. Herod killed them by lowering his Roman soldiers from the top of the cliffs in cages suspended by ropes. As commander of the Galilee during the Great Revolt against Rome in 66-67 CE, Josephus built walls around the caves. A protective wall was also built on Mount Nitai and this can still be seen. The caves were re-fortified as a castle by the son of the Druze Emir Fahr ad-Din in the 17th century. One can wander through the different levels of the ruins of the fortress.

Family hike to the observation points on top of the cliff:

 

Time: 1 hour.

Distance: 2.1 Km.

Type of hike: Circular.

Difficulty: This is an easy hike on gravel paths. The final section, on the green-marked trail, is slightly more difficult and some parts are on bare rock.

Directions: Enter “Arbel National Park” into Waze.

Admission: Arbel National Park is a site of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. It is open Sunday to Thursday and Saturday 8.00 am to 5.00 pm and Friday and holiday eves 8.00 am to 4.00 pm. It closes 1 hour earlier in the winter. The last entry to the park and observation areas is one hour before closing time. Close to the parking lot is a shaded picnic area, a store selling hot and cold drinks and snacks, and WC’s. There is an admission charge. The park telephone number is 04 673-2904. Click here for their website.

FAMILY HIKE TO OBSERVATION POINTS:

  • From the main parking lot walk through the picnic area and past the store and head towards the cliff on the black-marked trail to the Carob Lookout. This lookout point has rail guards and a sign that identifies the places you are viewing below you.

 

  • Continue on the black-marked trail to the Kinneret Lookout. Close to the lookout the path changes to a blue-colored trail. (The black trail continues down the cliff to the fortress and refuge caves). From the Kinneret Lookout can be seen all of Lake Kinneret and the communities around the lake.

 

  • To return, retrace your steps past the Carob Lookout until you come to a fork. Take the right fork on the green-marked trail to the Mount Nitai Lookout. It has this name because it provides a view of Mount Nitai. (Note that this trail is closer to the edge of the cliff than the other trails and depending on whether they like wandering it may not be suitable for young children). If you wish to skip the green trail, return instead to the parking lot via the black trail on which you came.

 

  • Return to the parking lot via the red-marked trail.

CHALLENGING HIKE ON THE CLIFFS TO THE FORTRESS AND REFUGE CAVES:

 

This challenging circular trail has a steep descent and ascent, takes up to 3 hours, uses hand and footholds in the rock, and is for hikers with no fear of heights. Even when younger, I was shaking for some time after I came back to the cliff top!

 

  • From the main parking lot head towards the Carob Lookout on the black-marked path. Past the Carob Lookout there is fork. The blue trail continues to the Kinneret Lookout, but you will continue on the left fork which is black-marked and which descends to the fortress and then refuge caves.  This part of the trail is red-marked. The direction to the fortress and caves is indicated by signs. The red trail eventually ascends, leading to the parking lot.

TO THE SYNAGOGUE OF ANCIENT ARBEL:

 

The synagogue is outside the park, adjacent to Moshav Arbel . A short drive from the park takes you to its parking lot on the left-hand side of the road. From here there is a paved walkway to the synagogue.

 

This was the synagogue of the ancient village of Arbel. The ruins of the village are around the synagogue, although they are not evident because of the weeds. The synagogue was built in stages from the 4th to 6th centuries CE and was in continuous use until the Arab period in the 8th century.

Doorway Arbel synagogue.jpeg

THE SYNAGOGUE SITE

 

There are some unusual features in this synagogue compared to other Galilean synagogues. You will immediately notice an impressive door frame made of a single carved piece of limestone on its eastern aspect. It has floral motives and medallions. Most other Galilean synagogues have their entrance on their southern side facing Jerusalem, although there are exceptions. There is also no other synagogue with a door frame like this made from a  single carved piece of limestone. The reason is probably messianic.

 

There are midrashic references to the Plain of Arbel being the site of the final apocalyptical battle before the arrival of the Messiah (as in Ezekiel’s battle of Gog of Magog). Also, that the Messiah will arrive through an eastern entrance to the Temple through a single door made of precious material. Many Jews believed that they were approaching redemptive times, and since the main focus of Jewish life in Israel was in the Galilee and not in Jerusalem, then this is where the Messiah would come from.

 

As in other synagogues, this one had a rectangular hall with 3 rows of columns creating a nave and aisles. There were carved stone benches along three of the walls. In the southern aspect of this synagogue is a semicircular niche, which was probably the location of the ark. The building would have been two-storied.

 

Look also at the blue plaque at this site. Sgt Max Steinberg was a chayal boded (a lone soldier without parents in Israel) who was killed during the 2014 Protective Edge war in Gaza. The immediate decision of the parents was to take his body back to Los Angeles to be buried, but they then had second thoughts and realized that it was more appropriate for him to be buried at the military cemetery at Mount Herzl, in the country for which he had given his life. Informed by social media, about 30,000 people attended his funeral. It was at this site that Max decided to immigrate to Israel while on a Taglit-Israel or Birthright Israel program to Israel. In his memory, Taglit-Birthright Israel donated the paved path from the main road to the synagogue. As an article stated: “Birthright introduced Max to Israel. Max fell in love with Israel. And he understood, subsequently, that he could not make Israel his home, without protecting her". Click here for the full Times of Israel article. 

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