Views and Adventure at Arbel National Park and Nature Reserve
Arbel National Park is at the northeastern part of the Arbel plateau. Its cliffs tower over the Ginossar Valley and Lake Kinneret below. 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 is on the side of the cliff that uses ladders and footholds to visit the caves used as hideouts by supporters of Antigonus against Herod and by Jews during the Great Revolt against the Romans and a cliffside fortress built during the Ottoman period. A short walk to the ruins of the ancient synagogue of Arbel is also of considerable interest. There are additional trails for experienced hikers.
People have lived in the many caves on these cliffs since prehistoric times. In 38 BCE, the villagers of Arbel supported the Hasmonean Antigonus against Herod the Great and barricaded themselves inside the caves. To overcome and kill them, Herod lowered 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 be seen from the top of the cliffs. The caves were re-fortified as a castle by the son of the Druze ruler Fahr ad-Din in the 17th century. A popular hike descends the side of the cliff and walks through the different levels of the fortress ruins.
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 WCs. There is an admission charge. The park telephone number is 04 673-2904. Click here for their website.
Public transport: There is no convenient public transport. Enter "Arbel National Park" into Moovit. From the closest bus stop it is a 39 minute/3.2 Km walk.
Model of the cages used by Herod the Great to defeat the supporters of the Antigonus.
FAMILY HIKE TO THE OBSERVATION POINTS:
From the main parking lot, walk through the picnic area and past the store and walk towards the cliff on the black-marked trail to the Carob Lookout. This lookout point has rail guards and a sign identifying the places below that you are viewing.
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 to your car, 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 is called this because of the view it provides of Mount Nitai. (Note that this trail is closer to the edge of the cliff than the other trails and may not be suitable for young children who like wandering). If you wish to skip the green trail, return instead to the parking lot via the black trail on which you came.
Otherwise, return to the parking lot via the red-marked trail.
CHALLENGING HIKE 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.
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, while you will continue on the left fork which is initially black-marked and which descends to the fortress and 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.
VISITING THE SYNAGOGUE OF ANCIENT ARBEL:
The synagogue at Arbel is of interest. It is located 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 surrounding vegetation. The synagogue was built in stages from the 4th to 6th centuries CE and was in continuous use until the Muslim period in the 8th century.
Look at the blue plaque by the synagogue. 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 on pondering the matter, they realized it was more appropriate for him to be buried in the country for which he had given his life, at the military cemetery at Mount Herzl. Informed about his funeral by social media, about 30,000 people attended.
It was while he was on a Taglit-Israel or Birthright Israel program to Israel and at Arbel that Max decided to immigrate to Israel. In his memory, Taglit-Birthright Israel donated the paved path from the main road to the synagogue. As an article about this 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."
MESSIANIC TIMES AND THE ANCIENT ARBEL SYNAGOGUE
There are some unusual features in this synagogue compared to other Galilean synagogues. You will immediately notice an impressive door frame carved from a single piece of limestone on its eastern aspect. It has floral motives and medallions. Many 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 quite like this made from a single piece of limestone. The reason is probably related to messianic ideas.
There are midrashic references to the Plain of Arbel being the site of a 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 and 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, they believed that it was from here and not Jerusalem that the Messiah would arrive.
As for other Galilean synagogues, it 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 its southern aspect is a semicircular niche, and this was probably the location of the ark. The building would have been two-storied.