The beautiful Banias Nature Reserve

The Banias Nature Reserve consists of two sections. Both are popular and the entrance ticket is valid for both. They are connected by a footpath, although most people visit them separately. Closest to the Hula Valley is the Banias Waterfall, which is viewed by an easy ¾-hour walk, some of it on a suspended walkway. The Banias Springs, the source of the Hermon Stream, is in the upper section. From here, there are several short, easy walks to places of historic interest, all set in very beautiful surroundings.

One of the outcomes of Israel capturing the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War was its capturing its water sources. The Hermon Stream is the easternmost of the three main northern tributaries of the Jordan River, which also include the Dan River and Snir Stream. The Hermon Stream accounts for about one-quarter of the water flowing into the Jordan River. 

 

The catchment area for the Banias Springs is the southern slopes of Mount Hermon and the Northern Golan. The springs of the Hermon Stream seep from the bedrock at the base of the Banias Cave and form the large natural pools seen in the reserve. From its springs, the Hermon Stream enters a steep canyon for about 3 km. This leads to a speeding up of the flow of the water and waterfalls, the largest of these being the Banias Waterfall. The Hermon Stream also has several small tributaries.

Banis Waterfall.jpeg

The Banias Waterfall seen from the suspended walkway.

The descendants of Herod the Great and their relationship to Banias

 

After the conquest of Israel by Alexander the Great, the Greeks built a city here called Paneas, which was named after a shrine to the god Pan. (Arabs have difficulty pronouncing a p, and they called it Banias; hence its current name). The shrine and statue of Pan were set up on a natural terrace to the north of the city at the foot of a steep cliff and in front of a quarried-out cave. Other pagan shrines were also constructed along this platform. Pan was a god of nature, shepherds, flocks and the mountain wilds and a companion of the nymphs. He was also recognized as a fertility god. He had the hindquarter, legs and horns of a goat. The Romans incorporated the city of Paneas into Herod the Great’s empire. To demonstrate his appreciation, Herod dedicated a temple here to his patron, the Roman emperor Augustus. The ruins of these pagan worship sites can be seen by walking up to the platform from the pools.

 

At his death, Herod’s kingdom was divided among his three sons.  The history becomes a bit complicated, but it is helpful to know so as to understand the history of the north of Israel in Second Temple times.

Herod Antipas (? to 39 CE) became the tetrarch (ruler of a minor principality of the Roman Empire) of the Galilee and east of the Jordan River and Dead Sea. He built Tiberius as his capital and carried out building projects in Sepphoris. This is the Herod who was active during the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and this is the Herod who murdered John the Baptist in his palace in Transjordan. John the Baptist was beheaded at the request of Herod Antipas' wife Herodias for denouncing her marriage. Herodias was formerly the wife of Herod's half-brother Philip the Tetrach and Herod had divorced his first wife in order to marry her. The New Testament sometimes calls Herod Antipas King Herod, although he never bore the title king.

 

Philip the Tetrach (reigned 3 BCE to 34 CE) was another son of Herod the Great and he received what is now northern Israel, Lebanon and southern Syria. He made Paneas his capital and named it Caesarea Philipi (to distinguish it from other cities called Caesarea). He had few Jewish subjects and pursued a policy of Hellenization. He had no sons and at his death the Roman emperor Tiberius attached his realms to the province of Syria. When Tiberius died in 37 CE, his successor Caligula immediately restored it as a principality, and appointed as its king Philip's nephew Herod Agrippa (11 BCE to 44 CE).

 

More about Herod Agrippa, a grandson of Herod the Great. Herod the Great had married the last surviving Hasmonean Miriam and they had a son Aristobulus. Herod murdered Aristobulus and his mother because of suspected insurrection. By then, however, Aristobulus had fathered a son called Aggripa. This orphan was sent to Rome when he was 6 years old and raised as a Roman aristocrat. He was appointed ruler of Transjordan and eventually all of the Galilee by his school friend the Roman emperor Gaius, and his kingdom was later expanded to include Judah and Jerusalem by the new emperor Claudius. Herod Aggripa had an excellent relationship with his Jewish subjects and was extremely popular. Although Roman to the core, he identified with Judaism and the Jewish people and never worshipped pagan gods. However, he was poisoned after being king of Judea for only 4 years by enemies resentful of his pro-Jewish activities. Roman procurators now took over his kingdom. The turmoil these seven corrupt procurators induced was a major factor in the Great Revolt of the Jews against Rome.

 

Herod Aggripa’s son Herod Aggripa II (27 to 100 CE), the last ruler of the Herodian dynasty, was appointed ruler over provinces outside of Judea. He was eventually given territories governed by Philip, and later ruled over Tiberias. He made Banias the capital of his kingdom during the second half of the first century CE. He tried hard to dissuade the Jews from revolting during the Great Revolt and when unsuccessful was active on the side of Rome. His palace can be seen during your visit to the Banias Nature Reserve.

LOWER SECTION - HIKE TO BANIAS WATERFALL

 

Time: ¾ hour.

Distance: Just over 1¾ Km.

Type of hike: Circular.

Difficulty: This is an easy trail, but there are 370 steps.

Directions:  Enter “Banias” into Waze and click on “Banias (Panias) Fall.”

Admission: This is a site of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Hours in the summer are 8.00 am to 5.00 pm Sunday to Thursday, and Saturday, and Fridays and holiday eves 8.00 am to 4.00 pm. It closes one hour earlier in the winter. It is recommended to come early on Fridays and Saturdays in the summer as space may be limited. There is a large parking area. Adjacent to this is a large completely shaded area with picnic benches, WC’s, a store for drinks and snack foods, and a café selling Druze food. The phone number of the reserve is: 04 653-2211 and this is their website.

Bnias spring.jpeg

This is the beginning of the Hermon Stream, which provides about a quarter of the water of the Jordan River.

THE HIKE: 

 

This popular walk starts from the Waterfall Parking Lot. Part of the hike is on a suspended wooden walkway above the Hermon Stream as it flows swiftly through a narrow gorge. This provides an impressive view of the Banias Waterfall at its far end.

 

  • From the Waterfall Parking Lot proceed along the blue-marked trail. At a Lookout, this changes to a red-marked trail. As you descend towards the stream, the path becomes a wooden suspended walkway. Because of its steep descent here, the stream is quite fierce.

 

  • After viewing the waterfall, return a short distance to the junction. Take the right branch of this blue-marked trail back to the parking lot.

UPPER SECTION - HERMON STREAM NATURE RESERVE

 

Directions:  Enter into Waze “Banias” and click on “Hermon Stream Nature Reserve.”

Admission: As for the lower section, this is a site of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and operates on the same hours. One ticket is valid for both sites. The springs and pools are close to the parking lot. Close to the spools is a store selling drinks and supplies, WC’s, and a picnic area with picnic benches and plenty of shade from trees. No swimming or wading is permitted in the pools.

Pan at Banias.jpeg

The Greeks built the city of Panias. It was named after the shrine to their god Pan in the northern part of the city above the spring. This shrine is shown in this photo.

SHORT HIKES FROM THE BANIAS SPRINGS:

 

  • Starting from the Banias Springs it is possible to hike on a footpath to the Banias Waterfall. It is about a 90-minute hike. You will miss much of the suspended walkway, but the view of the waterfall is the same. You will need to think about how to get back to your car. You can, of course, walk back the way you came. Also, many of the cars and buses at the Waterfall Parking Lot will be going to the Banias Spring and you can hitch a ride. You can also start walking along the main road and you will almost certainly get a ride, as a lot of drivers will be going in your direction.

 

The ruins of the pagan shrines can be visited by following the circular path above the pools. There are signs with information along the route from which you can recreate to a certain extent the paganism of Greece and Rome. You can also understand why people eventually tired of it all and why conversion to Judaism and then to Christianity became attractive in the Roman Empire.

 

  • Another pleasant walk from the springs of historic interest is the purple-marked trail #2 to the palace of Agrippa II. This is a circular 45-minute trail. In its time, this palace was the largest and most magnificent building in Israel. The synagogue here is much later, from the 11th century CE.

  • Another trail to consider is to the ruins of a Crusader fortress. This trail is yellow-marked and part of it follows the wadi of the Sa’ar Stream.

Herod's palace at Banis.jpeg

The ruins of the palace and administrative center for Agrippas II. The large rectangular room was probably his throne room.