The beautiful Banias Nature Reserve
The Banias Nature Reserve is in two sections. Both are popular and your 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 fast-flowing Banias Waterfall, viewed on an easy ¾-hour walk, some of it on a suspended walkway. In the upper section are the Banias Springs, the source of the Hermon Stream. From here are several short, easy walks to places of historic interest, all set in very beautiful surroundings.
The Banias Springs in the Banias Nature Reserve are the source of the Hermon Stream. This 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 springs seep from the bedrock at the base of the Banias Cave and form the large natural pools seen in the reserve. Their catchment area is the southern slopes of Mount Hermon and the Northern Golan. From the springs, the Hermon Stream enters a 3-Km steep canyon. This leads to a speeding up of the flow of the water and waterfalls, the largest of which is the Banias Waterfall. The Hermon Stream also has several small tributaries.
One of the outcomes of Israel capturing the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War was its capturing its water sources. No longer could these rivers be diverted by Israel's enemies as Syria once attempted.
The Banias Springs constitute the beginning of the Hermon Stream, which provides about a quarter of the water of the Jordan River.
Banias and the dynasty of Herod the Great
After the conquest of Israel by Alexander the Great, the Greeks built a city here called Paneas, named after its shrine to the god Pan. Arabs have difficulty pronouncing the letter p and they called it Banias, its current name. The shrine to Pan and his statue 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 from the pools to the platform.
At his death, Herod’s kingdom was divided among his three sons. For a full understanding of the history of northern Israel in Second Temple times, is helpful to know the history of these sons, including their relationship to Banias. Remembering this history is not helped by the fact that they had rather similar names.
Herod Antipas (? to 39 CE) became the tetrarch of the Galilee and east of the Jordan River and Dead Sea. The word tetrarch means ruler of a minor principality of the Roman Empire. Herod Antipas built Tiberius as his capital and carried out building projects in Tzippori. 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 Tetrarch (reigned 3 BCE to 34 CE) was another son of Herod the Great and he ruled over 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 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 very popular. Although Roman to the core, he nevertheless 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 promoted 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 the Tetrarch, and he also ruled over Tiberias. He made Banias the capital of his kingdom during the second half of the first century CE. He tried to dissuade the Jews from rebelling 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, although there are 370 steps each way.
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. The site 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, WCs, 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.
Public transport: Enter "Banias" into Moovit. The closest bus stop is at the Sha'ar Yishuv Intersection which is a 3.3 Km/40-minute walk.
The Banias Waterfall seen from the suspended walkway.
WALK TO THE BANIAS WATERFALL:
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. At its far end, the walkway provides an impressive view of the Banias Waterfall .
From the Waterfall Parking Lot proceed along the blue-marked trail. From the 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, the stream beneath the walkway is quite fierce.
After viewing the waterfall, return a short distance to the junction. Take the right branch of the 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 pools are a store selling drinks and supplies, WCs, and a picnic area with picnic benches under plenty of shade from trees. No swimming or wading is permitted in the pools.
Public transport: Enter "Hermon Stream Nature Reserve" into Moovit. The closest bus stop is a 17-minute/1.4 Km walk away.
The city of Panias was built by the Greeks. It was named after the shrine to their god Pan which was constructed in the northern part of the city above the spring. The shrine is shown in this photo.
SHORT WALKS FROM THE BANIAS SPRINGS:
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, and which is 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 dates from 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.
It also possible to hike on a footpath from the Banias Springs 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.
if you do this, 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. You will almost certainly be able to get a ride, as a lot of drivers will be going in your direction.
The ruins of the palace and administrative center of Agrippas II. The large rectangular room was probably his throne room.