A major attraction in Katzrin is its Talmudic Village. But don’t speed away after visiting this site as there are other interesting things to do and see in Katzrin, including wine and spirit tasting, an archeological museum with interesting short movies, a countryside promenade suitable for strollers and wheelchairs, and horseback riding.
THE TALMUDIC VILLAGE
Directions: Enter "Ancient Katzrin Park" into Waze and click on "Ancient Katzrin Park, Qatsrin."
Admission. The site is open Sunday to Thursday 9.00 am to 4.00 pm, Friday 9.00 to 2.00 pm and Saturday and holidays 10.00 am to 4.00 pm. There is an admission charge. There is a gift shop with hot and cold drinks and snacks. Do not forget to take an English brochure with a map. There are 7 exhibits, 4 of which are described on this website, but check which of the exhibits are operating. There is a movie in The Talmudic Experience (#7). There are picnic tables outside the gift ship but not in the village. Their phone number is 04-696 2412. This is their website.
A roller for packing earth on the roof in the Talmudic Village
The Talmudic Village at Katzrin
Because of it has been reconstructed, the Talmudic Village at Katzrin is the best display in Israel of how Jews lived during the talmudic period.
Jewish settlement in the Golan began in the Hasmonean period. In the 300s CE the lower Golan became a predominantly Jewish area with some 30 Jewish settlements. Away from the main Byzantine Christian centers there would have been little interference with their lives. About 30 families lived in Katzrin. All these settlements had a synagogue, and this would have been the most impressive building in the village.
Jewish life in the Golan came to an end as the result of an earthquake in 749 CE and the villages were abandoned. Why were they not rebuilt? We have no records from this time. But they were now living under Muslim rule and this may have resulted in a major change in the financial situation of these villages. They no longer had a the benefit of a Byzantine "common market" and it may have become dangerous to get their produce, primarily olive oil, to consumers. The earthquake may have been the not-insignificant straw that broke the camel's back.
The reconstructed home of Rabbi Abun. In actuality, no one knows who lived here, but the tombstone of Rabbi Abun was found in the village and posthumously he inherited this house. The first thing you will notice is how dark the house is, even in the daytime. This is because it has only a limited number of windows. Glass window panes had not been invented and any hole in the wall would have let in the cold. Illumination would have been provided by oil lamps. The roof was made of wooden beams with packed earth on top. There is a roller outside for doing this. (This may have been the job of the 1st century BCE sage Honi HaMe’agal, Honi the Roller. He also drew a circle to challenge God and there may have been two meanings to his name). The main room is where the family ate and slept on mats. Food would have been kept above floor level to prevent its consumption by rodents. The clay vessels are replicates of those excavated here. You can climb into the loft.
The homes were dark even during the day because of the limited number of windows.
The roof was made of wooden beams with packed earth on top.
The oven was kept in the kitchen
Food would have been kept above ground level to prevent rodents from sharing it.
The synagogue. As in other Golan communities, the synagogue was the most magnificent building in the village. It faced south towards Jerusalem. A wooden ark would have stood on the stone dais abutting the southern wall. Two rows of decorated columns divided the large hall into three spaces, and worshippers sat on the stone benches adjacent to the walls. The synagogue was destroyed in the earthquake of 749 CE.
Decorated columns supported the roof and divided the large hall into three area.
Note the jugs and pomegranates on the lintel
Olive oil production. The main industry of the village was the production of olive oil and 2 olive presses are shown outside the building showing the Talmudic Experience (#7). The stone weight in an original from a press but the wood is reconstructed. See the essay below on olive oil production.
The Golan Archeological Museum
Visiting an archeological museum may not sound a terribly exciting thing to do on a vacation, but there are many interesting exhibits here and even older kids will appreciate the movies. The scope of the museum is extensive - archeological findings throughout the Golan - and they are very nicely presented. There are three exhibit halls. Many will find the presentation on the fall of Gamla of considerable interest, especially if you intend visiting or have already visited the ruins. There is a 15-minute movie, which can also be viewed in English, shown in relation to a 3-D model of Gamla. The only descriptions at the ruins of Gamla are quotations from Josephus, and this movie fills in the gaps very nicely.
Gamla was destroyed by the Romans in 63 CE. Following its destruction, the Roman army eventually moved on to fight with the zealots in Jerusalem and the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE. Gamla was never rebuilt and its ruins were discovered after the Six Day War. The discovery of the ruins and the siege of Gamla are described in the movie.
The second exhibit hall shows discoveries from several of the ancient synagogues of the Golan, including a lintel from the study hall of Rabbi Elazar Happar in the ancient Jewish village of Dabura (the ruins of which can be visited during the hike in the Jilabun Nature Reserve). There were once about 30 synagogues in the Golan (of the 120 or so recognized in Israel). The villages in the Golan were destroyed in an earthquake in 749 CE and were abandoned. The third exhibit hall is devoted to findings in the Golan from the Chalcolithic (pre-Canaanite) period, including a reconstructed home. There are larger exhibits outside the building.
Directions: Enter “Museum of Antiquities in the Golan” into Waze. The museum is open 9.00 am to 4.00 pm Sunday to Thursday and 9.00 am to 2.00 pm on Friday and holidays eves. It is closed on Shabbat. There is an admission charge. Allow about an hour to 1½ hours for a visit. This is their phone number 04-696 2412.
A reconstructed Golan dwelling from the Chalcolithic period (4th millenium BCE). 25 villages have been found in the Golan from this period. The name Chalcolithic comes from the use of copper for tools etc. during this period.
The movie about the siege of Gamla is shown in relation to a model of the city.
Restaurants and cafes
Close to the museum and on the same side of route 9088 is מרכז מסחרי אתן. This has many reasonably-priced restaurants, outdoor benches, and a fountain in which small kids can play. In non-Covid times this was a very busy place, since it is where tours and Katzrin residents eat out.
This is a popular hangout for tours and tourists, especially at meal times.
Golan Heights Winery
This cooperative is Israel’s third largest winery. It was established in 1983 by 4 Golan kibbutzim and 4 moshavim. They produce 4 kosher labels – Yarden, Gamla, Hermon and Golan – each with different varieties. Their usual tour lasts about an hour and includes a visit to the barrel room and a tasting of 3 different types of wines. They also have special tours such as a Four Seasons Vineyard Tour. They are open Sunday to Thursday 8.30 am to 5.00 pm and Friday 8.30 am to2.00 pm. They are closed on Shabbat. Their address is Derekh HaYayin 4. Enter “Golan Heights Winery” into Waze and click on “Golan Heights Winery visitor center.” Their phone number is 04 696 8435. This is their website.
Kesem HaGolan (Golan Magic) Visitor Center
This center offers a movie about the Golan Heights and displays a model of the area. It is located about 2 Km east of Katzrin. The movie is shown on a 180-degree screen and shows the history and geography of the area. It is shown every hour in Hebrew, and in English and Russian by arrangement. There is an admission charge. Taste of the Galilee and Golan is a combined coffee shop, kosher dairy restaurant and shop selling local produce and cosmetics. It is open Sunday to Thursday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, Friday 9.00 am to 4.00 pm, Saturday 9.00 to 5.00 pm. Their phone number is 04 696 3625. In the same building is the Golan Brewery. There are also nearby stores. Directions: Enter into Waze "Visitor Center Katzrin" and click on " מרכז המבקרים קסם הגולן."
The Golani Distillery:
This is where Israel’s first whisky was produced, although they now have competitors. For 50 nis they offer a tour of the facility and a tasting of some of their many products (single malt, different flavored whiskey’s, arak, gin and absinthe). You will see their distilling vats and wooden barrels, all of which are on one floor. They claim that because of the difference in weather conditions, their 3-year whisky is equivalent to a Scotch whisky that has matured for considerably longer. They may be able to accommodate drop-in visits, but best is to call beforehand. Their number is 054 384 3069 or 053 339 4787. Enter into Waze “18th Street. Qatsrin.” In actuality, this street has been renamed HaBe’er Street, but this new name is not yet in Waze.
On a tour at the Golani distillery
There cannot be that many circular countryside promenades in Israel that are completely paved and thus suitable for a stroller or wheelchair. Katzrin has one. Admittedly, the countryside is not exceptionally exciting, being typical steppe-like Golan, but there is an observation area and also a small wadi. Mount Hermon is in the background. Directions: Enter into Waze “Katzrin Market.” To my knowledge this is not a functioning market, so you can leave your car here. For the trail, go back to Daliot St. and then to Kikar Daliot. At this roundabout, turn right onto Zavitan St. You will pass Kikar Jilibun. When you come to the next roundabout after this, Kikar Zavitan, turn into Sir Oliphant St. You will see the beginning of the promenade and a map. Near the beginning of the walk is an observation area, Mitzpe Gur, that overlooks Nahal Katzrin. There are many benches on the route to rest, and a shaded picnic area a bit over half-way along. Follow the paved road and it will take you back to Katzrin Market and your car. The total distance is 2¾ Km and it should take you 50-60 minutes without any stops other than the observation area.
Map of Hatzavim Promenade
View from Hatzavim Promenade
חוות האושר horse-riding
This is on Zavitan St. in Katzrin and offers short or extended horse riding throughout the Golan. They also have a small animal park, pony rides, horse riding instruction, and vehicle rides. Their phone number is 072 392 5652. Directions: Enter "חוות האושר" into Waze and click on "חוות האושר קצרין״". This is their website.
Olive oil production in Roman and Byzantine times
The main agricultural product grown in Jewish settlements in the Golan was olives. Olive oil was a useful product and had a multitude of uses, including for cosmetics, cooking, and particularly for illumination. Olive oil burns without any smell or smoke. Olives were harvested for two months during the Fall and the olive presses would have been operative full-time during this period.
Pressing olives results in about 20% fat, 40% solid waste and 40% watery lees or sediment. The oil is contained within the kernel as well as the fleshy fruit. The role of the olive mill was to extract the oil from both. (This is in contrast to grapes in which the juice was not extracted from the kernel as it imparts a bitter taste).
The first step in oil production was crushing the olives. The mill had a round basin with one or two crushing stones that revolved around the basin and on their own axis. One end of the axle served as a handle and the stones were usually turned by a donkey. The oil that floated on top of the watery lees was skimmed or ladled off. This is termed the “first oil” in the Mishna.
By the Roman period two types of presses were in use in Israel. The earliest was a direct pressure lever press. By the 1st century BCE screw processes were also in use. Examples of both are shown in the picture above.
The mushed olives were placed in baskets one on top of each other and squeezed between round press boards. Pressure was exerted by weights hanging from the beam or by the screw. The so-called second oil” dripped into a central vat below the press or into collecting vats by its side (these are not shown in the models here).
Finally, the whole process was started again, beginning with the crushing. Oil obtained from the second time in the press was termed “the third oil.”
A screw press is seen in the background