Sussita National Park - a site in progress
The ruins of the Greek-Roman city of Sussita are in the Golan Heights on top of a prominent hill overlooking Kibbutz Ein Gev on Lake Kinneret. This national park has long been off the beaten track, but this is changing as renovations are being carried out to attract more visitors. The site can be reached via its main entrance. It can also be reached from its lower parking lot via a scenic circular hike.
HIKE TO THE RUINS FROM THE LOWER PARKING LOT
Time: About 1½-2 hours.
Distance: 4¼ Km.
Type of hike: Circular
Difficulty: An easy path but with a continuous incline to the ruins.
Directions: Enter into Waze "Sussita“ and click on “Sussita National Park.“ Waze will lead you to Sussita’s Upper Parking Lot. For the hike, park at the Lower Parking Lot. Turn off route 92 just before the Ein Gev traffic circle (if you are coming from the south) onto an “anonymous” road with a sign that says in Hebrew that this road is not for vehicular traffic. Ignore this sign and continue on the road. Unless it is fixed, there may be quite a lot of potholes along this asphalt-covered road, but it is otherwise satisfactory. By a sharp bend in the road, you will see a small parking area and a prominent green sign in Hebrew from the Israel Nature and Park Authority indicating that this is the temporary route for walkers to Sussita - כניסה זמנית להולכי רגל לאתר וסיתא.
If you are already in the Golan, Waze will probably direct you from route 98 along this same Mevo Hama Road. Ignore the sign at the beginning of the road indicating that this road is not for vehicular traffic. I have not checked this part of the road, but I am guessing that it is probably fine although there may be potholes unless it is fixed.
Admission: As of writing this, there is no admission charge, no brochure, no explanatory signs and no facilities such as WCs. Much of this will doubtless change.
The ruins at Sussita are from the Roman and Byzantine periods from the 1st century BCE to the 7th century CE.
What is a Greek pagan city doing in Israel?
As related in the Bible, Moses allotted captured territory east of the Jordan River to the tribes of Reuven and Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh. However, after First Temple times, this side of the Jordan River was under Jewish control for only a limited period during the reigns of the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great. There were, however, Jewish villages in the Golan Heights during the Byzantine period.
The city of Sussita was founded by the Ptolemaic Greeks in the 3rd century BCE, possibly as a border fortress between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires. These two kingdoms were created by the generals of Alexander the Great after his death and this area was the front line between them. Susitta later became part of the Seleucid empire and was then called Antiochia Hippos. The word Hippos is Greek for a horse. The significance of this name for the city is unclear. (Of interest, the word hippopotamus means in Greek horse of the river). The name Sussita is Aramaic for a female horse.
The Hasmoneans were eventually able to displace the Seleucids from Judea, although it would take them many years to accomplish this. Between 83 to 80 BCE, the Hasmonean Alexander Jannaeus conquered lands east of the Jordan River.
The Roman general Pompey ended Hasmonean rule by conquering Judea. Hippos then became one of ten cities on the eastern side of the Jordan River which were called collectively the Decapolis. Each of the cities was granted self-rule as part of the Roman Province of Syria. When Judea was ruled by Herod the Great, Hippos was transferred to his rule by Rome and the city was once again part of the Jewish kingdom. However, on his death it reverted to the Province of Syria. The Decapolis was never part of the kingdoms of Herod's son Herod Antipas, grandson Herod Agrippa, or Herod Agrippa II.
After the defeat of the Jews in their Great Revolt against Rome, this city became part of the Roman province of Palaestina and reached its peak in terms of prosperity, architecture and population at this time. Together with the other cities of the Decapolis, it was a center of Greek and Roman culture. New city walls were built. A 24-Km aqueduct was constructed to bring spring water into the city from the Golan.
The city was initially mainly pagan, although there may have been a small Jewish community. It became Christianized during the Byzantine period and churches were built. However, the city declined during the Muslim period. The earthquake of 749 CE led to considerable destruction and the city was abandoned.
Prior to Israel’s War of Independence, Kibbutz Ein Gev was the northern-most Israeli settlement on the eastern side of Lake Kinneret. During the 1948 War of Independence, members of the kibbutz captured the hill of Sussita, and it remained on the western side of the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria. This remained the situation until the Six-Day War when Israel captured the Golan Heights from the Syrians.
HIKE TO SUSSITA FROM THE LOWER PARKING LOT
It is possible to hike from the Lower Parking Lot along a snake-like path overlooking Nahal Ein Gev. There is next to no shade and there is a continuing incline, but the gravel path is otherwise easy. It will bring you to the ruins of the lower entrance to the city. You are now on the main thoroughfare of the city with its original Roman basalt paving. On either side are fallen columns. Within this area are the main square, basilica, temples, a small theater, churches, a bathhouse and houses.
You can return the way you came at any time. However, you can also make this a circular hike by continuing walking to the main entrance of Sussita. At the end of the Sussita turn-off, turn right onto the main Ein Gev Road to the Lower Parking Lot and your car.
The city of Hippos was built on a grid pattern centered around a long main street running east-west through the city.
View of Ein Gev and Lake Kinneret from the snake-like path leading to Sussita.
Nearby places of interest
Consider a visit to nearby Kibbutz Ein Gev. After entering the kibbutz, continue straight ahead until you come to parking areas by the harbor. Close to this is a scenic path along the harbor, WCs, an art store, fish restaurants, and a café. If you continue southwards on the path by the side of the lake, you will come to the kibbutz beach. It is a sandy beach, although a bit stony as you go out into the lake. There is no lifeguard, WCs or changing area, although you can use the facilities by the parking area.