Sussita National Park
Opposite the kibbutz of Ein Gev on Lake Kinneret is a prominent hill on top of which are the ruins of the Greek-Roman city of Sussita. This national park is off the beaten track, and there will be few other people around. However, this will soon change as renovations are being carried out to accommodate more visitors. Plus, the city is being partially recreated. Its main entrance is temporarily closed and the ruins can only be reached via its lower parking lot and a significant walk. However, this does make a very nice circular hike.
Time: About 1½-2 hours.
Distance: 4¼ Km.
Type of hike: Circular
Difficulty: An easy path but there is a continuous incline up to the ruins.
Directions: Enter into Waze "סוסיתא“ and click on “סוסיתא-גן לאומי.“ Note that Waze will lead you to Sussita’s Upper Parking lot which is presently closed. So, 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. There are 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 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.
Admission: As of writing this, there is no admission charge, no brochure., no explanatory signs and no facilities such as WC’s. This will change in the future.
The ruins at Sussita are from the Roman and Byzantine periods from the 1st century BCE to the 7th century CE.
What is a pagan city doing in Israel?
The Golan Heights is now in Israeli hands. The other side of the Jordan was allocated to the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh at the time of Moses. However, for most of its history from the time of the destruction of the First Temple, the other side of the Jordan was not under Jewish control.
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 formed 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. Hippos is Greek for a horse. The significance of this name for the city is unclear. (For interest, the word hippopotamus comes from the Greek horse of the river). The name Sussita is Aramaic for a female horse.
The Hasmonean eventually displaced the Seleucids from Judea, although it would take them many years to accomplish this. In 83-80 BCE, the Hasmonean Alexander Jannaeus led a successful campaign to conquer 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 that were called the Decapolis. Each of these cities was granted self-rule as part of the Roman Province of Syria. When Judea was ruled by Herod the Great, Hippos was given over to him by Rome, and the city once again became part of the Jewish kingdom. However, on his death it was returned to the Province of Syria. The Decapolis was never part of the kingdoms of his son Herod Antipas, grandson Herod Agrippa, or Herod Agrippa II.
After the defeat of the Jews in their Great Revolt against Rome, the city became part of the Roman province of Palaestina and it then reached its peak in terms of prosperity, architecture and population. 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, it began a decline during the Muslim period. An earthquake in 749 CE led to considerable destruction and the city was permanently abandoned.
Prior to Israel’s War of Independence, the kibbutz of Ein Gev was the northern-most Israeli settlement on the eastern side of Lake Kinneret. During the War of Independence, members of the kibbutz captured the hill of Sussita, and it remained on the eastern side of the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria. This was the situation until the Six Day War when Israel captured the Golan Heights.
Reaching the ruins, entails a significant walk 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.
You will reach the ruins of the lower entrance to the city. You then come to the main thoroughfare of the city with its original Roman basalt paving. On either side of this road are fallen columns. Within this area are a main square, basilica, temples, a small theater, churches, a bathhouse and houses. However, there are no signs identifying the ruins and you would need a guide to distinguish them.
You can return back the way you came at any time. However, a fun activity is to make this a circular hike and to continue walking to the main entrance of Sussita. The entrance is officially closed, but there is nothing to stop you exiting the site unless the workmen turn you back because they are working on the path. 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 time and distance for this is as above.
The Roman 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 the 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 ahead until you come to parking areas by the harbor. Close by are a path along the harbor, WC’s, an art store, fish restaurants, and a café. If you continue along the side of the lake, you will come to the kibbutz beach. It is sandy beach, although a bit stony as you go out into the lake. There is no lifeguard, WC’s or changing area, although you can use the facilities by the parking area.