A brook in the Banyas Reserve

The Banyas Nature Reserve, also called Nahal Hermon Reserve, encompasses the upper Nahal Hermon, the Banyas waterfall and a number of archaeological sites, including remains of a Greek temple dedicated to the goat-footed god Pan. The trails in the reserve pass along bubbling springs, brooks and waterfalls, in the midst of thick riverbank vegetation, and the reserve gives a pleasant refuge from the sun even in summer.







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During biblical times the place was uninhabited. The town of Paneas is first mentioned by a Roman historian Polivius as a site of the battle in 200 BCE between Egyptian (Ptolemid) and Syrian (Seleucid) Greeks. It was a site of a Greek pagan temple dedicated to Pan, a goat-footed god of music and goat herds.

Josephus mentions that the Roman emperor Augustus gave Paneas to king Herod. Herod's son Philip, who ruled the area, expanded the city and called it Ceasarea Philippi (to distinguish it from Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast). In 61 CE the king Agrippa II renamed the place to Neronias in honor of the Roman emperor Nero, but this name held only till 68 CE.

During the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-70 C.E. the Romans imprisoned the Jews of Paneas. In 70 CE, after the revolt was suppressed, games were held here to celebrate the victory of Titus, and many Jewish captives were killed there. However, the Jewish community in Paneas survived. The Talmud mentions the place and distinguished learned Jews living there at that time.

According to Christian tradition, it was in Caesaria Philippi, near the cave (known today as Banyas Cave), where St. Peter confessed the divinity of Jesus to the people. In the 4th century, Christians were still a persecuted minority and their churches were vandalized. In the 4th and 5th century, however, Paneas had an important episcopacy that participated in church councils and the city became an important focus of Christian pilgrimage.

Paneas became "Banyas" upon Moslem conquest in the 7th century, due to Arabic mispronunciation of "p". The Moslem geographer el Ya'akubi writes that Banyas was the capital of the Golan, competing with Damascus in its wealth and quality of life.

The Cairo Genizah of 1055 describes Jewish life, including a Jewish court in Banyas that it calls "the Fort of Dan", having its own religious court. Jews apparently left the city before the Crusader invasion, most likely to Egypt.

The Crusaders conquered the place in 1129, and surrounded it with a massive ring of fortifications. This did not prevent Nur ed-Din of Damascus from recapturing Banyas in 1164.

The place was later reinhabited by Jews. They still lived in Banyas during the early Ottoman period.

In 1920, Banyas Spring created the main conflict for the committee that decided the border between the British Mandate and the French Mandate; the French prevailed. In 1941, Australian forces won Banyas from Vichy-controlled Syria. In the 1960s the Syrians planned to divert the waters of Banyas along the slopes of the Golan to the Yarmuk River in order to deprive Israel of one of its essential water sources. This led to retaliation steps from the side of Israel, and nearly caused a new war.

On June 10th, 1967, the last day of the Six Day War, Golani Brigade forces quickly conquered the small village of Banyas where a Syrian fort stood.

During the last few years the site has been extensively excavated. The main finds are the pagan temple by Banyas Spring, a water aqueduct above the spring and many urban structures to the south.

The Hermon River

Hermon River (Nahal Hermon), also known as Nahal Banyas, is the eastern tributary of the Jordan River. The waters of its source - the Banyas Spring - originate deep beneath the Hermon. They run underground through karstic systems and emerge at Banyas Cave (400m above sea level) at the base of Hermon.

The river is 8 km. long, and in its upper 3 km it drops 190 meters. The abundant water gets tremendous power strong enough to cut a deep canyon in the basalt rock. Water temperature does not rise over 16C even in the summer.

The Hermon river is lined with impressive plane trees, willows, poplars and many rare plant species. It is inhabited by many types of fish, mainly rainbow trout, carp and tilapia.

Sites at Banyas Reserve

Banyas Cave, the place of Christian pilgrimage, is located near the eastern entrance to the Banyas Reserve. It is about 15 meters high and 20 meters wide. Part of the outer rim is damaged by an ancient earthquake. A water aqueduct was built from the cave to the northwestern to the northwestern villa suburb of Banyas inhabited by Romans.

The source of the Hermon River, Banyas springs, probably emerged from inside the cave before the earthquake. Now the springs bubble in pools nearby, lined with high silver poplars.

The Temple of Pan is located near Banyas Cave along the cliff. Eleven cultural layers have been uncovered there, from early Hellenistic times until the 19th century. Five statue niches are carved into the cliff, and three of them include Greek inscriptions. The niche on the right refers to Galerius, a priest of Pan. Above it is a large inscription from the third century stating, "the city council and the household of Agrippa the son of Mark the magistrate." A four-line inscription in the base of the niche by the cave relates to Pan and Echo, the mountain nymph, dated by 87 C.E.

The trail leads to the west and arrives to the bridge of the Banyas-Kiryat-Shmona road. After this modern bridge there is a bridge from the Roman period over the junction of Hermon and Govta rivers, made of large chiseled stones. The interior is covered with travertine, the chalky deposits of spring water. Beautiful small stalactites of travertine hang from the roof. Overlooking the two bridges, across the river, is a tall Crusader tower hidden by greenery.

Further along the route there is a hydroelectric power station that supplied the Syrian town of Banyas with electricity, and the Matruf Mill soon after. This flour mill is the only water-powered mill active in Israel. The mill is maintained only for tourism, but residents of nearby villages of Mas'adeh and Ein Kunyeh used it until recently.

The trail passes along the ruins of the Crusader wall of Banyas; there are also remnants of Roman aqueducts, terraces and columns. Soon the road divides. The left path passes under an iron bridge and leads to the gatehouse of the Crusader wall. The gatehouse is a large hall, with walls 2 meters thick and a typical Crusader cross-vault ceiling. This was the entrance to the Crusader town of Banyas. A medieval bridge leading from the gate to the far bank was destroyed in the beginning of this century.

The right path leads to the officers pool. This swimming pool, one of five such pools built along the slopes of the Golan, was used by Syrian officers during 1948-67. It is possible that the modern pool is based on an ancient one, because a wealthy Paneas neighborhood stood along the nearby stream in 4th century BCE. Its spring-fed waters are warmer than in Hermon River.

The continuation of this path leads to the waterfall observation point. The Banyas waterfall is only 10 meters high, but it is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Israel. From the observation point the trail goes down to the pool at the foot of the waterfall. The air here is fresh and full of brilliant water dust.

The Banyas Waterfall

Getting There

The way to the Banyas reserve is by road 99 from Kiryat Shmona. The turn to the entrance near the waterfall is some 12 km from Kiryat Shmona; to get another entrance, near the pools, continue about a kilometer along the Road 99.

Joel Roskin, Waterwalks in Israel: 40 new one-day walks and hikes
Encyclopedia Judaica

Related Links

Banyas: Cult Center of the God Pan at Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs



Rosh Ha-Niqra -- Banyas -- Gamla -- Qumran -- The Western Wall

Masada -- Ein-Avdat -- Avdat -- Ramon Crater -- Eilat