A beautiful Nature Reserve and
The Hermon River
The Banias springs begin at the foot of Mount Hermon where the water
rushes with great force though a canyon-like channel, losing 190 meters in
altitude over the course of 3.5 kilometers to form the Banias waterfall,
one of the most beautiful in Israel.
Nine kilometers further, the Hermon River meets the Dan River and the two
flow into the Jordan River at an altitude of 80 meters above sea level.
The drainage basin of Nahal Hermon covers an area of about 150 square
kilometers. This includes the northern part of the Golan Heights and the
mountainous area of Mt. Hermon inside Israel. Nahal Hermon's principal
tributaries are Nahal Sa'ar, Nahal Si'on and Nahal Govta.
Nahal Hermon cuts through the lower western tip of Nimrod Fortress
mountain range and races along a steep river bed.
The Nahal Hermon canyon has rapids and waterfalls, the most elevated from
a height of 10 meters.
Nahal Hermon flows year-round and its annual rate of supply is
approximately 125 million cubic meters of water. In the rainy winter
months it is swollen by flood water from the mountain tributaries running
The river bed is lined by varied and dense vegetation. Plane trees,
willows and poplars grow along the waterline on both banks.
There are also trees which were planted there intentionally, including
fig, citrus, walnut, eucalyptus, matgosa date palm and mulberry trees.
The vegetation found higher up is different. Kermes oak, terebinth, Mt.
Tabor oak, storax, calycotome and laurel - trees typical of a
Mediterranean scrub forest - can all be seen on the slopes. Seasonal
plants and flowers found in the reserve are hyacinth & squill,
(February - April). Every nook and cranny is filled with lush cliff
vegetation. Navelworth, pellitory, ferns (including rock fern and scale
fern), as well as ricotia and a variety of other spring flowers flourish
there. In the fall, one finds the small-leaved pancartium, the crocus and
the autumn crocus flower. Burweed grows in the pools.
Sometimes, rock hyrax can be found, lying on the piled-up rocks, and
flocks of rock doves nest in depths of caves. You can occasionally spot
Neumayer's Rock Nuthatch, which flies from Mount Hermon, and black
sweet-water snails (melanopsis praemorsa) lie on the floor of pools.
The ruined city was known as Dan or Mivzar Dan by the Jews ("the Fort
of Dan"; a suggested identification with the biblical Beth-Rehov is
uncertain). It stood over a cliff with a grotto dedicated to the Greek god
Pan and the nymphs hence the name Panias (Banias being an Arabic
corruption). In 198 B.C.E., Antiochus III conquered Palestine from the
Ptolemies in victories near this location. Later, the city belonged to the
Itureans, from whom it was transferred by Augustus to Herod, who named it
Ceasarea in honor of Augustus and to whom he erected a temple there.
In his "Wars of the Jews", Josephus discusses Herod's temple at
Panias, "And when Ceasar had further bestowed upon him another
additional country, he built there also a temple of white marble, hard by
the fountains of Jordan...".
Philip the Tetrarch (Herod Phillipus), Herod's son, developed the city,
resided there, and struck coins with images of its buildings. It was
generally known as Caesarea Phillippi, to distinguish it from the
better-known Ceasarea-by-the-Sea, but the area continued to be known as
It is mentioned in the New Testament as Caesarea Phillippi (Matt. 16:13;
Mark 8:27). In 61 C.E., Agrippa II renamed it Neronias in honor of the
emperor Nero, but it kept this name only until 68. In 70, Titus held games
there to celebrate his victory and many Jewish captives were put to death.
In the Talmud, Caesarea Phillippi is called Keissariyyon (Little
Caesarea); the Mishnah also mentions the cave of Pamias, referring to the
same place. A statue of Hadrian which stood there was regarded by the
early Christians as representing Jesus healing a women. The Talmud refers
to the Emperor Diocletian's oppression of the people of Panias. In
Roman-Byzantine times, Caesarea belonged to Phoenicia; its bishops took
part in Church Councils from 325 to 451. In Crusader times, it was called
Belinas and a strong castle (Qal'at al-Subayba) was erected above it.
Since Banias was situated on the main road from Palestine to Damascus, it
served as an administrative center to a district with the same name in the
During the 11th century, there was a relatively large Jewish community,
whose members were called the Baniasites. They were frequently mentioned
in *Geniza documents.
A document of 1056 shows that the Banias community was well organized and
had a **Bet Din.
Since Babylonian Jews had also settled in Banias, the community split into
Palestinians and Babylonians, who differed in their version of prayers.
These two sections existed through to the beginning of the 12th century. A
Karaite pseudo-messiah is reported in 1102; however Benjamin of Tudela
mentions no community in Banias in 1170 and it is possible that it had
ceased to exist during the Crusades. Later, Banias was re-inhabited by
Jews. Even during the early Ottoman period, Jews still lived at Banias, as
attested by a document from 1624 which mentions the murder of a Jewish
physician, by the name of Elijah ha-Kohen of Banias, by an Arab sheikh.
From 1948 to 1967, Banias served the Syrians as a base for attacks on
In June 1967, it was occupied by the Israel Defense Force.
*The Fustat (Old Cairo) archive with documents and
scriptures from the Middle Ages.
**A Jewish religious court.
The Banias Cave
Long ago, the spring actually bubbled from the cave itself. The
five niches hewn in the nearby cliff are the relics of a temple to the
Greek god Pan. Inscriptions were carved to Echo, the mountain nymph;
Diopan, the god who loved music; and Galerius, priest to Pan.
The Banias cave is about 15 meters high and 20 meters wide and water
sometimes collects on the floor.
Outside the cave are the remains of a temple build by Herod.
The ancient bridge
Beyond the modern bridge under the Banias-Kiryat Shemona road, you reach
an ancient bridge which arches over the junction of Nahal Govta and Nahal
Hermon. This bridge was built during the Roman period from large chiseled
stones. The interior is covered with travertine, chalky spring water
deposits. Exquisite small stalactites of travertine hang from the roof.
A hydroelectric plant once provided electricity to the Banias Druze
The only water-powered flour mill still-operative in Israel.
An aqueduct carries water from Nahal Hermon to the roof of the mill. From
the edge of the aqueduct, the water drops down a stone "chimney"
and, as it falls, it turns three driving wheels attached to millstones.
Today, two of the wheels are still in use; the third, which was used to
press olives, is no longer operational.
The residents of Massadeh and Ein Kinia, nearby villages, grind their
grain at Matruf Mill. A bakery was built alongside the mill, and the
mother of the family who runs the mill demonstrates how she bakes large
The destroyed flour mill
Originally a large mill, today the only remnants are the driving
wheel chambers, the floor of the milling room, with the millstones and the
waterfall "chimney" which powered it.
On the remaining walls, you can see the extensive secondary use of large
hewn stones and sections from Roman and crusader pillars.
Officers' Pool (Ein Khilo)
Ein Khilo's water is warmer than the Banias, so the Syrian officers who
served in the area and wanted to bathe there built a concrete pool to
catch the warm spring water.
The bubbles rising from the pool floor indicate the origins of Ein Khilo.
Pinhas Baraq from the following sources:
The folder of the Banias Reserve.
The Banias page of the site of the Authority for Nature and National