The Massada of the Golan – Gamla – גמלא
Gamla has it all: a dramatic saga, rugged landscape and magnificent vistas to match, and a wonderful foray into nature, including a waterfall and great raptors soaring overhead. Gamla is the site of a Jewish city founded in the second-century CE Hasmonean times, located on a craggy basalt outcropping in the western Golan Heights. Flavius Josephus wrote about the Great Revolt and told the story of Gamla, that was conquered and destroyed in the year 67 CE, three years before the Temple and Jerusalem were ruined in 70 CE. Ballistae balls attest to the battle.
In 73 CE also Massada fell.
The remains of the ancient city of Gamla are at the foot of a steep trail, some 20 minutes’ walk from the observation point of the ruins.
Good walkers will enjoy the fairly steep trail to the antiquities (about one hour down and, of course, longer coming back up). Good news! The road has been repaired and is open (on non-rainy days for buses and visitors who require special access. Some of the Gamla reserve’s trails are suitable for families, some for experienced hikers. Today I walked about 5 kms from Daliyyot Camping Site down and up Nachal Daliyyot and then down and up Nachal Gamla. It was wonderful.
The area between Nachal Gamla and Nachal Daliyyot are part of what is called Yehudiyah Forest Nature Reserve. The area is full of Chalcolithic burial mounds (Tumulus – A tumulus (plural tumuli) is a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves.) and dolmens (A dolmen, also known as a portal tomb, portal grave, or quoit, is a type of single-
One passes the canyon and waterfalls of the Bazalet Stream, the northern tributary of the Daliyyot Stream. Quotes from Josephus’ account are inscribed on boulders along the trail. At the site itself you’ll get a closer look at the massive round tower, and the synagogue that was the heart and soul of the town that occupied these slopes two millennia ago.
The trail also leads to the industrial zone of the community – its olive presses – which have been reconstructed to show visitors how they worked and help reveal elements of the daily life of this vibrant and prosperous community. A church was also
discovered in the ruins of the Byzantine village of Dir Krukh.
A memorial in the reserve pays tribute to the Golan’s first settlers killed in Israel’s wars.
Another point of interest not far from a parking lot is Deir Quruh (also Dayr Quruh)- the ruins of a village once inhabited by early Christians. The remains of a Bysantine church, built approximately 1,500 years ago, were found here. Natural stone beams were used in erecting the church. This is an ancient construction technique, once typical of buildings in the Bashan and Golan. The construction material was a dark volcanic stone, which gives the building a somewhat unusual look. An ancient olive press was also discovered here. The base of a screw-press used in the extraction of olive oil, and the press’s basin and crushing stone are all fairly well-preserved.
Gamla Nature Reserve
A short walk from the parking lot leads to the observatory built by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority next to Byzantine ruins. Here visitors and bird watchers can enjoy the sight of the Griffon vultures for which Gamla is famous, as they effortlessly catch the updrafts from the cliffs where they nest.
From here you can also see the 150-foot high Gamla waterfall, to which another trail leads.
A brochure in English showing all the trails comes with your entrance ticket; the rangers are happy to give advice on the best way to see the site.
How to get there:
From the road around the Sea of Galilee, take the Gamla junction-Daliyot junction road (no. 869) and turn north for about 2 km to the sign-posted turnoff to the reserve.
Wheelchair access: An 800-m-long trail with views of the ancient city and the story of the ancient battle; the vulture observation station and a view of the remains of the Byzantine church.
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