Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park (official site) is located on Mount Arbel near Tiberias. Arbel offers both stunning views and a glimpse of history.
Map of the area:
Mount Arbel is a mountain in The Lower Galilee near Tiberias in Israel, with high cliffs, views of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, trails to a cave-fortress, and ruins of an ancient synagogue. Mt. Arbel sits across from Mount Nitai; their cliffs were created as a result of the Jordan Rift Valley and the geological faults that produced the valleys.
There are four villages on the mountain: Kfar Zeitim, Arbel, Kfar Hittim, and Mitzpa. The peak, at 181 metres above sea level (380 metres above the surrounding area), dominates the surroundings (much of the area is below sea level) and from the lookout atop the mountain, almost all of the Galilee into the Golan Heights including Safed, Tiberias and most of the Sea of Galilee, is visible.
At Arbel National Park
We visited Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park during the winter. You can visit this park all year round, but keep in mind that in summer it gets very hot in this area. Thus, I would suggest other seasons. One notice though, all trails have many rocks which become very slippery after a rain. Therefore, I would suggest waiting at least twenty-four hours break since the last rain before visiting.
Map of the National Park that we received at the entrance:
We parked at the main parking, appears at the top center of the map, and as you can see there are several trails and half a dozen POI. Our plan was to make a round trail that consists of the red, green and black trails. This will cover the Arbel Fortress, the Caves and two viewpoints (Carob viewpoint and Mount Nitai viewpoint). And then to drive to another parking, appears in the top right corner) in order to see Arbel Synagogue.
Mount Nitai Viewpoint
We parked close to Mount Nitai viewpoint thus we headed there first.
Where the name Nitai comes from? This mount is named after Nittai of Arbela.
Nittai of Arbela was av beit din or vice-president of the Sanhedrin under the Nasi Joshua ben Perachyah at the time of John Hyrcanus (r. 134–104 BCE). In Yer. Hag. II 76d he is called Mattai of Arbela, which is also found in ancient and linguistically reliable manuscripts of the Mishnah, such as Codex Kaufmann, Codex Parma A, and the Cambridge Codex. The confusion in the rendering of his name seems to be due to faulty textual transmission, i.e. the Hebrew mem being separated graphically into two parts, which looked, respectively as a nun and a yod, thus Mattai became Nittai. Arbela was a city of the Galilee not far from Tiberias.
On top of Mount Nitai, a wall with guard towers facing west was found. Why west? They expected the Roman army to come from the road to the west.
Archeological findings indicate that this was the defensive line of the caves. Josephus Flavius described it as: “walls the caves in Lower Galilee in the neighborhood of the lake of Gennesaret.”
The Horns of Hittin
Kurûn Hattîn is believed to be the site of the Battle of Hattin, Saladin’s victory over the Crusaders in 1187. The Battle of Hattin was fought in summer when the grass was tinder-dry. Saladin’s troops set fire to the grass, cutting off the Crusaders’ access to water in the Sea of Galilee. Saladin built a “victory dome,” Qubbat al-Nasr, on the hill. Thietmar, a German pilgrim who visited the site in 1217, wrote that the “temple Saladin had erected to his gods after the victory is now desolate.” In the early 17th century, ruins were found on the summit that appeared to be those of a church. Prior to 1948, an Arab village, Hittin, lay at the foot of the hill.
The Order Of The Trails
About at this point, we understood starting with the red trail was a mistake. We arrived at a zone with a five – seven meters decline. There are no stairs and no leader instead, there are two ropes along the rocks. You hold on to the upper rope and stand on the lower. In this manner, you pass about ten meters. Then climb down several meters to a lower level and do the same again. There are four or five levels with ropes.
I called in a veto since I though my daughter is not old enough. I think this is more appropriate for older kids, like eight or older. Anyway, if you want to make this round route, it would be easier to start with the black trail and climb up using the red trail.
The carob tree, that was a symbol of Arbel Nature Reserve collapsed following rains and strong winds in 2017.
Here is a 2.5D Parallax Effect I created from Arbel photos.
But at this point, we were already walking for one and a half hours. I was not sure how much more my daughter could continue, thus we decided to leave the original plan. We took the blue trail to the Kinneret Viewpoint.
Close to the parking, we found restrooms, food stand, and a small photo exhibition. About a half dozen photos of Arbel Nature Reserve. Since we did not visit Arbel Fortress and the Caves I took a photo of one the photos from the exhibition for my readers.
At the same place, you can find a model of something similar to window cleaning platform, or suspended scaffold. Herod had difficulties fighting the Jewish rebels. The mountain is almost vertical and the trails leading to the cave were narrow. Thus, the army had no access to the caves. After considering different options, they used something similar to scaffolds. Troops were put into the platforms and from there they initiated the attack.
The Ancient Synagogue Of Arbel
Arbel Synagogue – the remains of ancient Arbel were found in the northern part of Moshav Arbel, among them the ruins of an ancient synagogue that was built in the 4th century CE and destroyed in the 8th century. In order to set the synagogue apart from other buildings in the area, it was a drywall construction of large limestone blocks, which stood out against the basalt rock that was common in the area and was used to build the houses. One very impressive pillar still stands in the building’s façade. Other parts of the doorway remain scattered around the site, decorated with vegetal designs.
Note: all quotes, unless stated otherwise were taken from the official site.
Arbel Fortress and the Caves
Arbel Fortress and the Caves – there are hundreds of gaping caves in the cliff, initially formed in a natural (karstic) process, and then carved out and enlarged by man as prehistoric dwellings. Later the caves were turned into a large fortress, with concealed passages, staircases, halls, and cisterns. A life-and-death battle took place here between Herod and his opponents, who lived in the Arbel caves. The experience starts with a challenging descent to the Fortress, with the help of stairs, spikes, and cables that have been installed as hand-holds for the visitors’ safety.
My hope was that it is close to the road and we could visit the fortress from the valley below. But as you can see from the photo above, though from top of the mountain it looks very close, from the bottom it is not so close. Plus there is a fence along big parts of the road.
After taking several photos we headed home. I guess in a year or two we will return to Arbel and complete the round trail.
Arbel Nature Reserve is a beautiful place for a walk. It offers different trails. The trail we selected is less suitable for smaller kids (not sure about other trails). While we were there, I saw other parents having the same dilemma as we did (to go down or not). It is more suitable for kids who are eight or older. You can probably do it with younger kids as well, depending on their height and skills, but is riskier.
All in all, we liked the visit, the only thing I wish there would be some age guidance next to each trail.
Have you ever visited Arbel National Park? What is your favorite part? Tell us in the comments below.
That’s all for today and I’ll see you in future travels!