Ein Keshatot (Umm el Kanatir) at Golan Heights is an ancient Jewish village with an impressive synagogue from the Talmudic Period.
After fifteen years of reconstruction and preservation work, towards the end of 2018, Ein Keshatot was opened to the public. And today we are going to visit it. Let’s begin!
What does Ein Keshatot and Umm el Kanatir mean?
The literal translation of Ein Keshatot from Hebrew means “Spring of the Arches.” And Umm el Kanatir in Arabic means “the Site of the Arches.” But unfortunately, we do not know the original name of this village. Read on to find out why.
Most of the names of the ancient Jewish communities in the Golan have been preserved, thanks to the local Arab inhabitants who heard the village names from their parents and elders, and continued using them. It is true throughout Israel, too. For example, the village, once known in Arabic as Beisan, preserved the name of the ancient city known in Hebrew as Bet Shean. The Arab village of Ein Shams kept the name of the Biblical city of Bet Shemesh.
Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.
Why the name was forgotten?
The basic condition for a village to keep its ancient name is continuous habitation in the village throughout the ages. But in the central Golan, there were hundreds of years during which there were no real communities. From the 8th century CE earthquake that destroyed the ancient villages, until the 13th century CE. Over this period of hundreds of years, the ancient names were lost!
Ever since the 19th century, the ancient Jewish villages were given Arabic names by the local population who did not know the old local Hebrew names. And so we find an ancient synagogue in a village known as “Katzrin,” which means “fort” or “stronghold” in Arabic. There are also synagogues in Achmediya, Asaliya, and Dabiya – all Arabic names.
Even “Yehudiya” – an ancient Jewish village near a popular hiking trail – is an Arabic name given by locals, centuries after the Jews were gone. They assumed that the ancient ruins they saw, were from the time the village was inhabited by Jews.
From Um el-Kanatir to Ein Keshatot
The synagogue at Ein Keshatot was discovered in the late 19th century by a Scottish traveler named Laurence Oliphant. In his day, the local Bedouins called the spring near the synagogue by the name “Um el-Kanatir,” which means “the Site of the Arches.” They chose this name due to the impressive stone arches that were built above the spring in the Roman Period.
When Rehavam Ze’evi (“Ghandi”) was Israel’s Minister of Tourism in 2001, he initiated the beginning of the excavation of the ancient synagogue.
Shortly afterward, he was murdered by terrorists in Jerusalem. As a way of commemorating him, the site was renamed “Keshatot Rehavam” (“Rehavam’s Arches”). This name was not authorized by the Israel Government Names Committee, which chose instead “Ein Keshatot” (“Spring of the Arches”), due to the unique stone arches that stand over the spring.
What about the ancient name of the village? The name “Um el-Kanatir” is a relatively modern Arabic name for the site, and unfortunately, we do not know the original name of the ancient village.
Ein Keshatot (Umm el Kanatir) is located on the Golan Heights. Near Kibbutz Natur and not far from other similar sites, like Gamla Nature Reserve.
Map of the area:
Note: if you are looking for a map of the site, then see the site map section below.
If you are reaching by car, then enter “Ein Keshatot” into Waze or Google Maps, and it will take you one to the free parking lot.
And if you are using public transport, then you can take bus #51 from Haifa to Natur. And then walk about 3 km to the entrance of Ein Keshatot. Here is the updated link to Moovit. Enter your starting point, and you will get the updated directions.
March to October:
Sunday to Thursday: 9:00-17:00
Friday and eve of holidays: 9:00-16:00
November to February:
Sunday to Thursday: 9:00-16:00
Friday and eve of holidays: 9:00-15:00
The entrance fee is 25 NIS per adult, and 15 NIS per student, elderly, child (above five years old).
Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in April 2020. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
Note: you can click on the map to enlarge it.
As you can see on the site map, the parking is at the bottom of the image, and from there you can take one of the two trails. The blue pedestrian path is about an hour circular trail that goes across all points. And the orange is is a wheelchair accessible route.
When we visited Ein Keshatot, there were free tours (included at the entrance fee) every round hour. Thus I would suggest checking out this option.
Ein Keshatot (Um el-Kanatir) is an archaeological site that has been recognized as a National Heritage Site and is located in the southern Golan, near Moshav Natur. At the site, remnants of a Jewish village were discovered, along with an impressive synagogue from the Talmudic Period.
It is one of about 30 Jewish villages that existed in the Golan during the Talmudic Period, which was a period of significant growth in the area. The synagogue building was constructed in the 6th century CE (approximately 500 years after the destruction of the Second Temple) and was the center of local communal life. It served as a place for prayer, reading of the Torah, and various public activities. A powerful earthquake in 749 CE destroyed the building, as well as the entire village, which was never rebuilt until recent times.
The excavation and subsequent reconstruction of the synagogue took 15 years to complete and included the use of cutting-edge technology. After the stone-by-stone reconstruction (technically known as “anastylosis”), the synagogue stands today at the height of one story. Hopefully, one day in the future, the synagogue will return to its past glory and will be reconstructed to its previous height of two stories.
The synagogue’s excavation and reconstruction were initiated by the Golan Regional Council, along with archaeologists Professor Chaim Ben David and Ilana Gonen, and carried out by Yehoshua Dray, an expert in ancient technology restoration.
The Golan Economic Development Corporation manages this site. It offers an experiential visit that includes a breathtaking cliff-top view towards the Samekh Riverbed and Lake Kinneret from an impressive entrance hall, a movie that explains the restoration process of the 1500-year-old synagogue, and a walk through the remnants of the ancient village, featuring the Spring of the Arches and the unique synagogue.
749 Galilee earthquake
The mentioned 749 Galilee earthquake destroyed not Ein Keshatot, but many other cities as well. For example, Beit Shean, Tiberias, and Hippos.
If you are interested in holding a small event in the Golan area, then Ein Keshatot may be the place for you. Here is a short extract from the official site.
A guided tour of the magnificent synagogue, as well as hearing the fascinating story of Ein Keshatot, can infuse your event with added value, and add a special touch to your celebration.
For details, and to arrange an event, please call: 050-6912425
Come celebrate (and make others happy, too!) at Ein Keshatot.
Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, Weddings, Events.
After going through all the basics, let’s start touring Umm el Kanatir. And we will start our visit at the entrance hall (POI #1 on the map).
At the entrance hall, we bought tickets and were told that a tour is about to begin. Thus, while waiting, we checked out a small exhibit of archaeological items.
The entrance hall offers a lovely view of the Golan heights. You can see not only this site, but you can also see the Sea of Galilee. Here is a panorama that I shot from there.
We started our tour by watching a short movie about this site and the reconstruction of the synagogue.
After the movie, the guide picked us and we started to walk towards Arches Spring.
As you can see, there are active archaeological excavations at Ein Keshatot. Moreover, sometimes (usually during holidays) they even organize archaeological experiences, where families can come and dig. Similar to the sifting project at Tzurim Valley National Park.
The signs on site are both in English and Hebrew.
Many springs can be found in the Golan Heights. Ancient villages were built near these water sources, which were the source of life for local communities.
During the Roman period (3 rd-4th century CE), impressive stone arches, a pool, and a series of channels were installed in the spring.
Among the rural villages of the Land of Israel, this is the most unique and exclusive structure. Who built it, and for what purpose? It could be that residents of the ancient village made it, or that someone from outside the town donated money for its construction (we know of similar cases in the ancient Roman world). Either way, when the members of the Jewish community inhabited the village near the spring during the hundreds of years after its construction, they used the structure of the arches and the pool for their own needs.
The name “Urn el-Kanatir” — which means “the site of the arches” —was given to the spring by local Bedouins who were impressed by the monumental arches. Therefore, this is a relatively new name for the site. The ancient name of the village has been lost in the course of history and is no longer known to us.
Source: sign on site
Note: Arches Spring is POI #2 on the map.
The Industrial Area at the Spring
The spring was used not only as water source, but it was an industrial area as well.
A flax-processing workshop may have existed at the village spring, where white linen clothes were produced.
These garments were delicate and expensive, and only wealthy people could afford to buy them. The stems of the flax plant were soaked in the pools to separate the external skin from the internal fibers, which were then woven into threads and fabrics. Traces of limestone (used to whiten the fabric) were found in the pools. Part of the production process included the crushing of chalky material; the concave tops of basalt pillars were used as the crushing surfaces.
“Rabbi Yochanan said: If one is left a fortune by his parents and wishes to waste it, he can wear linen garments, he can use glassware, and he can hire workers but not stay with them when they work.” (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 29b)
Source: sign on site
Since there was an industrial area, there was also trade of goods. Tiberias is a nearby central city. They probably traveled there using boats from the port of Gergesa, also known as Kursi.
From the Arches Spring, we continued to the ancient synagogue (POI #3 on the map).
We can see that the local residents invested massive financial resources and energy in its construction. Such a magnificent building must have required substantial funding, the source of which was the local olive oil production, and – perhaps – an industry which was located near the spring.
The building was erected in the 6th century CE (approximately 500 years after the destruction of the Second Temple) and was the center of communal life. It was here that prayer, Torah reading, and other public activities were regularly conducted.
A violent earthquake in 749 C.E. destroyed the structure and the entire village, which was left abandoned until modern times.
Source: sign on site
As you enter the synagogue from the side entrance, you will see that the synagogue was built on top on another building.
The Synagogue Facade
Like many of the contemporary synagogues in the Galilee, the entrance to the synagogue at Ein Keshatot is located in the south, which seems to have been a local tradition.
A covered patio was built at the entrance, and its roof was supported by four pillars, whose pedestals were incorporated into the staircase. Notice the predatory scene engraved into one of the pedestals: a lion is devouring an animal, and a rooster is watching from the side. This engraved column base was probably borrowed from an earlier structure, and incorporated into the synagogue when it was constructed. It was covered in plaster and built into the staircase, so the village residents could not have seen it.
Source: sign on site
The Torah Ark Complex
Let’s enter into the synagogue and see one of its most impressive features, the Torah Ark.
Notice the most unique and decorated part of the building: the stone structure that stood over the ark of the Torah.
The ark itself, which housed the Torah scrolls, was apparently made out of wood and did not survive. But the stone ark complex was remarkably well-preserved, and the artistic stone engravings are especially impressive.
Most of its parts collapsed, due to the earthquake that toppled it; but the engraved decorations were left intact, and they reveal the high quality of the artists’ elaborate work.
The Torah ark complex was designed to resemble the facade of the Temple in Jerusalem and was decorated with several Temple motifs. Hundreds of years after the Temple was destroyed, the Jews still honored its memory when building their magnificent synagogues.
Source: sign on site
Olive Oil Press
And the last stop of our tour was the olive oil press (POI #4 in the map).
We can see the basalt crushing-basin which was used in olive oil production.
During the Roman and Byzantine Periods, the Jewish villages were located in the central area of the Golan, which has rocky basalt-based soil that is difficult to cultivate. Olives were one of the few crops suitable for this region. Many oil presses have been discovered in the central Golan.
Some of the olive oil produced in these presses was consumed locally, and some were sent in caravans of camels and donkeys to the nearby Bashan and Horan regions.
Source: sign on site
And that was the end of our tour. It lasted for about an hour, and we enjoyed it a lot. Our guide was friendly, knowledgeable, and told many interesting things.
If you are visiting the Golan heights or Sea of Galilee then consider visiting Ein Keshatot (Umm el Kanatir). We enjoyed our visit, and if you can join a tour, then I would recommend doing so. Additionally, if you love digging and sifting, then check if there is an archaeological experience in the near future.
Have you ever been to Ein Keshatot? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
Additional ResourcesHere are several resources that I created to help travelers:
- Israel Trip Planner is the page that will help you to create your perfect travel route.
- National Parks And Nature Reserves page lists and put all national parks on the map. There is also a top list, information about ticket types and campsites.
- If you are looking for things to do, here are the pages for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Sea Of Galilee, and Makhtesh Ramon.
- Wondering what events are there in Israel? Here is the Events And Festivals By Season guide.