Gamla Nature Reserve is located in the Golan Heights. Using its four routes, you can see wildlife, nature, and ancient Gamla. Therefore, despite its distance from any major cities, it is a popular site. Let’s begin with our visit!
Sea of Galilee
When you drive to Golan Heights, most chances you will pass near the Sea of Galilee (AKA Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias). It was a foggy Saturday morning, and the light was marvelous. So I stopped the car and got several photos with mist.
If you are interested in additional information about the Sea of Galilee, you can check out Tourist attractions in the Kinneret area post.
Gamla Nature Reserve
Here is a map of the area:
How To Get To Gamla?
If you are driving there, then enter “Gamla Nature Reserve” into Waze or Google maps app.
Reaching by public transport is problematic, as there are no buses that stop near this national park (here are directions according to Moovit where the last part of the route include a 13.3 km walk). Thus, if you are insisting on taking public transport, take a bus to one of the nearby cities, like Katzrin, and take a taxi from there.
Sunday – Thursday And Saturday: 8 – 17 (16 during winter).
Fridays: 8 – 16 (15 during winter).
On holiday eves usually 8 – 13.
Adults 28 NIS, children 14 NIS, and Students 24 NIS. And free for National Parks annual subscribers.
If you are going to visit several National Parks, then consider purchasing a combo ticket. You can find additional info at National Parks And Nature Reserves post.
Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in December 2018. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
When To Visit?
There is no shade on all the trails in Gamla. Thus, regardless of when you visit, take hats, sunscreen, and plenty of water. Moreover, I would advise not to visit Gamla during the simmer as it can be boiling. All the other seasons are ok as long as you do not come after rain. The rocks will be slippery, and the paths will become muddy and dangerous.
Trails At Gamla Nature Reserve
As you can see there are four routes:
- The Vulture Trail is a short (600 m) round trail suitable for wheelchairs. If you take it, then you will see Gamla lookout point, vulture observatory, and Deir Qeruh. But if you take the longer trails, then you will see those POI.
- The Ancient Trail, as the name suggests, will take you to the ruins of the ancient city. Its length is approximately 1 km each way, but since it is a steep path, it can take about 2 hours.
- The Dolmen Trail will eventually lead you to Gamla falls as you will pass near Dolmens on your way. The 1.5 km walk takes approximately 1.5 hours, and it is not a difficult one as you are walking on the same plane.
- The Daliyot Falls Path is 3.5 km long, which should take you around 4 hours. And it takes you to Bazelet Waterfall and Daliyot Stream.
We were there for a half day and completed the first three trails.
Ancient Gamla Trail
I visited this national park previously, and at that visit, my main goal was to see vultures. Thus this time we decided to do something different and started with The Ancient Gamla trail.
December in Israel:
Approaching Gamla lookout:
As you can see, the routes are well marked, and there is no need for a map. The map you will receive at the entrance will be enough (no need for a trails map of this area).
I have decided to make a short detour and visit vulture lookout:
As you can see, there are photographers on guard 😉
Gamla Nature Reserve is home to Israeli’s largest nesting colony of raptors. Over 40 pairs of Griffon vultures nest in Gamla stream cliffs.
Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to photograph them at this visit 🙁 We saw several vultures while we were at ancient Gamla, but it was too far away.
Olive press dating the Byzantine period next to the lookout:
From there we continued to Gamla viewpoint.
You can see a catapult model pointing at the city. Romans who besieged the town used similar catapults.
View of ancient Gamla:
Origin Of The Name
The hill of Gamla resembles a camel’s hump (camel riding anybody?), hence the name (“gamal” means camel in Hebrew).
A closer view of the Synagogue and Rounded tower:
Starting the decline:
The path is not very hard, but it involves some climbing and descending over stones. Most people, including children, will have no problem completing it. But if you have knee problems or other health limitations, then you should reconsider it.
This rock formation reminds Hexagon (Meshushim) pool route, which is by the way not far away. Search for “Nahal Meshushim Nature Reserve” if you are interested in visiting it as well.
Gamla is described in Talmud as a walled city dating from the time of Joshua (Bronze age). It is assumed the Talmud depicts it this way because a fortified settlement, later destroyed, existed here during the early Bronze Age. The ruined city was resettled during the Hellenistic period (mid-second century BCE).
According to Josephus, the city was built on a slope of a very steep hill surrounded by cliffs. It could only be reached from one side and only by one trail, same as today.
Such a location was excellent from the defense perspective. It was good until ancient Greek invented catapults. And here you can see a model of a catapult that was used by Romans pointing toward city entrance.
The Great Revolt
Gamla joined the revolt against the Romans in 66 CE. Just before the uprising, the inhabitants, led by Josephus Flavius, who commanded the rebellion in the Galilee, fortified city walls. Vespasian at the head of three Roman legions and reinforcements besieged the city. Here is the full story from Wikipedia:
Josephus gives a very detailed topographical description of the city, which he also referred to as Gamala and the steep ravines which precluded the need to build a wall around it. Only along the northern saddle, at the town’s eastern extremity, was a 350 meters-long wall built. It was constructed by blocking gaps between existing houses and destroying houses that lay in its way.
Initially loyal to the Romans, Gamla turned rebellious under the influence of refugees from other locations. It was one of only five cities in the Galilee and Golan who stood against Vespasian’s legions, reflecting the cooperation between the local population and the rebels. At the time of the revolt, the town minted its coins, probably more as a means of propaganda than as currency. Bearing the inscription “For the redemption of Jerusalem the H(oly)” in a mixture of paleo-Hebrew (biblical) and Aramaic, only 6 of these coins have ever been found.
The city sustained the first seven-month siege, which was organized in 66 CE by Herod Agrippa II. On October 12, 67 CE a total of about 60 thousand soldiers under the command of Vespasian began a second siege. The inhabitants of the city, including armed rebels, were, according to Josephus, only 9,000 people. Kenneth Atkinson calls this number exaggerated. Nevertheless, Dani Zion writes that before the siege Gamla became a refuge city, in which both insurgents from all over the Galilee and residents of the surrounding villages flocked. There were not enough places in the town, and even the city synagogue was adapted to accommodate refugees.
The seizure of the city was of fundamental importance to Vespasian. According to the existing strategy, it was necessary to seize and suppress all the centers of resistance along the route, however small. Also, the Jews expected, albeit unreasonably, the possible assistance of fellow believers from Babylon and the military intervention of Parthia. Although Josephus, who led the consolidation of the defense of Gamla, describes it as a fortress, archaeological findings show that the walls were constructed in fragments, filling in the gaps between buildings to create a continuous line of fortifications.
Breaching The Walls
Josephus also provides a detailed description of the Roman siege and conquest of Gamla in 67 CE by components of legions X Fretensis, XV Apollinaris and V Macedonica. The Romans first attempted to take the city using a siege ramp but were repulsed by the defenders. Only on the second attempt did the Romans succeed in breaching the walls at three different locations and invading the city. They then engaged the Jewish defenders in hand-to-hand combat on the steep hill. Fighting in the narrow streets from an inferior position, the Roman soldiers attempted to defend themselves from the roofs. These subsequently collapsed under the heavyweight, killing many soldiers and forcing a Roman retreat. The legionnaires re-entered the town a few days later, eventually beating Jewish resistance and completing the capture of Gamla.
The breach in the wall:
Gamla is often compared with the more famous heroic story of the fortress of Masada, where the defenders, not wanting to surrender to the Romans, committed suicide. Sometimes Gamla is even called the “Northern Masada” or “Masada Golan.”
However, Dani Zion emphasizes that Masada was a fortress, originally built as a fortification facility, where several hundred families of rebels were hiding and where there was no battle as such. Gamla, on the other hand, was a city where fortification was carried out in connection with military operations and where real heavy fighting took place before the capture and destruction. According to Josephus, some 4,000 inhabitants were slaughtered, while 5,000, trying to escape down the steep northern slope, were either trampled to death, fell or perhaps threw themselves down a ravine. These appear to be exaggerated and the number of inhabitants on the eve of the revolt has been estimated at 3,000–4,000.
On the left of the breach, there is the entrance to the city. When you enter you will see remains of a neighborhood:
While we were there we saw a pack of cranes. Winter is their migration time. If you want to read more about cranes check out Agamon Hula post.
This is the breach in the wall from the inner side:
If you look closely you will see two walls. This wall has undergone thickening.
Inside the dwelling you can see perpendicular stones which indicate the second floor:
Since the floor was made from wood it has not survived.
We continued the route and after a couple of minutes you reach the Mikveh:
And next to the Mikveh, there is an ancient synagogue.
The synagogue was built on the edge of the city during early first century CE. And it is one of the oldest temples ever discovered in Israel.
Many catapult arrowheads were found inside the synagogue, testifying the fact that the battle had taken place there as well.
The trails towards the synagogue:
At the top:
The round tower and view of the lookout:
The round tower was built before the city walls. It was built without foundations and collapsed during the Roman attack.
And now we are heading back towards the beginning of this route. And here is another glance of the synagogue.
After the Romans destroyed Gamla in 67 CE, it was never rebuilt. It was forgotten for 1,900 years till 1968. In that year Gamla has been rediscovered by Yitzhaki Gal from Nature Reserves Authority.
The trail back to lookout:
And here we returned to the lookout:
The Dolmen Trail
Since it still was early we decided to walk The Dolmen trail as well.
Dolmens are 4,000 years old structures consisting of stone slabs laid over two upright tiles. About 700 dolmens were found around Gamla. Dolmens were burial edifices from Nomadic tribes that roamed Golan Heights during Bronze Age.
Dolmen in ancient Breton means: stone table.
From there we continued along the trail towards Gamla waterfall.
The trail is easy to follow, but it requires attention as there are many stones and bumps.
You will pass the bridge at the top of the waterfall. But since there is a lot of greenery, from the bridge, we did not see the waterfall. To see it, you need to continue the trail towards watchpoint. But, before proceeding, just after the bridge, stop and look west. There you will see ancient Gamla in the distance.
We have reached the waterfall viewpoint, and I did not know this before, but it is the highest waterfall in Israel, 51 m.
The waterfall with people at the top and the wooden bridge.
If you will be visiting during the summer, there is a high chance that there will be no water.
View of Gamla cliffs, the place where most raptors nest. Thus, going beyond this point is forbidden.
And from this point, we returned to the parking.
Here are several nearby attractions that might interest you:
- Banias Nature Reserve
- Tel Hazor National Park
- Nimrod Fortress National Park
- Agamon Hula
- Betiha Nature Reserve
As I mentioned in the beginning, Gamla Nature Reserve is a quite popular site. If you love wildlife, then The Vulture trail is for you. The ancient trail to Gamla suites archeology and history fans. And The Dolmen trail and The Daliyot falls trail are for nature enthusiasts. And as you can see, many people will find what they love in Gamla, and so we did. We enjoyed our visit and will return for the Daliyot falls trail in the future.
Have you ever been to Gamla Nature Reserve? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!