Tel Yodfat National Park (Jotapata) – Visitors Guide


Tel Yodfat guide starts with the basics (map, directions, trails, history), and then we will hike in ancient Yodfat and mount Atzmon. Let’s begin!

On One Foot

The Hellenistic city of Jotapata stood on this hill during the Second Temple period. The kings of the Hasmonean dynasty conquered it in the late second century BCE, and its name was changed to Yodfat. Josephus Flavius fortified the city during the Great Revolt against the Romans, and in 67 CE, it fell to the Romans after a fierce battle.

Source: sign on site.

Map

Tel Yodfat National Park is located near the modern Moshav Yodfat in Lower Galilee. And if you have been following my blog for a while, then you will remember our previous visit to the town. On that occasion, we visited Monkey Forest In Yodfat.

Map of the area:

Directions

If you are reaching by car, then enter the “Tel Yodfat National Park” into Waze or Google Maps, and it will take you to the free parking near the Tel.

The road to Tel Yodfat is the same as to Yodfat itself up to the point where you leave road #7955 and turn to the city. Soon after the #7955 turn, you will see a turn to the left with the sign to the Tel. Following that dirt road for five minutes will lead you to the Tel.

If you are using public transport, then you can take a bus to Yodfat junction (#262, #242, and others). But Yodfat junction is not that close, and the distance to the National Park is a little more than three kilometers. Here is already a preset link to Moovit. Just enter your starting point, and you will get the updated directions.

Opening Hours

It is an open national park. Meaning there is no entrance fee, and you can visit it whenever you like. But, since there is no artificial light, you should visit only during the daytime.

Entrance to Tel Yodfat National Park
Entrance to Tel Yodfat National Park

Entrance Fee

Free.

When to Visit Tel Yodfat National Park?

As I wrote in Events And Festivals By Season, Spring is the best time for a visit. Also, keep in mind that there is almost no shade along the trails, thus wear heats, use sunscreen, and take plenty of water.

History

Here is a historical extract from Wikipedia.

Jotapata

Ancient Yodfat (Jotapata), situated to the southeast of the modern moshav, is mentioned in the Mishna as a fortified Jewish village dating from the time of Joshua, corresponding with the Iron Age. Archaeological explorations of the site, however, have thus far revealed a modest village established sometime during the Hellenistic period, between the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. As the Hasmonean kings extended their influence into the Galilee during the last decades of the 2nd century BCE, a change of population occurred at Yodfat, and Jews populated the village.

According to the Mishnah, the town of Yodfat was encompassed by a wall before the Israelite conquest of Canaan under Joshua.

Greeks called it Iotapata.

Tel Yodfat National Park
Tel Yodfat National Park

Classic era

By the first century CE, Yodfat had expanded to encompass an area of 50 dunams (13 acres). Its siege and subsequent destruction in 67 CE are described in Josephus Flavius’ The Wars of the Jews, his chronicle of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans. Led by future emperor Vespasian, three Roman legions — Legio V Macedonica, X Fretensis, and XV Apollinaris — besieged Yodfat, meeting strong Jewish resistance. After 47 days, the city fell by treachery, and Josephus describes the death of 40,000 Jews and the enslavement of 1,200 women and children. Yodfat was razed and burnt on the first of the Hebrew month of Tammuz. While a few dozen remaining fighters committed suicide, Josephus managed to survive this pact and was captured by the Romans.

After its capture by the Romans, Yodfat was re-established at a nearby site by refugees from Jerusalem, among them the priestly family of Miyamin. This town is mentioned in the Talmud as the home of Rabbi Menachem of Jotapata (Zev. 110b). It flourished for another 300 years, before being destroyed once again. After that, the village lay in ruins until 1960.

Ancient Yodfat
Ancient Yodfat

Modern times

Yodfat was re-established in 1960 by graduates of the Hebrew Reali School of Haifa. It is currently a Jewish agricultural community, located about 1 km north-west of the ancient ruins.

The modern village was built by traditional Jews, seeking to preserve traditional values in parallel to agricultural work. At first, the town was an observation site of the JNF, while its inhabitants were mostly the JNF employees. Later, the village became an agricultural society, with most of its residents working the nearby lands. By the 1990s, the village turned into a more massive communal center, with a wider variety of professions for its residents. Today it includes 200 families.

Site Map

Near the entrance to the Tel, you can find the site map.

Note: the name of this national park includes the word Tel. Tel is a hill created by many generations of people living and rebuilding on the same spot. You can find additional information at Tel Megiddo National Park.

Tel Yodfat National Park - Site Map
Tel Yodfat National Park – Site Map

Note: you can click on the site plan to enlarge it.

On the map above, you can see three hiking trails.

  • The red path is the shortest hike. It takes about fifteen minutes, and it is also an accessible trail.
  • The green trail takes about an hour. And it leads you through most of the POI on top of the Tel.
  • The black pathway is the longest of the three. It adds several POI to the green trail, and it takes about an hour and a half.
Green trail at Tel Yodfat
Green trail at Tel Yodfat

And now, let’s start climbing the Tel using the green trail (the photo above).

Also, while we are in this section, I want to show a trail map of this area.

Trail Map of Tel Yodfat and Mount Atzmon
Trail Map of Tel Yodfat and Mount Atzmon

Note: this is a photo from our trails map. We had it with us since we wanted to make a combined hike of Tel Yodfat and Mount Atzmon. But more on that later.

As we hiked, we saw many informational signs. There are also many metal signs with quotes from the book “The Wars of the Jews 3” by Yosef ben Matityahu, also known by his later name Titus Flavius Josephus. Thus, let’s talk about him.

Flavius Josephus – Yosef ben Matityahu

During the First Jewish–Roman War, Yosef ben Matityahu was the head of Jewish forces in Galilee. After a 47 day siege, Jotapata fell, and Yosef ben Matityahu became a slave.

After receiving freedom from the Emperor, Josephus Josephus assumed the emperor’s family name. Thus he is also known as Josephus Flavius.

Josephus joined the Roman legions and recorded Jewish history. From his books, we know a lot about the Great Revolt. His books include descriptions of the fall of Jerusalem, the siege of Masada, and of course, Yodfat. Here is a summary from Wikipedia:

Titus Flavius Josephus, born Yosef ben Matityahu was a first-century Romano-Jewish historian who was born in Jerusalem—then part of Roman Judea—to a father of priestly descent and a mother who claimed royal ancestry.

He initially fought against the Romans during the First Jewish–Roman War as head of Jewish forces in Galilee, until surrendering in 67 CE to Roman forces led by Vespasian after the six-week siege of Jotapata. Josephus claimed the Jewish Messianic prophecies that initiated the First Roman-Jewish War referred to Vespasian becoming Emperor of Rome. In response, Vespasian decided to keep Josephus as a slave and presumably interpreter. After Vespasian became Emperor in 69 CE, he granted Josephus his freedom, at which time Josephus assumed the Emperor’s family name of Flavius.

Flavius Josephus fully defected to the Roman side and was granted Roman citizenship. He became an advisor and friend of Vespasian’s son Titus, serving as his translator when Titus led the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Since the siege proved ineffective at stopping the Jewish revolt, the city’s destruction and the looting and destruction of Herod’s Temple (Second Temple) soon followed.

Josephus recorded Jewish history, with particular emphasis on the first century CE and the First Jewish–Roman War (66–70 CE), including the Siege of Masada. His most famous works were The Jewish War (c. 75) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94). The Jewish War recounts the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation. Antiquities of the Jews recount the history of the world from a Jewish perspective for an ostensibly Greek and Roman audience. These works provide valuable insight into first-century Judaism and the background of Early Christianity, although not explicitly mentioned by Josephus. Josephus’ works are the chief source next to the Bible for the history and antiquity of ancient Palestine.

Siege of Jotapata

As we climbed to the top of Tel Yodfat, we can see the direction from which the Romans attacked.

Roman Legions at Tel Yodfat
Roman Legions at Tel Yodfat

The Siege of Yodfat was a 47-day siege by Roman forces of the Jewish town of Yodfat which took place in 67 CE, during the Great Revolt. Led by Roman General Vespasian and his son Titus, both future emperors, the siege ended with the sacking of the town, the deaths of most of its inhabitants and the enslavement of the rest. It was the second bloodiest battle of the revolt, surpassed only by the Siege of Jerusalem, and the longest except for Jerusalem and Masada. The siege was chronicled by Josephus, who had personally commanded the Jewish forces at Yodfat and was subsequently captured by the Romans.

Source: Wikipedia

We will continue along the green trail to POI #2, the casemate wall, and from there, we will have a good overview of the area.

Green trail at Tel Yodfat
Green trail at Tel Yodfat

Note: as you can see in the photo above, there is both green and blue trail marking. The green trail goes around Tel Yodfat National Park, and the blue one leads to Mount Atzmon (see trail map above). And in this section, they go in the same direction.

In the following photo, you can see the view from the top of the Tel. You can see where the Roman legions attacked from and further away you can see the car parking.

Top of Tel Yodfat
Top of Tel Yodfat

Preparations for the Siege

Vespasian was eager to destroy Jotapata; for he was informed that the biggest number of the enemy had taken refuge there, and that in addition it was a strong base for their activities…

Titus meanwhile had sailed from Achaia to Alexandria in less time than is usual for a winter crossing. There he took over the force for which he had been sent, and marching at a great pace quickly reached Ptolemais. There he found his father, and to the two legions that accompanied him, the world-famous Fifth and Tenth, he united his own Fifteenth. To these legions were attached 18 cohorts; they were joined also by five cohorts and one troop of horse from Caesarea, and five troops from Syria. Of the cohorts ten were 1,000 infantry strong, the other thirteen 600 infantry and 120 cavalry. A large allied contingent was also contributed…

Thus the whole force, cavalry and infantry, including the men contributed by the kings, totaled 60,000, apart from servants who followed in great numbers.

Source: “The Wars of the Jews 3” by Yosef ben Matityahu

The Siege

As time dragged on and the sorties continued, Vespasian felt it was he who was being besieged, and as the platforms were now getting near the walls he decided to bring up the Ram. …

So in order to bring within range the Jews on the wall who were trying to stop them, the Romans pushed forward their catapults and other engines and began to bombard them. The bowmen and slingers moved forward at the same time. As a result, no one dared mount the rampart, and this enabled other troops to bring up the Ram under the protection of overlapping hurdles covered with skins to safeguard both men and machine. The very first blow rocked the wall, and piercing shrieks were raised by those within as if the town had been captured already.

Source: “The Wars of the Jews 3” by Yosef ben Matityahu

Siege of Jotapata
Siege of Jotapata

In this struggle, one of the Jews distinguished himself in a way that calls for very special mention. His father’s name was Sarnia, his own Eleazar, his birthplace Saba in Galilee. This man raised a huge stone and flung it from the wall at the Batterer with such tremendous force that he broke off the head of the Ram. Then he leaped down and seizing the head under the noses of the enemy carried it back to the wall without turning a hair. A target now for all his foes and with no armor to protect his body from the rain of missiles, he was pierced by five shafts; but paying not the slightest regard to these he climbed the wall and stood there for all to admire his daring, then writhing with thy pain of his wounds fell to the ground with the Ram’s head still in his grip. Most conspicuous for courage after him were two brothers. Neiras and Philip, from the village of Ruma, Galilean, like Heater. They charged the ranks of the Tenth Legion, falling upon the Romans with such dash and fury that they broke through their lines and routed all who stood in their path.

Source: “The Wars of the Jews 3” by Yosef ben Matityahu

Battering ram
Battering ram

The Fall of Yodfat

On the 47th day of the siege, the day when the ramp surpassed the walls, a deserter went over to the Romans and disclosed the dire situation within Yodfat. Few defenders had remained, and these, worn out by their continuous fighting and vigilance, usually slept during the last watch of the night. At dawn on the very next day, the first of Panemus (July 20, 67), a band of Romans reportedly led by Titus himself stealthily scaled the walls, cut the throats of the watch, and opened the gates, letting in the entire Roman army. Taken by surprise, the Jews were furthermore confounded by a thick mist, and the Romans quickly took hold of the summit, pursuing the inhabitants down the eastern slope.

According to Josephus, 40,000 were slain or committed suicide and 1,200 women and infants were taken into slavery, while the Romans suffered but a single fatality. Vespasian ordered the town demolished and its walls were torn down. The Romans prohibited the burial of the fallen and it was only a year or more later when Jews were allowed to return to bury the remains in caves and cisterns.

Yosef Ben-Matityahu had hidden in one of the caves that litter the site, along with 40 other prominent citizens of Yodfat. Although Ben-Matityahu was in favor of surrendering to the Romans, the majority of his comrades opted to kill themselves rather than fall into Roman hands. As suicide is considered sinful, they decided to draw lots to kill each other. Ben-Matityahu and another man, however, were the last to survive, and both resolved to give themselves up. Taken to see the Roman general, Ben-Matityahu prophesied that Vespasian would one day become emperor. Vespasian subsequently spared the rebel leader, who began collaborating with the Romans. At first a slave, he would later be freed and be granted Roman citizenship as Flavius Josephus.

Source: Wikipedia

Cisterns

After about five minutes of hiking, we reached POI #3, public water cisterns.

Cisterns types at Tel Yodfat
Cisterns types at Tel Yodfat

In the photo above you can see three types of cisterns that were found in ancient Yodfat.

  • Ancient type – a cistern with a spiral staircase (right image).
  • The second type – a modification of the ancient kind. It has several stairs to stand on when drawing water (central image).
  • The third type – bell-shaped cistern. Its operation resembles a conventional well (left image).

Inside there was plenty of corn and all other necessaries except salt, but the water- supply was inadequate … and the townsfolk depended on rainwater.

Vespasian hoped that before long the tanks would be empty and the surrender of the town would inevitably follow. But Josephus determined to shatter this hope, ordered numbers of men to soak their outer garments and hang them round the battlements, so that the whole wall suddenly ran with water. The result was despondency and consternation in the Roman ranks, when they saw such a quantity of water thrown away in jest. … The commander-in chief himself despaired of capturing the town through shortage and reverted to armed onslaught. Nothing could have pleased the Jews better; for they had long despaired of saving the town or themselves, and dreaded hunger and thirst far more than death in battle.

Source: “The Wars of the Jews 3” by Yosef ben Matityahu

Green pathway at Tel Yodfat
Green pathway at Tel Yodfat

Cistern and Ritual Bath (Mikveh)

Our next stop was POI #4. The cistern and the Mikveh were probably in a private house.

One interesting fact is that wells were near Mikveh. And if there was not enough water, well water could be added.

Cistern and Mikveh
Cistern and Mikveh

Residential Area

We continued with the green trail to POI #8, the residential area.

Residential Area in Tel Yodfat
Residential Area in Tel Yodfat

Two adjacent homes, each with a cistern and ritual bath. During the Second Temple period olive oil was produced, to be applied after ritual bathing. Much evidence of daily life was found here: kilns, pottery, and stone vessels; and loom weights, attesting to a thriving weaving industry. The houses were evidently destroyed and burned, and in them arrowheads and catapult stones were found, evidence of the town’s tragic demise.

Source: sign on site.

Residential Area in Tel Yodfat
Residential Area in Tel Yodfat
Residential Area in Tel Yodfat
Residential Area in Tel Yodfat

Western Wall and Pottery Kiln

After a ten-minute walk, we reached POI #7, which is the Western Wall and Pottery Kiln.

Tel Yodfat National Park, Israel

If you look at the map, then leaving the green trail at point #8 and turning to the black path may seem strange. But the reason we did so was our plan, which included visiting Mount Atzmon as well. The blue trail that leads to Mount Atzmon starts between points #4 and #5. Making the hike this way allowed us to see more of Tel Yodfat.

Western Wall and Pottery Kiln at Yodfat
Western Wall and Pottery Kiln at Yodfat

During construction of the wall, the builders had to demolish a pottery kiln (A). The potters had produced cooking pots, storage jars, and bowls for the residents of the town, and also for sale elsewhere. A new, smaller kiln was built nearby (B), but the potters did not have a chance to use it before the Roman siege.

Source: sign on site.

Western Wall and Pottery Kiln at Yodfat
Top view of the Western Wall and Pottery Kiln
A Shepard in the distance

The Hiding Space

POI #6 is the Hiding Space.

Illustration of the Hiding Space
Illustration of the Hiding Space

Despite the sense of security afforded by the construction of.the wall, some residents dug a shelter, a two-story, three-room hiding place under their home, with shafts and tunnels leading from one room to the other.

Here they stored food and clay vessels of water. A cache of silver and bronze coins was also discovered here, the latest of which were minted two years before the war.

Source: sign on site.

Entrance to the The Hiding Space at Tel Yodfat
Entrance to the The Hiding Space at Tel Yodfat
The The Hiding Space at Tel Yodfat
The The Hiding Space at Tel Yodfat

Mount Atzmon Nature Reserve

Near the Hiding Space, we saw the blue trail and used it to descent from the Tel.

Yodfat – Atzmon Trail

The plan was to start at the ancient Yodfat (marked as #419 on the trail map above). Afterward, then using the blue trail to go down towards Nahal Yodfat, and then to continue along the blue path to the top of Mount Atzmon (marked as #547on the trail map above). From the top of Mount Atzmon, we continue along the blue trail until we reach the red pathway. And the red dirt road leads us back to the parking of ancient Yodfat. This trail is around 6 km long, and in most cases, it will take four to five hours to complete.

Atzmon Nature Reserve
Atzmon Nature Reserve

Where the name Mount Atzmon comes from?

We do not know the origin of the name. But Mount Atzmon was mentioned by Yosef ben Matityahu. Judean rebels, who withdrew from Sepphoris, took refuge at Mount Atzmon. And here is what Yosef ben Matityahu wrote:

All of the rebels and thieves in the Galilee survived to the mountain in the center of the land and looking over Zippori, called Mt. Atzmon. …

And all the nation the rebels were at the top of the hill, it was easier for them to defend themselves against the Romans attacking them and they killed 200 of them. However, when the Romans surrounded the mountain and stood tall, the rebels very soon fell before them because they had no weapons and did not have the strength to face the force of the armed military, and they could not hide from the horses. Only a few escaped to forgotten places on foot and thousands were killed

Source: The Jewish War B

Anemone at Atzmon Nature Reserve
Anemone at Atzmon Nature Reserve
Blue trail at Atzmon Nature Reserve
Blue trail at Atzmon Nature Reserve

Points of Interest at Mount Atzmon Nature Reserve

There are two main POI at this nature reserve.

Remains of a fort – at the summit of mountain Atzmon there are remains of a fort. Presumably, the fortress kept an eye on the route of the convenient road. This road went from Acre through the Abel River to Kinneret and across the Jordan. Remains of a road that were paved during the Roman period were discovered in Abel’s stream (outside of the reserve). A survey conducted at the fort revealed that fort’s dimensions were 28X32 m. A double wall surrounded the fort, and according to the pottery finds, it was built during the Hellenistic period. The cave carved at the foot of the northern wall has four high burial mounds, typical of the Hellenistic period. The cave may have been used by ancient Yodfat people, located at the northeastern foot of Mount Atzmon.

Nahal Evlayim – in the section of Nahal Evlayim that passes through the reserve, there are two small springs. The stream is named because it passes through the village of Iblin, the place of mourners of the Talmudic days. There are three springs in the creek, and our path descends first to the middle one, Ein al-Vasta, and then arrives at Ein al-Qaziza, adjacent to it. These are typical stratum springs, which flow all year round, and their waters are collected into shallow pools. The third spring, Ein A-Shatta, dries during the summer.

Source: translated from the official site.

Cyclamens at Atzmon Nature Reserve
Cyclamens at Atzmon Nature Reserve

By the time we arrived at the point where the blue trail climbs to the top of Mount Atzmon, my daughter was tired. Thus we decided not to climb to the top and make a shortcut using the black trail. The black jeep road goes around Mount Atzmon and intersects the blue trail after a while.

Atzmon Nature Reserve
Atzmon Nature Reserve

And then we used the red jeep road to return to Tel Yodfat National Park.

This hike took us a little more than two and a half hours. And climbing to the top of Mount Atzmon would add at least additional half an hour.

Tel Yodfat National Park
Tel Yodfat National Park

Summary

Tel Yodfat National Park offers three lovely trails where you can see not only nature but history as well. Moreover, if you want to make a longer trek, you can combine your visit together with Mount Atzmon Nature Reserve.

Note: if you are interested in national parks, then check out National Parks And Nature Reserves in Israel.

Have you ever been to Tel Yodfat National Park? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!

Stay Tuned!

   

Additional Resources

Here are several resources that I created to help travelers: And if you have any questions then check out Useful Information For Tourists To Israel.  
Did not find what you were looking for? Email me at [email protected], and I will do my best to answer your questions.

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