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Hermon: Hazori to Hula

Golan: Devora &  Gilbon

Golan: Nahal Meitzar

Galilee: Nahal Kziv

Galilee: Nahal Amud

Galilee: Nahal Rosh Pina

Galilee: Ramat Adamit

Coast: Dor to Caesarea

Judean Hills: Ela Valley

Judean Desert: Masada

Judean Desert: Peres

Negev: Mount Zaror

Negev: Hatira Coxcomb

Negev: Ramon Ridge

Negev: Hatzra Ascent

Negev: Nekarot Hike

Negev: Ada Canyon

Arava: Barak Canyon

Arava: Maok & Nekarot

Eilat: Israel Trail Finale

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Porcupines, Emperors, and the New Middle East

Besides the slopes descending from the Judean Mountains to the Ela Valley, an ancient road is hewn in the rock. Now marked and known as "The Emperor's Road", this route an be the highlight of a splendid spring hike, suitable for anyone ready to walk a bit.

More than anything else, Tzur Hadassah Junction symbolizes the end of the age of innocence in Israel. The natural conditions are wonderful: mountain slopes covered with old agricultural terraces, the aroma of good soil mingled with the scent of pines, and clear air. Until recently, even the community of Tzur Hadassah had a pleasantly undefined character – not a kibbutz, moshav, village, or city, it was just a little place beside Mt. Kitron.

Don’t bother to try to find Mt. Kitron today. It’s now a neighborhood of Tzur Hadassah, with private houses coated with light-colored stone. Some 20,000 people are meant to live in Tzur Hadassah in houses like these in the future. Soon the houses and those of Beitar Ilit, situated on the next ridge, will be right next to each other.

The Jerusalem City Hall is 14 kilometers from here, as the crow flies. Some day soon, municipal officials will start talking about demographic problems, pull out maps and statistics, and claim that in fact, Tzur Hadassah is an integral part of Jerusalem.

But on a nice spring day, what did all that have to do with us? In the meantime, we could look in another direction from the junction and feast our eyes on the Jerusalem Mountains.

The Israel Trail, marked with orange, blue, and white stripes, reaches this point on its way westward. This marking would accompany us throughout the day. We found it on the electrical poles at the junction and turned on to the dirt road that enters a KKL-JNF grove, beginning the first segment of our hike before reaching the Emperor’s Road.

At first, we were still walking parallel to the road leading to Bar Giora, but the trail soon descended to the left, down the upper tributaries of the riverbed of Nahal Zanoah, and passed beneath a massive high-tension line. Known as Line 400, it belongs to the days when people were talking about a New Middle East, and the electricity flowing through it was meant to flow through Egypt and Jordan as well.

At the top of the slope to the right, we could see the beautiful terraces of the abandoned

village of Ilar al-Foka and a makam (a shrine to a Muslim holy man) with a white dome.

Zev Vilnay, in his guidebook to the Land of Israel, called the makam Sheikh Ahmed el-Hubani; nineteenth-century traveler Victor Guerin referred to the site as Sheikh Hubin.

We continued down the road without going up to the makam. When our path met a paved road leading from Moshav Matta, we turned right toward a large terrace and went up to the antiquities site known as Horvat Darban. The walk among the terraces, covered with little shrubs of wild marjoram and other undergrowth, was a refreshing change. In winter, some of the trail markings disappear under the high grass, but it is easy to keep sight of the ancient stone wall that stands atop Horvat Darban and encloses an area containing almond trees.

Horvat Darban acquired its name when a porcupine (darban in Hebrew), digging itself a burrow in the southern slope of the ruins, exposed a potsherd bearing an imprint stating “for the king.” It dated from the time of King Hezekiah (705-701 BCE). Archaeologist Yohanan Aharoni subsequently dug at the site and found pottery from the Persian period (538-332 BCE).

We wandered around, came upon caves hewn in the rock, and gazed at the stunning landscape: Horvat Beit Itab, to the north, looks like a

remnant of a fortified building; the moshavim Bar Giora and Ness Harim occupy the adjacent peaks; and below lie the houses of Moshav Matta.

The trail passes the walled area in Horvat Darban, meets up with a blue-marked trail, and descends westward toward Matta. We could discern eucalyptus trees beyond the moshav, pointing to the site of the spring of Ein Matta.

Until the trail reaches the spring, it runs past hewn openings in the rock, prickly pear hedges, and terraces laden with fruit trees. Blue lupins sprout here in abundance in January and bloom with lovely flowers in March. Numerous cyclamens grow on the last terrace, beside the road that runs along the periphery of the moshav.

After passing a palm tree nursery, we immediately reached the little eucalyptus grove. A small brook flows nearby, and on its eastern side is a small man-made pond, with stalks of narrow-leaved reedmace growing in it.

The spring itself is situated a bit further up the channel. Horvat Tanor, beside the spring, contains such ruins as a large stone house with arched windows and walls that have survived to a height of about 7 meters. Estimated to date to the Crusader period, it is thought to have served as a farmhouse or perhaps a monastery.

Between the house and the spring is another little spring, Ein Tanor. Local legend has it that this was the site of Noah’s stove (tanor in Hebrew). The stove, it is said, was submerged in the Flood. After the waters receded, the stove, tired of heating food, decided to produce water instead, which it does to this day. Guerin described this site as having orchards with trees so luxuriant that no ray of light could pass through their leaves.

The Israel Trail makes its way up the southern slope of Nahal Zanoah to Horvat Hanot (Khirbet el-Khan), situated in the shade of a forest where KKL-JNF has created a pleasant picnic site. The road beside Horvat Hanot leads up from the Ela Valley to Bar Giora (Road No. 375), along the route of an ancient thoroughfare. The ruins of a khan, or caravansary, in Horvat Hanot, attest to the old road’s existence. Its walls survive, as well as a floor covered with sand that conceals a colorful mosaic from the Byzantine period; the sand protected it from vandals over the ages. An ancient wine press beside the khan has a simpler, white mosaic floor.

A large sign states that this is the beginning of the Emperor’s Road, which is clearly delineated not only with the markings of the Israel Trail, but also with the local trail markings (white-red-white). KKL-JNF has marked the trail with large rocks along the periphery.

We followed the trail through a lovely Mediterranean wood mixed with a sparse forest of pines, and soon reached hewn steps. Archaeologists suggest that these steps were part of a Roman road from Ashkelon to Jerusalem, built in 130 CE in honor of the visit of Emperor Hadrian – hence the name “Emperor’s Road,” given to it by a KKL-JNF employee.

The trail is narrow, pleasant, and meant for pedestrians, but those walking along it on a Saturday are liable to come upon cyclists looking for challenges. “Cyclists in Israel like to ride on the footpaths, which they call ‘singles,’ because the paths have room for only one bicycle,” explains Dani Gaspar, coordinator of the Israel Trails Committee. “There have already been several accidents. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has instituted a regulation prohibiting cycling on footpaths in national parks and nature reserves. We’re now mapping out a national bicycle path and we hope it will at least be a solution for the Israel Trail.”

We walked down to Nahal Hanativ, and when we reached the road that runs through the channel, we saw a square underground cistern. Shaped similarly to Nabatean cisterns in the Negev, it is apparently from the Roman period. A round column supports its natural rock ceiling, and the original plaster remains in a few walls.

We crossed the riverbed via a small wooden bridge, and then passed five fragments of large, round columns, which probably served as milestones on the ancient road. We also passed a reconstruction of part of an old olive press, after which we descended to a large plaza beside the Tzur Hadassah-Ela Valley Road, where we concluded the hike.† n



The new portion of the trail has become very popular with the growing number of hikers who are setting out to hike the Israel Trail from North to South. At every given moment there are upward of 100 groups of hikers - from single hiker to 10 people group) who are walking along the trail. Average hiking time along the trail is 45 days.

Tomer Milo, for example, celebrated her Bat Mitzvah by hiking the trail together with her father Udi. They divided the hike into two portions - from Modein to Eilat in the cooler months, from Dan to Modein in the warmer months. Tomer celebrated her Bar Mitzvah atNeot Kedumin - at the end of the second portion of her hike after 53 days of hiking.

Zvika, Ohad and Maayan all aged 23, hiked the 940 kms of the trail in 41 days. The started from Eilat in April, stopped during the Sabbath in the villages along the way and finished at Kibbutz Dan.
Current available statistics are that only 4 out of 10 hikers manage to complete the entire trail.



Useful Information:

Start: Tzur Hadassah Junction (meeting point of Roads 375 and 386).

End: Tzur Hadassah-Ela Valley Road, parking lot at the foot of the olive press (Road No. 375, between kilometer markers 8 and 9).

Length: Approx. 11 km

Difficulty: Moderate

Duration: 5-6 hours

Map: Trail Map No. 9 (1:50,000, Hebrew only), Approaches to Jerusalem, 2003, published by the Israel Trails Committee and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

For map click here




© ERETZ Magazine 2016