an ancient settlement that left behind the ruins of a splendid synagogue; hiking trails to a fortress of natural caves; and also one friendly snail that is not found anywhere else in the world.
In the eastern Lower Galilee, on the way to Tiberias, a monumental cliff towers up, offering a breathtaking view of the Jordan Valley, the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, Mt Hermon, and the Galilee. This is the Arbel Cliff, the heart of the Arbel Nature Reserve, declared in 1967, and the national park that surrounds it, which also includes Mt Nitai, Mt Savyon, the Horns of Hittim, and the Arbel Plateau.
The main importance of the nature reserve and the reason for its declaration is preservation of the diversity of habitats it contains and the unique species that inhabit it, as well as the fact that it is part of a continuum of natural areas, allowing wildlife to pass between them. In addition, the site was declared a nature reserve in order to restore and conserve the fascinating heritage sites and antiquities found at Arbel. These sites include Arbel Fortress and the impressive cave village, where historic battles were fought in the days of Herod, Horvat Vradim (Hamam), and the ruins of the Jewish settlement of Arbel, in which the remains of a splendid ancient Galilean synagogue are still to be seen.
Arbel rises to a height of 181 m above sea level, some 390 m above the Sea of Galilee, and it looks out over and can be seen from a great distance. It is the hard limestone and dolomite rocks of which the cliff is made that have given it its impressive vertical character. Cliffs like Arbel are not commonly found in the landscapes of our country, and it is home to a diversity of plants, birds, and cliff-dwelling animals. Preserving these unique nature and landscape values is of the greatest importance.
Among the species that are unique to the park and nature reserve is a species of snail that exists only at the Arbel, a small snail by the name of Cristataria genezerethana; there are also rare plants (the bladder senna (colutea istria), and rock scrophularia (Scrophularia xylorrhiza), among others); the wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria), a bird that over-winters here, and looks like a red butterfly in flight; nesting birds of prey, and many more.
From the entrance to the national park there are marked hiking trails that pass through these sites. The combination of a visit to the historic and archaeological sites and the experience of nature and the breathtaking clifftop view is the uniquely magical secret of the Arbel.
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.
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.
Other points of interest in the area: Mt Nitai, Arbel Stream, Nabi Shu'ayb (a Druze holy site), the volcanic Horns of Hittim, and the synagogue at Horvat Vradim (Wadi Hamam).
The nature reserve and Arbel National Park are in the eastern Lower Galilee, on the Arbel Plateau, a moderate slope rising from the south-west to the north-east. The Arbel Cliff rises up in the heart of the nature reserve, as mentioned, towering over the Ginosar Valley and Sea of Galilee. On its northern side, the cliff hangs over the Bedouin community of Wadi Hamam and across from the community of Migdal as a single sheer wall, creating a very impressive sight.
The Arbel Stream passes through the national park, and among the springs that emerge along its 10 km length are Ein Asad, Ein Nitai, and the largest of them – Ein Arbel (Ein Hamam), near the Bedouin village of Hamam. The Arbel Stream begins near the village of Eilabun (situated above the Beit Netofa Valley), and ends near Midgal, in the Ginosar Valley. Along the river bed are the remains of an ancient flour mill and aqueducts. Near to Ein Nitai, a small spring that rises in the heart of the riverbed, are the remains of pomegranate and fig orchards, citrus trees, and vines.
The eastern, lower part of the Arbel Plateau is known as the Arbel Valley. This is a fertile, farmed valley, home to 3 agricultural communities: Kfar Zetim, Arbel, and Kfar Hittim.
The unique geological formation in the area is the result of fault lines vertical to the Syrian-African Rift, and geological faults running across Lower Galilee that create the valleys. It is the vertical fault lines that formed Mt Arbel, Mt Nitay opposite it, Arbel Stream and its springs, and Savyon Stream, which joins up with it near Wadi Hamam.
The Arbel is part of an inclined plateau, the higher part of which is limestone and dolomite from the Eocene period, but most of the surface of the plateau is covered with a layer of basalt formed as a result of the eruptions of the nearby volcanic mountain, the Horns of Hittim, some 4 million years ago. The basalt top layer is very resistant to wear and erosion, and provides considerable protection to the limestone bedrock against karstic destruction.
In the lower part of the mountain the bedrock is chalky limestone, and there, the cliff moderates to a rounded slope.
Standing on the Arbel Cliff, another cliff can be seen to the west, dropping steeply to the Arbel Stream. This is the eastern part of Mt Nitai (98 m above sea level), named after the Talmudic scholar. This mountain is also part of the Arbel nature reserve, but access is prohibited to visitors, in order to prevent damage to the important natural values in the area - the habitat of rare cliff plants, the Cristataria snail, the wallcreeper, the birds that still survive, and those that nested in the past and have disappeared.
May different animals can be found at the Arbel, taking advantage of the crevices and natural caves in the karstic cliff for shelter and concealment. The rock doves nesting in the lower reaches of the Arbel Stream are what give the place its Arabic name – Wadi Hamam (Dove Stream), while the blue rock thrush got its Arabic name from its habitat. In the winter, a rare bird arrived here from the snowy mountains of Europe - the wallcreeper. The wallcreeper's vertical movement across the cliffs in search of insects, camouflaged by its grey feathers, make it seem to be crawling, but when outspread, its wings are a striking scarlet color. Among the nesting birds of prey, long-legged buzzards, lesser kestrels, snake eagles and horned owls have been seen.
Rock hyraxes, typical cliff dwellers, are found here in abundance, as are Palestine mountain gazelles, striped hyenas, wolves, golden jackals, red foxes, wild boars, European badgers, honey badgers, Egyptian mongooses and martens.
Microbats live in the Arbel caves, among them: the greater mouse-tailed bat, the lesser mouse-tailed bat, European free-tailed bat, and the Egyptian slit-faced bat. One of the most important creatures living in the nature reserve is a small snail named the "Arbel Cristataria". This is a species that is endemic to the area, that is, it only lives here, and nowhere else in the world, among the rocky crevices in the cliffs around the Sea of Galilee. Its shell is closed with a flap, which opens only when part of the snail protrudes from it, hence its name [only works in Hebrew..].
Rare plants also grow here, among the rocks and the cliffs. Among them are the centaury (Centaurea speciose), with its pink and blue flower heads; the pendulous carnation (Dianthus pendulus), its pink flowers also peeping out of the crevices in the rock; the scrophularia, and the bladder senna.
These are joined by ferns such as maidenhead fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris), fragrant lip fern (cheilanthes fragrans), and the Cheilanthes vellea lip fern,, which grow on the ancient stone walls of Horvat Arbel.
Another unique feature is the vast blue expanse of wild hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) that blossoms here in January. During the winter and spring, the hillsides are covered with beautiful carpets of crown anemones (anemone coronaria), Egyptian honesty (ricotia lunaria), sun's-eye tulips (tulipa agenensis), pink hairy flax (Linum pubscens), and blue lupines (Lupinus pilosus).
A beautiful visitor arrives to pay a winter visit to the milk-vetch (Astragalus macrocarpus) – the rare Tomares nesimachus butterfly, found only near this plant.
The Arbel site has been arranged for visitors by the construction of an entrance plaza, signposts, parking and washrooms. A number of hiking paths of different degrees of difficulty lead from the entrance.
In addition to guidance for visitors to the site, the Nature and Parks Authority is very active in conserving the natural and heritage values. As part of these efforts, there is regular control over sheep, goats and cattle grazing in the grounds of the national park, in order to limit the damage to the unique natural habitat of the area. In Wadi Hamam, at the foot of the mountain, a fence has been erected to prevent grazing in the area, to allow rehabilitation of the wetland vegetation. Before the fence was erected, a survey of the flora, fauna, invertebrates and amphibians was carried out. Another survey was carried out after the fence was erected, to see the effects of grazing on the local flora and fauna.
In addition, grown lanner falcon chicks have been released into the wild. Other activities that have been carried out include thinning out invasive non-native plants, including the castor oil plant (ricinus), and the chinaberry (Melia azedarach), and also the water hyacinth (Eichornia) that grows in the stream, which have migrated to our country and are pushing out the native species. The natural pools in Arbel Stream have been cleaned, and it is planned to rehabilitate them and the spring.
Another important area in which supervision is carried out by the Authority is cliff gliding (rappelling). This activity is absolutely prohibited at Arbel, for fear of harming the natural values that are unique to the cliff. For the same reason, off-road vehicles are prohibited along the marked path in the lower section of Arbel Stream, which passes through the damp habitat.
How to get here: From the Tiberias-Golani junction (road 77), turn at the Kfar Hittim junction to road 7717. Turn right at the turnoff for Moshav Arbel, and before the entrance to the moshav, turn left and drive 3.5 km to the site.
Sunday – Thursday and Saturday 8 am – 5 pm
Friday and the eve of holidays 8 am – 4 pm
Sunday – Thursday and Saturday 8 am – 4 pm
Friday and the eve of holidays 8 am – 3 pm
On the eve of New Year, the eve of the Day of Atonement and Passover eve 8 am – 1 pm
Adult- NIS 22, child- NIS 9
Student- NIS 19
Group: (over 30 people): Adult- NIS 19, child- NIS 8
Click here for site pamphlet