The observation point offers a view of a nesting colony of raptors, and at a walking distance from it, at the top of the impressive river ravines - the ruins of the ancient town of Gamla, telling the tale of its exceptional courage, and among them, the remains of the earliest synagogue in the world.
Main points of interest in detail:
The observation terrace - a view from above of the ancient town of Gamla and the remains of the early synagogue. From the terrace, a steep path leads down to the old town, accessible to good walkers.
Status: The reserve was declared in 2003.
Reasons for declaration:
Geographic location: The reserve is in the central Golan Heights.
The Gamla nature reserve is one of the most important ornithological sites in Israel, thanks to its rich and seasonal variety of birds and raptors, some of them rare species. Gamla is home to the largest and most diverse nesting colony of raptors in Israel. The nature reserve also contains many species of mammals, and unique and rare species of fish and amphibians.
Many animals make their home at the Gamla nature reserve, and some 260 species of vertebrates have been observed. In the nature reserve there are 24 species of mammals, the largest being the omnivorous wild boar (Sus scrofa). Among the mammals are herbivorous species: the Palestine Mountain Gazelle (Gazella gazella gazella), the porcupine (Hystrix), and the rock hyrax (Procavia capensis), as well as predators: the jackal (Canis aureus) and the fox (vulpes vulpes), and also the grey wolf (Canis lupus), wildcat (Felis silvestris), and weasel (Mustela), defined as species whose future is endangered. Rare mammals living in the nature reserve are the Nubian ibex (Capra nubiana) and the striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), defined as in danger of extinction, and the marten (Martes) and otter (Lutrina), which are in serious danger of extinction. Three species of fish live in the springs and streams, two of them rare and in danger of extinction: the Jordan loach (Orthrias jordanicus) and the tiger loach (Syncrossus hymenophysa), as well as four species of amphibians, among them the Syrian spadefoot toad (Pelobates syriacus), a very rare species in serious danger of extinction.
There is a particularly great diversity of birds at the nature reserve, which is one of the most important ornithological sites in Israel, and one of the most important sites for research and for ecotourism. Each of the seasons of the year brings with it a different variety of birds and raptors at the reserve: the permanent species live at the nature reserve year-round, while over-wintering species arrive from the north in the fall and spend the winter at the reserve, and the species for which Gamla is a summer breeding ground return to Africa in the winter. In the fall and spring, the migration seasons, many other species pass through the reserve.
In the past, the area of the Gamla and Daliyot Streams housed the largest and most diverse nesting colony of raptors in Israel, including the griffon vulture (gyps), Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), snake eagle (Circaetus), Bonelli's eagle (Aquila fasciata), and horned owl (Bubo). Today there are fewer individuals nesting here.
There are various different habitats in the Gamla nature reserve, including treed plateaus that are carpeted with flowers in the spring, slopes, cliffs, and streambeds, where water plants and riverbank vegetation grow.
Despite its small area, 325 species of plants have been surveyed in the reserve, including rare species that grow at only a few sites in Israel. A special experience awaits those visiting at the end of winter and in the spring, when the reserve is covered by carpets of colorful and fragrant spring flowers. In the winter there are species of crocus, the Jerusalem autumn crocus (Colchicum hierosolymitanum), the mountain star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum montanum), many shades of crown anemone (Anemone coronaria), the common narcissus (Narcissus tazetta), the Persian cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum), and others. In spring, the ground is covered by spring groundsel (Senecio vernalis), Italian valerian (Valeriana dioscoridis), blue lupines (Lupinus pilosus), and many species of trefoil and lathyrus.
A special feature of the reserve is its variety of habitats and ecosystems - plateaus, cliffs and escarpments, streambeds and springs, and winter ponds. These habitats differ greatly in their conditions, and therefore different vegetation grows in each of them.
On the plateaus there are different species of trees, growing at a considerable distance from each other, foremost among them the Mt Tabor's oak (Quercus ithaburensis). It is joined by the Mt Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica), the Christ's Thorn jujube (Ziziphus spina-christi), the officinal styrax (Styrax officinalis), and the spiny hawthorn (Crataegus aronia). The area between the trees is covered by annual and perennial herbaceous plants, and in the spring is carpeted by their blossoms.
On the streambank escarpments a variety of plants grow: trees, including the Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) and the wild almond (Brabejum stellatifolium), particularly striking during their flowering season; shrubs such as the Jerusalem spurge (Euphorbia hierosolymitana), which looks like a green-gold ball, densely covering rocky areas, and in the winter giving the reserve a uniquely beautiful appearance familiar to every hiker, and the bladder senna (Colutea istria), its seeds "rattling" in their swollen pods. This shrub flowers in the spring in bold yellow, growing to a maximum height of 2 m, and the slopes of Gamla are its northernmost distribution in Israel. Climbing plants also grow on the slopes and cliffs (Italian honeysuckle (Lonicera etrusca), virgin's bower (Clematis cirrhosa), and common madder (Rubia tenuifolia)), as well as tiny rock plants with shallow root systems (stonecrop (Sedum), common pennywort (Umbilicus intermedius), and rosularia (Rosularia)).
In the streambeds and springs are plants characteristically found near water and on riverbanks: the brook willow (Salix acmophylla) and oleander (Nerium oleander), and beneath them, a tangle of shrubs such as the holy bramble (Rubus sanguineus), horse mint (Mentha longifolia), great willow herb (Epilobium hirsutum), and creeping loosestrife (Lythrum junceum). Like most water plants, these species are typically summer-flowering.
At Gamla nature reserve there are the remains of human activity from different periods. The dolmens, ancient burial mounds built of huge boulders, the Second Temple period ruins of the town of Gamla, and the ruins of the Christian village of Dir Keruh.
The dolmens - 716 dolmens have been found within the area of the Gamla nature reserve, scattered across the area north of Daliyot Stream. The dolmens are Bronze Age burial mounds. They are built of large stone slabs: two perpendicular to the ground, serving as walls, on which a horizontal slab is laid creating a roof. They looked like large and heavy stone tables, and this is the source of their name (in ancient Breton: dol = table, men = stone). Because of the size of the mounds and the assessment that just one person was buried in each of them, it is assumed that the dolmens were only used to bury members of the elite.
The town of Gamla from the Second Temple period - the town of Gamla is mentioned in Talmudic sources as a walled town from the days of Joshua Ben-Nun. The archaeological finds confirm that Gamla was in fact already a fortified settlement in the early Bronze Age, but it was destroyed and only reoccupied in the Hellenistic period. During the time of the Second Temple, Gamla was the capital of the Golan district and its inhabitants mainly supported themselves through agriculture. From the description of Joseph ben Matityahu (Josephus) in the Wars of the Jews 4:1, we learn that the town sat atop a very steep hill, surrounded by cliffs, with only a single path, the path that still leads to Gamla today, descending to it from the surrounding hilltops: "for it was situated upon a rough ridge of a high mountain, with a kind of neck in the middle: where it begins to ascend, it lengthens itself, and declines as much downward before as behind, insomuch that it is like a camel in figure…"
Herod settled Jews in Gamla, and in the year 66 CE the town raised the flag of rebellion against the Romans. Herod Agrippa II besieged the rebellious town, but was forced to back down after seven months. Vespasian, who arrived from Rome at the head of three Roman legions and auxiliary cohorts, again besieged the town. After a month, the Romans succeeded in breaching the wall for the first time and entering the town, but the defenders were able to turn the incursion into a failure in which many of the invading forces were killed ("By this means a vast number of the Romans perished in this war…") It was only on the second attempt at incursion, after seven months of siege, that the Romans were able to overcome the defenders. According to Josephus, the Roman victory cost the lives of 9000 Jews.
After the fall of Gamla on 23rd Tishrei 67 CE the town was never rebuilt, and over the intervening generations, its location was forgotten. In 1968 Yehezkel Gal, who took part in a nature and landscape survey carried out by the Nature Reserves Authority in the Golan, suggested that this was the site of Gamla. In 1976 the archaeologist Shmarya Gutman began excavation at the site, and the finds confirmed the location of the town and uncovered impressive remains, including the wall built in preparation for the revolt, the town's splendid synagogue, the residential buildings of its neighborhoods, and some 4000 catapult bolts and 6000 arrowheads, evidence of the intensity of the battle that took place before the Roman legions entered the town.
Particularly striking are the ruins of the Gamla synagogue. The synagogue was a splendid building, situated right at the entrance to the town. It was apparently built at the beginning of the first century CE, and was one of the first six synagogues in the world to be built while the Temple was still standing. The synagogue at Gamla may be the earliest found in Israel. Close to the synagogue a ritual purification pool (miqweh) was found, one of four serving the residents of the town. At the western end of Gamla there were particularly splendid buildings, apparently the homes of the town's wealthier inhabitants. Among the most impressive buildings there is also an olive press, with a stone ceiling supported by two large arches that have been reconstructed. In the synagogue and in another public building signs of cooking and fires were found, evidence of the period of the siege, when these buildings were used to house the many refugees who fled from Galilee and gathered in the town. In the western section, seven unique coins were found, apparently produced at a local workshop during the rebellion, stamped with a goblet and the inscription "For the redemption of Jerusalem the H[oly]". This find indicates the connection between the people of Gamla and the Temple, and that the Great Revolt was a countrywide, organized rebellion and not just a local uprising. It is noteworthy that even under the hardship of siege, the defenders of Gamla did not forget the purpose of the revolt - to free Jerusalem and the Temple from the Roman yoke.
The village of Dir Keruh from the Byzantine period - the ruins of the Christian village Deir Qeruh, from the 4th – 5th century CE, were found in the reserve and conserved. In the north-eastern corner of the village entire buildings have survived, including a monastery and church with a unique structure.
The plateau area of the Gamla nature reserve is split by the deep canyons of two perennial streams: the Gamla Stream and the Daliyot Stream. The burrowing of the canyons reveals the geology: black basalt outflows laid over white sedimentary rock. Between the basalt deposits it is possible to see a layer of reddish earth that has been "baked" under the lava flow. This layer is impervious to water, and as a result, a series of small springs have formed. An ancient and dormant volcano (Tel Bazak) is in the eastern part of the nature reserve.
The Golan Heights are a basalt plain formed by eruptions of lava from cracks in the earth and from volcanoes. Two perennial streams have carved out beds in the level plain of the Gamla reserve: the Gamla Stream and the Daliyot Stream. Wearing away the hard basalt rock has created deep and craggy canyons, with high waterfalls.
In the streambeds, earlier rocks are also exposed, giving a glimpse into the "geological story" of the Golan Heights: on the upper plateau there are basalt rocks created by the lava flows from volcanoes 0.7 - 1.6 million years ago. Beneath them, the canyons are carved through even earlier basalt from the "basaltic cover" period, 2.8 – 3.7 million years ago. During this period, the lava burst through cracks in the earth, and when there was a thick layer of lava it cooled and solidified slowly, forming the five- and six-sided columns that can be seen in the canyons. Between the basalt deposits a layer of reddish earth can be distinguished. This is soil that formed over the basalt deposit millions of years ago, and was then subjected to the fierce heat of the lava flowing over its surface during the next eruption. This layer is impervious to water, and as a result a series of small springs have formed.
Before the formation of the basalt, sedimentation processes took place in the region in which the alluvial material swept down from the higher areas formed sedimentation rocks - chalk, marl and lime sandstone. The sedimentation rocks are usually concealed beneath the hard, black basalt cover, but in the streambeds the soft, white rocks are exposed.
In the eastern part of the Gamla reserve is an ancient, dormant volcanic peak (Tel Bazak), its slopes covered with tufa and volcanic ash emitted during the volcanic eruptions.
The waters of Gamla Stream come from the Tanuriya springs, which flow year-round on the hillside of the stream's drainage basin. In the winter, the stream is boosted by floodwaters due to rainwater collecting in its tributaries. There is an agreement between the Nature and Parks Authority and the Mey Golan Water Corporation to share the floodwaters in the stream, whereby some of the water is directed to the "Gamla Canal", to the Dvash reservoir.
The waters of the northern Daliyot Stream (called the "Bazelet") also flow towards the reserve, but in modern times their path has been obstructed by the Dvash reservoir dam. In order to maintain the flow in the stream, a channel was excavated in the past to bypass the reservoir, and carry the water from the stream to the reserve without being "caught" in the reservoir. In the winter, after the reservoir has been filled with the floodwaters, the surplus water is directed in an overflow to the nature reserve.
The waters of the southern Daliyot Stream have also been obstructed, by the Shabniya reservoir dam. The agreement between the Nature and Parks Authority and Mey Golan regulates the controlled release of water from the reservoir in order to maintain the flow in the stream downstream of the reservoir, and release of a quantity of floodwater into the stream after the reservoir fills up in the winter.
How to get here: Turn off the Sea of Galilee perimeter road (92) at the Ma'ale Gamla junction, onto road 869. Pass Moshav Ma'ale Gamla and Moshav Kanaf and continue to Daliyot junction. From here, turn left onto road 808, and after approximately 3 km, turn left following the sign to Gamla Nature Reserve.
The nature reserve is about a 15 minute drive from the Sea of Galilee, and 15 minutes from the Yehudiya – Meshushim reserve.
Kiosk, binoculars for hire, observation terraces, picnic tables, partial access for visitors with wheelchairs.
Entry to the nature reserve until one hour before closing time.
Sunday to Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 5 pm Friday and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 4 pm
Sunday to 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 28, child - NIS 14Student - NIS 24Group: (over 30) /Adult – NIS 23, child – NIS 13
In the Gamla Nature Reserve adaptations to make the site accessible to people with disabilities are being made. Adaptations currently in place include: