En Hemed National Park

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A pearl of nature in the center of the country

Among the winding bends of the road to Jerusalem, in an enchanting hidden corner, lies En Hemed National Park. Amid verdant expanses to refresh the soul, between the flowing waters of the Kesalon Stream, the channels and pools, and the shady paths, is a historical jewel – "Aqua Bella" (Beautiful Waters) -  a well-preserved Crusader farm that tells the story of the place.

 

points of interest


·         Picnic area and playground

·         Crusader castle and the remains of the farm

·         Closed recycled stream water system

·         Burial cave

 

Details:


·         Picnic area and playground - the park is intended mainly for recreation and tourism, and therefore includes a large expanse of lawns, picnic tables under the shade of the trees, toilets and water faucets, and play apparatus for the enjoyment of children and their parents. The apparatus is accessible for people with disabilities. Music and cultural events are held here throughout the year, attracting large audiences.

·         Crusader fortress and remains of an agricultural farm - in the southern part of the park is a fortified building from the Crusader period, which appears to have served a farm. The ancient remains have been taken care of and preserved, adding a mysterious and magical historical aspect to the park.

·         Recycled flow of stream water - a closed system collects the spring water flowing through the streambed of Kesalon Stream and brings it back to the starting point. This system is intended to prevent the stream from drying up during rainless winters and drought years.

·         Path to the burial cave - a circular walking trail leading to the First Temple era burial cave. The cave is to the south of the stream.

 

Lookout points


·         The fortified Crusader building and remains of the farm, illustrating ancient agriculture.

·         Walking trail leading to an ancient burial cave and, further on, to a beautiful view of the Jerusalem hills.

 

Identity card


Status

The National Park was declared in 1969.

 

Reasons for declaration

·         Within the park is one of the springs feeding Kesalon Stream.

·         The remains of the fortified Crusader farm of Aqua Bella

·         Nature reserve of ancient oak trees

 

Geographic location


The national park is to the south of the Tel Aviv Jerusalem highway, east of the villages of En Rafa and En Nakuba, and opposite the village of Abu Gosh and Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim.  

 

Conservation activities of the Nature and Parks Authority


The Nature and Parks Authority has arranged a recreation area in the park for the benefit of visitors, with a picnic area, playground, and large parking lot.

Within the park there is a circular walking trail, accessible to people with disabilities and baby buggies. The trail begins close to the entrance to the park, and passes through the main points of interest.

The Nature and Parks Authority is taking measures to conserve and maintain the Crusader fortress, taking care to preserve the original elements.

Throughout the year, musical and cultural events are held in the open areas of the park for the general public.

 

Wildlife


The clear water attracts wildlife, and En Hemed National Park is known as the home of many songbirds, as well as a variety of mammals and rodents.

The park and its natural environment have a rich diversity of wild animals, passing through the park and enjoying the food and water found there. Foxes (vulpes vulpes) and jackals (Canis aureus) are the main mammals seen here and there, crossing the park. In the upper section of the park, where there are fewer visitors, there are signs of activity of other mammals, such as the porcupine (Hystrix), as well as small rodents. The aerial arena is a lively scene. Living in the fortress is a population of fruit bats (Chiroptera), and over the years the sources of water have attracted many songbirds. The Syrian woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus), the European robin (Erithacus rubecula) and white-throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis), the western yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava) and the white wagtail (Motacilla alba), the Palestine sunbird (Cinnyris osea), and others make the area colorful and joyful, and their voices can be heard throughout the park. When many visitors began to enjoy the park, in their wake came the crows (Corvus) and jays (Garrulus), followed by the jackdaws (Corvus monedula), omnivorous songbirds from the crow family, and for them, the park is one big restaurant!

 

Flora


The diversity of flora in En Hemed National Park is a wonderful combination of natural wild plants and others planted by man, and thanks to this combination the park is a botanical beauty spot, as well as a popular recreation site in the heart of nature.

En Hemed is green all year round. The little valley is enveloped in the vegetation that is typical of the area, and the variety and abundance attract the eye. The Jerusalem hills are characterized by Mediterranean woodland. In the southern valley of the park this natural woodland still exists, and includes trees such as the Palestine oak (Quercus calliprinos), terebinth (Pistacia palaestina), and Mt Atlas mastic (Pistacia atlantica), Mediterranean buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides), strawberry tree (Arbutus andrachne), and officinal styrax (Styrax officinalis), alongside climbing ivy (Hedera), and bushes such as rock rose (Cistus), sage (Salvia), wild marjoram (Majorana syriaca), weaver's broom (Spartium junceum) - whose flowers are a bright yellow, and lilac chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus). All these are accompanied by trees planted by man, such as the Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), the poplar (Populus), enormous old Oriental plane trees (Platanus orientalis) and cypresses (Cupressus), which add to the lushness of the surroundings. In the area of the fortress at En Hemed there are the remains of ancient agriculture, including old orchard trees such as the olive and carob, almond and fig, pomegranate, apple and pear, as well as strawberry, loquat and quince trees, and even sumac bushes (Rhus coriaria), from which the spice is produced.

Alongside the park the small nature reserve of Aqua Bella, has been declared, on an area of 8.5 dunams, in which there is a plot of ancient Palestine oaks, the largest of their kind in the Jerusalem hills.

Winter and spring are the most beautiful seasons in the park, when the seasonal flowers bloom in carpets of narcissi (Narcissus tazetta), cyclamen (Cyclamen), anemones (Anemone) and buttercups (Ranunculus), and predominantly, the lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) - this is the only flowering area in the center of the country where the celandine flowers in vast swathes. In spring, various orchids poke out here, such as the early spider orchid (Ophrys transhyrcana). 

 

History


The Crusaders were another link in the long chain of conquerors and rulers passing through the land of Israel and leaving their mark. The Crusaders came to the country at the end of the 11th century, waging campaigns of conquest and bloody battles, but also bringing a new style of building from Europe.

 

Most of the wars in ancient times were religious wars, and the same was true in the Middle Ages. In 1095 Pope Urbanus II initiated the idea of the crusade to the Holy Land, a crusade intended to free the Christian holy sites from the Muslims, and protect the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. At that time, Europe was ripe and ready for this conceptual revolution, and four years later, in 1099, the first of the Crusaders reached Jerusalem and established the first Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. 90 years later they were defeated by the Muslims, but the Crusaders came back and conquered the coastal strip, continuing to rule there for almost 100 years, until in 1291 the last of the Crusaders were pushed out of the land of Israel.

The Crusaders left a deep mark on the countries they ruled, in the form of the many fortresses that they built in mediaeval European style, at around 80 strategic points across their kingdom. Among other things, the Crusaders built fortified farms controlling the agricultural lands given to the families of the nobility or to the Crusader orders. Research and architectural mapping show that the building at En Hemed was built by the Crusaders in the middle of the 13th century, in the days of King Fulk of Anjou, and was given to the Order of the Hospitalers - an order specializing in medical services and hospitality.

The name Aqua Bella appears in a document 1168 in the context of offering the place to the King of Hungary, but in practice it remained in the hands of the Hospitalers and was apparently used as a farm. At the same time, it has been suggested that it was used as a convalescent home for members of the order, and a vacation site for its knights.

On the basis of many Crusader sites built on the road to Jerusalem (in order to secure the road and the water along the way), Arab villages were built in the following years, and the building at En Hemed was given the name "Deir el-Banat" – the girls' house. The name may indicate that the building served as a school for girls or a convent for women, but this is not very likely. 

 

Archaeology


En Hemed National Park is home to the impressive remains of a Crusader fortress. A farm from the same period was found alongside the fortress, as well as man-made ponds.

Most of the archaeological remains in the park are from the Crusader period, including a fortified building and the remains of a farm. The beautiful fortified building gives us a glimpse into a period of time a thousand years ago. The square building has two stories and is about 1000 m² in area. Some of the foundations of the fortress were built on bedrock, and others were dug into the rock, and so in some places (to the north and the west) the second story is at ground level. Construction of the fortress was completed all at the same time, and chisel marks can be seen in the stones used to build the walls. These marks resemble decorations, and were apparently the signature of the stonemasons, used to identify the mason working at the site and calculate his output, which was the basis for paying his wage.

The main entrance gate into the building was closed in the past by a heavy door, and the signs left by the original bolt of the gate can still be seen. The gate led into an inner courtyard, which was actually paved with bedrock. From the courtyard, an open staircase led to the second story, and from there into three long barrel-vaulted spaces (a vault in the shape of a horizontal half-cylinder): the northern hall; the southern hall, with a south-facing façade wall, which is preserved to a height of 12 m, and has column capitals and bases, as well as the remains of an olive press; and the western room, which is covered with debris and fallen rocks, and is not exposed at all. In the upper story the remains of a small tower can be seen, in which the narrow embrasures, the arrow slits characteristic of Crusader buildings, have been preserved. These embrasures were intended for looking out to watch for the arrival of the enemy. One of the conjectures is that the tower served as a means of communication between this fortress and the neighboring fortresses.

One of the characteristics of Crusader buildings is the construction of thick walls, in this case approximately 2 m thick, of hewn ashlar blocks, with the spaces between the blocks filled in with a mixture of earth, stones and lime. In engineering terms, Crusader construction is based on heavy walls with spaces between them, and barrel-vaulted or cross-vaulted spaces for maximum support. The roofs were also made with an infill of earth and lime, and in order to prevent continuing damage and stop the processes of destruction, the roofs were covered with sheets of bitumen insulation.

Today the fortress is exposed to the ravages of time and climate. The stones are being eroded, the walls are cracking, and the collapse requires urgent conservation work. In recent years, extensive work has been carried out to reinforce the walls and insulate the roofs. The gaps between the stones and the cracks have been filled in, and special elements in the building have been restored, such as the apertures, capitals, stairs, and so on. In order to preserve the building and its characteristics, the conservators made use of the original materials, and used methods that preserve the original working methods. For example, lime was preferred over cement, and iron was not used.

 

As mentioned, the fortress served an agricultural farm, evidence of which can be seen in the ancient terraces and orchard trees. The abundance of water supported the agricultural crops, and advanced hydrological and technological knowledge enabled the local residents to expand the water reservoirs by digging out channels from the springs, carrying the water to natural rock pools or ponds built or carved in the rock to store the water. These ponds can still be seen. One of the conjectures in connection with the choice of this location to build a fortress is that the fortress was intended to secure the water sources on the way to Jerusalem, in which case engaging in agriculture at a site with such abundant water is almost to be taken for granted. 

 

Hydrology


En Hemed National Park extends along 600 m of Kesalon Stream. The stream starts to the east of the park, in the hilly area of Mevasseret Zion, passes through this hilly area, along way collecting spring water, and flows onward to Soreq Stream.

One of the attractions of En Hemed National Park is the water that flows through it all year round. The water system that is formed here is based on the local geological structure and on the types of rock in the area. Kesalon Stream is a large gorge, starting out in the hills near Mevasseret Zion – the hills of Bet Surik and Har Adar – and a 600 m section of it passes through En Hemed National Park and has become an integral part of it. Although this is a relatively short section, it seems to be the most beautiful part of the stream, and certainly the most plentiful in water.

On its way westwards, the stream has carved through the local rock, eroding the permeable layer (dolomite) and revealing the impermeable rock (marlstone), where the percolation stops. When this layer was exposed, the water trapped on it flowed out and created "layer springs" (because they rise from the underground impermeable rock deposit). The springs at En Hemed (revealed and concealed) do not have an impressive output (up to 12 m³ per hour), and the same is true of most of the springs in the Judean hills. The reason for this is the topography. The divided structure of the region and the types of rock in it do not enable efficient collection of rainwater, and so the springs produce small quantities of water.

In the past, the farmers found ways of increasing the quantity of flowing water – next to the spring they dug out a deep channel, exposing and increasing the surface of the water-bearing rock. Thanks to these channels, the quantity of water collected increased, and much of it pooled into ponds – either built or carved out. In En Hemed National Park there are a number of springs where the channel method has been used. In the upper part of the park there are two small springs, and one spring is under the road leading to the villages of En Rafa and En Nakuba. This spring flows into a channel that is 8 m long! The local residents, Jews and Arabs alike, attribute unique healing properties to the clear water of the spring, such as increasing male potency, and giving birth to sons, and it is considered to be pure water suitable for baking matzos for Passover.

Alongside the geological aspect, the climatic aspect also has an impact on the water system in the park. Annual precipitation in the Jerusalem hills is between 600 and 800 mm. The rainwater contributes to enriching the groundwater (the mountain aquifer), and in the winter, when there are strong precipitation events, surface run-off also forms. The flow of the springs in the park depends on the annual rainfall, since the drainage basins are small. At times of drought and in dry winters, the springs used to dry up almost completely, and in order to prevent harm to the site and nature, human intervention was required. To this end, a closed water system was built - recycling the water and delivering it back into the flow in a circular cycle. At the western, lower end of the park a storage pool was built, collecting the water flowing in the stream. From there, it is pumped upwards and pushed back to the start of the flow channel. Since this is spring water, its excellent quality is preserved and it is used for irrigation. 

 

Geology​


Soil structure and geological configurations have a decisive influence on fauna and flora, the landscape and the water regime. In this way, the geology has affected the bedrock in the area of the Jerusalem hills and the formation of springs in the area of En Hemed.

The unique landscape of the Jerusalem hills was formed as a result of geological activity. The Ramalla anticline and Jerusalem syncline are responsible for shaping the topographic expanse, in addition to the types of bedrock formed over the years, in particular the maritime sedimentary rocks that are characteristic of the entire backbone of the central mountain - limestone, dolomite, marlstone, chalk and flint, each from a different epoch. The rocks are "laid" one over another in layers, like a cake. The large quantities of rainfall in the region have also contributed to shaping the landscape, and have helped the natural processes of wear and erosion, and the burrowing of streams exposing the different layers of rock. The penetration of water in the rock strata varies according to the composition of the strata and the degree of cracking - some of the strata are permeable to water, while others are impermeable, and in the depths of the ground the impermeable strata create the mountain aquifer.

The Jerusalem hills are characterized by hard limestone, called dolomite, beneath which are impermeable strata called marlstone. When the soil around En Hemed National Park was studied, a unique rock configuration was revealed that has been named the "Soreq configuration". In this case, the rock is characterized by alternating strata of hard dolomite, in shades of yellow, and soft marlstone. The depth of the configuration is around 180 m, and it has been exposed over the years, as noted, because of natural processes of wear and erosion, the burrowing of streams, and also as a result of geological activity and ground movement. In many places where it has been exposed in the Judean hills, this configuration has created a landscape of rock steps, on which the majority of the agricultural terraces have been built by man. Over the Soreq configuration is another configuration – the "Kesalon configuration", also made of hard dolomite, but in shades of grey. This dolomite is typical of cliffs.

In this changing landscape the different rock configurations have a considerable effect on the water regime. In the Jerusalem hills, more than 100 springs rise, the majority of them small. En Hemed is one of them, and it rises over the clayey marlstone that is found in the depths of the earth.  




How to get here:

On Road 1 (Tel Aviv - Jerusalem), take the Hemed interchange (between Shoresh Junction and Har'el / Mevasseret Zion Junction) and turn south for a few dozen meters.

10 minutes from Jerusalem.

30 minutes from Tel Aviv.

Thanks to the location of the park, it is possible to relax on its lawns before going up to Jerusalem, or on the way back from the city.

​Don't miss:

The Judean Hills and Jerusalem Guidance Center invites you to guided tours of En Hemed National Park on the subject of:

·         "In the beginning" - the creation of the world in seven stations

·         "Nature's right to water"

To reserve a tour, please call: 02-6232191 

 

Other attractions?

An abundance of wildflowers in season, including the lesser celandine, which flowers particularly profusely in the park, beautiful shedding of leaves in the fall, floodwaters during strong rainfall.

Lawns, picnic areas, Crusader fortress, walking trail, playground

Length of visit: 

1 hour – all day

Best season: All year round

 Opening hours

Last entry to the park is one hour before closing time

Summer:

Sunday - Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 5 pm

Fridays and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 4 pm

Winter:

Sunday - Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 4 pm

Fridays 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

Contact us

Telephone: 02-5342741

Email: gl.En-hemed@npa.org.il

Further details on activities and tours, for groups only, can be obtained from the Central District Guidance Unit at 08-6220835

​Entrance fee

Individuals: Adult - NIS 22, child – NIS 10

Group (over 30): Adult - NIS 19, child – NIS 8

Overnight camping

For groups of over 100 people, by advance arrangement only:

Prices for overnight camping:

Regular: Adult – NIS 42, child – NIS 32

Subscribers: Adult – NIS 27, child – NIS 22

Students in a school framework: NIS 25

* The campground accepts groups of a minimum of 100 people. Only on days when the campground is open for groups that have made reservations in advance, individuals and families may also be admitted - by advance arrangement only.

 

Dogs may be brought into the park, but must be kept on a lead.​


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    En Hemed National Park