Israel's Good Name

Yarkon National Park

In Central Israel, Israel on July 5, 2015 at 4:53 AM

Following my visit to Migdal Afeq (Mirabel) and then Tel Afeq (Antipatris), I continued on to the Yarkon National Park – the source of the Yarkon River. Being that Tel Afeq is a part of this park, I was able to just slip out the back gate and walk through a field to visit the Yarkon section. Parallel to the trail is a canal which helps direct spring water to the start of the Yarkon, which eventually drains into the Mediterranean Sea some 28 kilometres (17 miles) downstream, at the northern end of Tel Aviv proper.

Map of Tel Afeq (Antipatris) and Yarkon National Park

Map of Tel Afeq (Antipatris) and Yarkon National Park

Along the way I stopped at the water lily ponds where various fish, including catfish, and waterfowl live – the one egret I saw flew off when I got too close. Camera ever-ready, I also scoured the ponds for coypu and mongooses along the water’s edge, but didn’t see any.

Fish in a water lily pond

Fish in a water lily pond

After the lily ponds is the industrial Yarkon pumping station of the Mekorot water company, which has a visitors centre open for groups (free). Supplying the whole Mercaz area of the country with water, the bulk of the Yarkon’s water discharge goes to the pipelines for agricultural and domestic consumption. Only a surprising 0.2% of the springs’ water flows into the Yarkon River – from a total of 200 million cubic metres of water a year.

The Yarkon springs with Tel Afeq from the early to mid-1900's (photo: Library of Congress)

The Yarkon springs with Tel Afeq from the early to mid-1900’s (photo: Library of Congress)

The water from the Jordan River, which originates in the Upper Galilee’s springs and the annual winter runoff from the mountains (especially Mount Hermon), flows into the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) which acts as a natural reservoir. A percentage of that water is then pumped up at the Sapir Pumping Station not far from Capernaum, and then sent along its south-bound path via pressure pipes and the Jordan Canal. Passing several reservoirs, pumping and filtration stations and canals, the water then makes its way to the Yarkon pumping station where the waters are mixed and sent to either the Tel Aviv area or further south to provide the Negev with water. The whole infrastructure is very interesting and was an incredible undertaking and learning all about this actually inspired me to read up on aquifers and water sustainability on my train ride home.

British pillbox

British pillbox

Just beyond the pumping station is the back entrance to the Yarkon park, bordering the south side by still-operational train tracks, with the trail passing under an old bridge. Built in the early 1920’s, the railroad was an important regional development, helping the farmers of nearby Petach Tikva to send citrus harvests to Yafo (Jaffa) for export. In the mid to late 1930’s the British were forced to build a pillbox to guard over the tracks and the bridge from Arab attacks. Today the pillbox is vacant, but the trains thundering by were numerable to say the least.

Passenger train crossing the bridge

Passenger train crossing the bridge

Entering the Yarkon section, I began by walking along the fledgling river and then laid down for a spell to read the park pamphlet I had received earlier and to enjoy the quiet nature resuming life all around me. I scoured the tall eucalyptus and bald cypress trees overhead, hoping to spot a sleeping owl (without success) and then turned my attention to a fish mulching about in the pondweed and hornwort. Following the meandering river, I next came upon two ruins from the Ottoman era along the river bank – a house and a pump structure.

Ottoman house and pump structure along the river

Ottoman house and pump structure along the river

I then looped around the northern end of the park and temporarily left the park via the “Romantic Trail” to go see the Concrete House which was the very first building in Israel to be built of reinforced concrete. Walking on a dirt path next to the Baptist Village I came upon the remains of a concrete house with rebar clearly visible. I naturally assumed that this was the Concrete House marked on the map, took pictures and returned to the park. However, I had stopped at the wrong place, the real Concrete House being some 700 metres (2,300 feet) further along the trail – 0h well. Back at the park, I next visited the al Mir flour mill, one of the largest old mills in the country which operated thirteen pairs of millstones during the Ottoman era.

The al Mir flour mill

The al Mir flour mill

With a quick stop at the Yarkon bleak pool, I was unable to find any of the endangered Yarkon bleak fish in the murky waters and so continued on to the last of the park’s sites: the Qa’sar farm. The farm was originally owned by an Egyptian man in the early to mid-1800’s and then sold to Salim Qa’sar of Jaffa who, in turn, sold it to the Baron Rothschild in 1895 for the benefit of Jewish farmers. Seeing just four stone walls remaining, I made friends with three nice donkeys while I waited for a ride from a gracious park worker to the nearby train station.

Friendly donkeys at the Qa'sar farm

Friendly donkeys at the Qa’sar farm

And that is the end of my exciting trip to some very interesting sites in the centre of the country, a region I hardly explore. Next adventure here I come!

Tel Afeq (Antipatris)

In Central Israel, Israel on June 28, 2015 at 4:45 AM

After leaving the site of my previous blog post, Migdal Afeq (Mirabel), I found myself at the bus stop on the main road just outside of Rosh HaAyin, heading for my next location: Tel Afeq (Antipatris). The summer heat was rather getting to me so I made a quick decision and flagged down a taxi to take me to the nearby national park of Tel Afeq.

Binar Bashi fortress at Tel Afeq

Binar Bashi fortress at Tel Afeq

Dropping me off at the picnic areas, I took the shaded tables as an opportunity to dip into the pastries I had bought earlier that morning in Ramat Gan. It was then that I noticed that my third destination of the day, Yarkon National Park, was actually considered a joined park with Tel Afeq and that the two of them were somewhat connected by a trail through some fields. And so I started my explorations at the dry rain pond and headed for the Roman cardo.

Antipatris' cardo

Antipatris’ cardo

Along the cardo, an ancient main street, I came upon an odeum (a small Greek and Roman theatre building) and then a memorial for the 41 Jewish lives lost to the Alexandroni Brigade is offensive attacks on the Iraqi forces entrenched at both Tel Afeq and the Migdal Afeq area in 1948.

Roman odeum

Roman odeum

Historical remains on the tel extend back to the Chalcolithic period with notable ruins from the Egyptian/Canaanite times and the Roman era. Biblical Aphek is mentioned as well, having been the location of the Philistine camp during two disastrous battles with the Israelites, resulting in the Philistines capturing the Aron (or, Holy Ark of the Covenant). In the Greek period a city by the name of Pagae (“Springs”) was founded, just one of many in a historical timeline, all coveting control over the important Via Maris trade route. Herod created the city of Antipatris, named after his father, during his rule of the Holy Land in the Roman era. Antipatris as he knew it, filled with Jews, was destroyed by Vespasian during the Great Revolt some fifty-odd years later.

Binar Bashi seen from the air in the early 1930's (photo: Library of Congress)

Binar Bashi seen from the air in the early 1930’s (photo: Library of Congress)

Next along the cardo is the Roman forum and then the crown of the tel – the impressive Ottoman fortress known as Binar Bashi.

The southwest tower

The southwest tower

Built between 1572 and 1574, Binar Bashi was the first really important development on Tel Afeq since the existence of Antipatris. During the Crusader period, the land was part of a gift parceled out to Balian of Ibelin by King Fulk of Jerusalem, with castle Mirabel being the regional stronghold. Tel Afeq was reduced to a district estate for the knights of the House of Ibelin. Binar Bashi (originally called Pinar Basi in Turkish, meaning “Head of the Springs”) was a fortified khan commissioned by the son of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Turkish soldier watching me from the window

Turkish soldier watching me from the window

I was rather impressed with the standing of the fortress, especially the octagonal southwest corner tower. As I reached the northwest tower I spotted a raptor sitting on the ruined wall a little ways away. The bird you see below is none other than a steppe buzzard and minutes later he took off and was immediately heckled midair by some crows. Thank you master ornithologist Yoav Perlman for identification, for I am hopeless at Old World raptors.

Steppe buzzard

Steppe buzzard

Returning to the stony ruins, I walked around the excavated and restored remains of what once was an Egyptian governor’s palace lording over the Canaanite royal city after the Egyptian conquest of the Holy Land (which culminated in their victory at Tel Megiddo). The size and quantity of Egyptian-era winepresses at Tel Afeq suggests trade significance for importing wine to the Nile Delta area.

Egyptian governor's palace

Egyptian governor’s palace

Leaving the fortress and its blisteringly hot and mostly unshaded courtyard, I then walked over to the British pumping station complex. Pockmarked by bullet holes in the concrete walls, this building was used by Iraqi soldiers, and subsequent to local victory, by Israeli troops during the War for Independence. Built in the 1930’s, this pumping station was used to provide water for Jerusalem, as well as other local cities, sending the water to the water station in Latrun. With the Yarkon springs being the second most prosperous source of fresh water (after the springs at Tel Dan in the north), the British tapped into it and so do we – the discharge rate being some 200 million cubic metres a year.

British water pumping station

British water pumping station

Looping around the water station, I walked along the slightly overflooded rain pool and enjoyed myself photographing the incredible lush view and the plentiful waterfowls.

Spying on a grey heron through the plants

Spying on a grey heron through the plants

Ready to move on to the next destination, I said farewell to the pied kingfisher near the back gate of the park and began my walk through the adjacent fields alongside the springs and streams at the source of the Yarkon.

Pied kingfisher

Pied kingfisher

Next stop: Yarkon National Park!

Migdal Afeq (Mirabel)

In Central Israel, Israel on June 21, 2015 at 4:18 AM

This past Thursday I went on a three-pronged trip while down in the centre of the country. I began my adventure in Ramat Gan, just outside of Tel Aviv, buying pastries and an iced coffee before hopping on a bus out of the city. I then took another bus which dropped me off near the entrance of Rosh HaAyin, a city bordering the Shomron (Samaria), where I walked a little ways through a construction site, heading for the Crusader castle of Mirabel.

Migdal Afeq (Mirabel)

Migdal Afeq (Mirabel)

Known as either Migdal Afeq or Migdal Tzedek nowadays, the national park is named for either the nearby Biblical Aphek or the Bedouin sheikh al-Sadiq, respectively. I climbed the hill and approached the castle from the south, walking the dirt road. This aerial photo of the castle was taken by Biblewalks, and they graciously allowed me to use it in my post (see also the aerial video tour HERE):

Migdal Afeq from above (photo: Biblewalks)

Migdal Afeq from above (photo: Biblewalks)

I had heard from a friend that the site was under construction and closed to visitors, and hoped that there would be nobody there when I arrived, but, there was, in fact, a lone man holding watch over the ruins.

Inside the castle courtyard

Inside the castle courtyard

I passed the scaffolding-decorated walls and entered the castle’s interior. The following conversation was short and successful with the man returning to sit in a doorway, leaving me to explore Mirabel unhindered. The first thing to really catch my eye was a large lintel stone inscribed with Greek lettering delineating a Byzantine church.

Greek-inscribed lintel

Greek-inscribed lintel

Migdal Afeq served an important role in protecting the ancient trade route from Egypt to Syria, known as the Via Maris. However, whatever stood at Migdal Afeq in those times was only ever a satellite to the much more important Tel Afeq, just a few kilometres to the northwest (although not to be confused with Tel Afeq at Ein Afeq between Akko and Haifa). During the Roman period a Jewish village existed, and during the Great Revolt, was destroyed by Cestius Gallus and the 12th Legion.

Israeli flag flying proud

Israeli flag flying proud

In Crusader times the castle known as Mirabel was constructed after the land was gifted to Balian of Ibelin, the founder of the Ibelin dynasty, by King Fulk of Jerusalem. Interestingly enough, Ibelin is just a corruption of the ancient Jewish Yavne and to this day there is an Arab village near Haifa called I’billin and I wonder if it’s not named after the once-powerful Frankish family. Mirabel was captured by Saladin’s brother in 1187 and the castle was used by the Ayyubid forces until 1191 when Saladin ordered the castle destroyed in preparation for the Third Crusade. Most of the ruins seen today were built by the Ottomans, although some parts (including the keep seen in the photo below) are original Crusader construction – identifiable by the larger ashlars used in building.

The Crusader keep flanked by arched Ottoman rooms

The Crusader keep flanked by arched Ottoman rooms

In the 1800’s, Bedouins settled around the fortress and called their village Majdal al-Sadiq, named after their leader whose domed tomb surrounded by other graves still stands on an adjacent hill.

Sheikh al-Sadiq's tomb

Sheikh al-Sadiq’s tomb

When I was finished exploring the site, being careful around the construction areas, I asked the watchman when he imagined the archaeologists would arrive. I waited around for a bit, taking the time to explore the outside of the castle, passing what seemed to be a water cistern just outside the castle wall. One interesting thing that I saw was this set of old lime kilns with an old quarry in the background. Apparently, the limestone quarried from here was used to build the white stoned-buildings of old Tel Aviv from the 1920’s through the 1940’s.

Old lime kilns with quarries in the background

Old lime kilns with quarries in the background

Returning to the castle’s interior, I greeted some arriving men only to find out that they were the construction crew and their foreman. Just blending in to the environment I was able to learn a little about the reconstruction process of ancient castles.

The healing process

The healing process

At last, I fretted over time lost waiting for the archaeologists to show so I left, headed for the second site on my day’s itinerary: Tel Afeq (Antipatris)

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