On the first day of Chol HaMoed Pesach we took a family trip to Ein Afeq, a nature reserve near the Krayot just north of Haifa. As the hill section of the park is called Tel Afeq, it is often confused with the other Tel Afeq which is in the centre of the country, near Rosh HaAyin. This reserve, Ein Afeq, contains the remains of ancient waterworks (dams, walls and mills) and city ruins which date back to settlement thousands of years ago. That clarified, we drove over to Ein Afeq and began our walk through the park, slightly dismayed at the large crowds.
Starting with the springs, of which there are thirty or so, we immediately caught sight of the Crusader fortress and mill. Built in the mid 1150’s, the fortress of Recordane, together with its flour mills, were acquired by the Hospitallers, a Crusader Military Order. This very fortress was used as a Christian base when fighting Saladin, the powerful sultan of the Ayyubid Empire who defeated the Crusaders in 1187.
Later, in 1228, King Frederick II of Germany (one of the most powerful Christians to partake in the Crusades) used Recordane as a headquarters whilst negotiating a truce with the Ayyubid sultan Al-Kamil, effectively ending the Sixth Crusade. Even within the ranks of the Crusaders, Recordane and its mills were hotly contested between the military orders and, after intervention by the pope and a treaty signed at Akko in 1262, the Hospitallers built another fortress with mills nearby, of which just stone foundations remain. To this day the records are murky, no one knows precisely which mills and fortresses at Ein Afeq were owned by the Templars.
The mills of Recordane themselves, powered by the stream, were sporadically operating up until 1925. Initially the lead supplier of flour for Akko, the regional Crusader capital, the mills were destroyed by the Mamlukes in the 1300’s following the Crusaders final defeat and banishment from the Levant. Rebuilt by the Ottomans, these very mills were instrumental in providing the Turkish troops with flour during WWI. When the British took control of the region, they used the waterworks to direct water to new oil refineries. Due to Arab rioting in the late 1930’s, the British built a guard post atop the fortress and from the rooftop beside the concrete post I took this photo of the waterworks below:
Leaving the fortress we began the walk around the reserve, exploring the wetlands and the animals that call it home. The first we came across was a nutria (also known as a coypu), an alien species from South America valued for its fur. It seemed very accustomed to humans and allowed me to get real close, just look at those evil hazel eyes glinting in the sun as it eats the marsh vegetation:
We then reached the far north side of the reserve’s trails and I spotted water buffalo resting under a tree, escaping the midday sun. Seeing the nutria and the water buffalo instantly reminded me of our trip to the Hula Valley to watch the bi-annual crane migration.
In some of the ponds on the reserve, large numbers of African sharptooth catfish frenzied at the murky water’s surface, eager for a quick snack from the human visitors. Here are two somewhat frightening facts about these fish: one, they can reach a maximum length of 1.7 metres (5 feet 7 inches) weighing up to 60 kilograms (130 pounds) and two, they can crawl on dry land to find a new watery home. Lock your doors, people!
Along with the nutrias, water buffalo and catfish, there lives brilliantly-coloured damselflies:
We reached the floating bridge and began to walk over the Great Lake (not such a “great” lake for one who grew up in Michigan).
This section I particularly enjoyed; the winding wooden platform, the periodic rushes and reeds, the dark shapes in the water materialising as catfish, tilapia and Caspian turtles.
With our feet back on dry land, we returned to the entrance, passing the beautiful, placid Moorhen Pool and the concrete British Mandate pumping station.
Joining the myriads of visitors, we sat down at the picnic area and bought some popsicles from the onsite vendor. After a little rest, under the shade of trees, we headed back to the car. Not wanting to regret anything, I made a last minute decision to quickly climb Tel Afeq to see if there was anything to see. I did just that and all I saw was a butterfly and the view from the hilltop, none of the thousands of years of history; Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Roman and Crusader.