The Banias Spring Nature Reserve is my favorite spot in Israel year-round. Located in in the Golan, it has the ideal mix of beauty and history. The Spring emerges at the foot of Mount Hermon, Israel’s tallest mountain, and flows through a canyon for 3.5km, eventually leading to the breathtaking Banias Waterfall.
During hot summer days, this is one of my favorite spots to enjoy Israel’s stunning nature. The waterfall flows year round and a hike through the reserve will surprise you with ancient Roman ruins, a flour mill, the beautiful flowing spring and lush woods that shade the area.
A stepped path near the spring climbs to the Banias Cave. Nearby, five niches carved into the cliff wall are a remnant of the temple to Pan, which gave the site its name: Paneas or Pameas (pronounced Banias in Arabic). Remains of a temple built by Herod the Great stand in front of the cave. After Herod’s death, his son Philip inherited this area, and in 2 BCE Philip founded his capital near the Banias Spring, calling it Caesarea Philippi.
Caesarea Philippi became an important Christian pilgrimage destination as the place where Jesus asked the disciples who people said he was. The New Testament records that Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then blessed Simon, saying: “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:16-19).
A loop trail passes Roman and Crusader-period sites. About 150 m along the trail, it crosses the Govta Stream under a Roman bridge. It continues to the hydroelectric power station and the reconstructed, water-powered Matroof flour mill, where Druze pita with labaneh is for sale (my personal favorite treat while wondering the northern country). The Officers Pool, a bit farther along, now a habitat for Capoeta damascena fish, was used by Syrian officers before 1967.
For a nice walk and pieces of history throughout the ages, nothing beats an afternoon at the Banias Nature Reserve. Have you been? Share your pictures with us on our Facebook page.