5 Best Sights in Mount Gilboa, Lower Galilee

Beit Alfa

In 1928, members of Kibbutz Hefziba were digging an irrigation trench when they discovered this ancient synagogue, now part of Beit Alfa Synagogue National Park. Their tools hit a hard surface, and excavation uncovered a multicolored mosaic floor, almost entirely preserved. The art is somewhat stylized and childlike, but that is part of its charm. An Aramaic inscription dates the building to the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian in the second quarter of the 6th century AD; a Greek inscription credits the workmanship to one Marianos and his son, Aninas. In keeping with Jewish tradition, the synagogue faces Jerusalem, with an apse at the far end to hold the ark. The building faithfully copies the architecture of the Byzantine basilicas of the day, with a nave and two side aisles, and the doors lead to a small narthex and a onetime outdoor atrium. Stairs indicate there was once an upper story.

Classic Jewish symbols in the top mosaic panel leave no doubt that the building was a synagogue: a holy ark flanked by lions, a menorah, and a shofar (ram's horn). The middle panel, however, is the most intriguing: it's filled with human figures depicting the seasons, the zodiac, and—even more incredible for a Jewish house of worship—the Greek sun god, Helios, driving his chariot across the sky. These images indicate more liberal times theologically, when the prohibition against making graven images was perhaps not applied to two-dimensional art. The last panel tells the story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son Isaac, captioned in Hebrew. Take time to watch the lighthearted but informative film. Allocate 45 minutes for a visit here.

Gan Hashlosha National Park

This beautiful oasis is a national treasure, popular with picnickers and swimmers alike. Lush palm trees and green lawns draw swarms of people who come for the day to relax. The spring water maintains a constant, year-round temperature of 28°C, or 82°F. As the stream ambles around the property, it has been widened into pools in some areas; there are also some artificial waterfalls. Lifeguards are on duty. Facilities include changing rooms for bathers, two snack bars, and a restaurant.


This four-acre zoo of exclusively Australian wildlife has kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, kookaburras, emus, and other exotic birds, some of which are available for petting. There's also a reptile enclosure and a bird aviary. English-speaking guides are on hand for groups.

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Ma'ayan Harod

At the foot of Mount Gilboa is this small national park with huge eucalyptus trees and a big swimming pool fed by a spring. Today it's a bucolic picnic spot, but almost 3,200 years ago, Gideon, the reluctant hero of the biblical book of Judges, organized his troops to fight a Midianite army that had invaded from the desert. At God's command—in order to emphasize the miraculous nature of the coming victory—Gideon dismissed more than two-thirds of the warriors and then, to reduce the force still more, selected only those who lapped water from the spring. Equipped with swords, ram's horns, and flaming torches concealed in clay jars, this tiny army of 300 divided into three companies and surrounded the Midianite camp across the valley in the middle of the night. At a prearranged signal, the attackers shouted, blew their horns, and smashed the jars, revealing the flaming torches, whereupon the Midianites panicked and fled, resulting in an Israelite victory.

The spring has seen other armies in other ages. It was here in 1260 that the Egypt-based Mamluks stopped the invasion of the hitherto invincible Mongols. In the 1930s, the woods above the spring hid Jewish self-defense squads training in defiance of British military law.

Park of Springs

Three beautiful springs and a stream are the attractions at this nature park. Electric carts and bicycles are available to rent but not necessary to enjoy a swim or hike. You can also watch the birds of many varieties that make this nature preserve their home and a migration waypoint.

Rte. 669, 10803, Israel
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