Peaks of Arbel / Caves of Arbel
by Moshe Friedman
Some of our adventure seeking readers will be interested in a simple but interesting climb outside of Tiberias. The hike is in the peaks of Arbel, situated approximately 10 minutes form the center of the town of Tiberias. From this site you can look down on the Sea of Galilee, or Yam Kinneret, as it is called in Hebrew. If you don't have a private vehicle, you will have to hitch hike, (in Hebrew we say "tramp") to the village of Arbel and head west through the village. Pass a small barn that provides donkey rides. Continue along the path until it branches off to the left. This will take you to the Israel Trail identified by the BLUE and ORANGE bands crossed over a WHITE background. Or just three band (ORANGE, BLUE and WHITE). You may also see a RED band on a WHITE background. This was the old trail marker but they both lead you on the same path.
The trail goes along the cliff edge for about 100 feet (about 30 meters) before it goes down steps carved into the mountain. After about 50 steps, the trail goes along another cliff edge. The Nature Society has provided steel cables attached to the side of the cliff to provide handholds. This leads down to a natural cut in the rock where you see steel rungs embedded into the rocks. It's important to climb down facing the rocks until you reach the ledge below. From here you keep going along the cliff edge, holding on to the steel cables, and work yourself down to the next level. At this point the path switches back in the direction you came from, but at a lower level. Once again we come to steel rungs in the rocks that you take down to a small plain. Walk down the trail onto the path that heads East towards the sea. After walking along this path for less than 10 minutes you will come to the remains of fortified caves. These are the Caves of Arbel.
The village of Arbel is mentioned in connection with the First and Second Temples. During this time the Cohanim [priestly class], had to spend 2 weeks a year serving in the Temple in Jerusalem. A number of stone carvings giving the times of year when the Cohanim from each village (or area) were expected to appear at the Temple, have been found in different places throughout Israel. One of the sights mentioned is the village of Arbel. Later, during the Maccabean Revolt against the Greek/Syrians (164 B.C.E.), the followers of Judah Maccabee fortified these caves and used them to attack the Greek army marching south. In the time of Herod the Great, another revolt started. Once again the farmers of Arbel went down to these caves/fortresses. Inside the caves you will find the remnants of ritual baths used by Jewish inhabitants until the Roman conquest.
The Jewish/Roman historian Josephus Flavius (in Hebrew his name was Yosef ben Matituhu) wrote how the Roman army managed to capture the caves. From two thousand years ago until the mid 19th century, these caves were used as lookout positions. The ruins seen today are mostly from the Ottoman period.
If you have to return to your initial point for your car, take the BLACK path back up the mountain. It is simple rock climbing and no special equipment is needed. Otherwise at the bottom of the path turn left down the mountain. Watch for the Israel Trail. The path eventually takes you down to the Bedouin village of Wadi Hamman. The road leads you to Road 90 and back to Tiberias to your south (right).
The hike should take about 1 ½ to 2 hours. You must take water and a hat. Hiking boots are recommended.
Based on an article in the Safed "Western Settlers' Newsletter." Moshe Friedman is a certified tour guide and medic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; cell phone: 050-417651.