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Banias Springs

Photo by Robert Bye

The Greek god Pan, after whom the place was named – Panyas (in Arabic: Banyas) – was ritually worshipped in the region of the nature reserve. At the front of the Banyas cave there are remains of a temple built by King Herod in honor of the god Pan.
Close to the Banyas spring, a broad staircase rises to the Banyas cave. Five niches carved out of the cliff next to the cave are the remains of a shrine built by the Greeks in the 2nd century BC in honor of the god. The Greek god Pan – half man and half goat – was the god of rural areas, shepherds and their flocks. He lived in caves, where his rituals took place, and he was known to play a reed flute.

At the front of the cave are the remains of the impressive white marble temple built here by King Herod. Herod's son and heir, Philip II, established a city which he named Caesarea Philippi, in order to distinguish it from Caesarea Maritima, on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. In his time the city flourished and gained an important status – coins were minted there, temples, bath-houses, theaters and other public buildings were built. In the Byzantine and Muslim periods the city declined in status. No findings have been found of these periods. In the period of the Crusades a fortress was built at Banyas, the remains of which were found at archaeological digs. In this period Banyas passed a number of times between the Crusaders and the Muslims until Nur-a-Din conquered it in 1164.

A Mamluk village was built on the ruins of the Crusader castle. The rural settlement of Banyas continued to exist until the 20th century and was abandoned in the 6-Day War.

One of the most significant events of Christianity took place at Banyas: this is where Petros Simon received from Jesus the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, which are the symbol of the Vatican (Matthew XVII, 13-20), and that is why the Banyas is a place of pilgrimage for Christians from all over the world.

Nahal Hermon is rich in animal species, and is unique for its animal populations some of which come from Africa and some from Europe. Among them are some rare species, such as the Hermon snail (Helix pachya), the red salamander (Pseudotriton ruber), the common pipistrelle (small European bat), otters and rock hyrax.

The Banyas nature reserve is rich in animal species and constitutes a meeting place between northern species, such as the otter, and southern species such as the rock hyrax. The latter is one of the most widely distributed animals in the reserve, and in winter whole families can be seen sunning themselves on the large rock falls.

Some of the animals in the reserve are defined as endangered species, among them the red salamander and the common pipistrelle.

Of the mammals, there are deer, foxes, badgers and others, and among the nocturnal animals are the wild boar, jackals, martens, Mt. Hermon field mouse (Apodemus hermonensis), as well as many kinds of rodents and bats.

The bat population that hunts for food in the Banyas springs area is particularly rich in insect-eating species; bat studies conducted by the Authority in the last decade found 11 varieties of bats.

Among the birds flocks of rock pigeons can be seen nesting in the nooks and crannies of the cave of the spring. The common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and the rock thrush are also well represented. Many warblers live among the vegetation on the banks of the gorge, among them the bush warbler, the black-headed Sardinian warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), the wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) and the graceful prinia (Prinia gracilis).

In the water of the stream live many animals, some of them in greater numbers than in other places due to the quality and temperature of the water. Among the species of fish found here are the Levantine scraper (Capoeta damascina), which propagates in the "officers' pool" where the water temperature is higher than in other parts of the stream; the Jordan loach (Nemacheilus insignis), Garra rufa (also known as the "doctor fish" and "nibble fish"), as well as snails, such as the Melanopsis snail and Theodoxis Jordani. The Hermon Snail, the largest of Israel's snails, also lives in the nature reserve. This snail disappeared from the Banyas at one time, probably due to amateur collecting, but its population was restored to the area in 1999.

Along the stream grow Oriental plane trees and the common willow, and on the slope there are oak trees, Officinal Storax ("Snowdrop bush"), and a variety of Mediterranean woodlands and scrub plants that change with the seasons.

The glory of Nahal Hermon is its river-bank woodland, the principal trees of which are the Oriental plane tree, the common willow, the Syrian ash tree (Fraxinus syriaca) and the European nettle tree also known as the Mediterranean hackberry (Celtis australis).

Plane trees and willows are typical of streams that flow all year round. The plane tree is easily identified by its large hand-shaped leaves that drop off in winter, and its spherical, long-haired fruit. The most prominent trees in the reserve are the Oriental plane tree, reaching up to 15 meters high, and the willow whose red-hued roots are often exposed. The Syrian ash tree also grows alongside streams, and can be recognized by the serrated edges of its leaves.

At the end of winter and in spring, the cliff above the Pan shrine is covered with an abundance of Maltese Cross Ricotia (Ricotia lunaria), Hyacinth Squil (Scilla hyancinthoides) and a multitude of other spring flowers – rich cliff vegetation that exploits every nook and cranny. Here are the spreading pellitory (Parietaria judaica), the intermediate navelwort (Umbilicus intermedius) and ferns, such as the scaly spleenwort (Ceterach officinarum), the Welsh polypody (Polypodium cambricum), the rigid buckler fern (Dryopteris villarii) (a rare species) and the lip fern (Cheilanthes Vellea). In the waterfall area carpets of blue lupines and common cyclamen can be seen. In autumn the amaryllis (Vagaria parviflora) and various species of crocus are in bloom.

Some trees planted by humans grow in the nature reserve, among them the silver poplar and certain orchard trees.

The spring area is rich in water plants: hairy willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), hemp-agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum), brook pimpernel (Veronica anagallis-aquatica), branched bur-reed (Sparganium erectum) (a very rare species) and the common reed. Other vegetation grows on the slopes above the channel, far from the effect of the flowing water. Here we can find typical representatives of the Mediterranean woodlands: the common oak, the terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus), the Mount Tavor oak (Quercus ithaburensis), the snowdrop bush (Officinal Storax) and the laurel tree.

Things to See:

  • The Banyas Waterfall – the Banyas is the most powerful waterfall in Israel – it falls 10 meters with enormous force and noise into a beautiful pool surrounded by vegetation. You can view the waterfall (and get wet from the splashing water) from the well-built wooden boardwalk. The noise of the flowing water and the spectacular sight make this a most enjoyable experience.
  • The Hanging Trail – the Nature and Parks Authority has made part of the stream accessible by means of the “hanging trail”, 100 meters long, along which you can walk close to the rushing waters.
  • The Shrine and Cave of Pan – close to the Banyas spring a broad pathway of steps ascends to the Cave of Pan. The five niches cut into the cliff next to the cave are the remains of the shrine of the Greek god Pan, for which the place is named – Panyas (in Arabic – Banyas). At the front of the cave there are the remains of a temple built by King Herod to the god Pan.
  • The Matruf Flour Mill – this is an active flour mill which still serves the villagers of Mas’ada and En Kiniya, and there are other ruined flour mills along the stream (the Um Ra’i mill near Nahal Sa’ar, and the Al-Mahadeh and Sab’ah mills near the waterfall), with Roman and Crusader architectural remains.