The Judean Foothills separate the Judean Hills and the coastal plains in Israel and the West Bank. Their appearance resembles that of a wave-like formation, creating scenic views from peaks all over the area. Between the thousands of hills–some of which rise to 400 meters above sea level–are large valleys and wide open spaces. Thanks to their geological makeup and the many historical markers that are scattered among the mountains and valleys, the Foothills are a terrific spot for hiking.
One such location that you can check out is at the Adullam Grove Nature Reserve in Park Brittania Forest. Many of the trees and trails you’ll find here were funded by Friends in Britain, and the JNF. Your starting point should be at Mitzpe Masua (מצפה משואה), an observation tower that has been used to spot fires throughout the pine tree-filled forest over time. Mitzpe Masua is approxomately 372 meters above sea level. To get there, take route 38 south from Beit Shemesh until you reach the signs to Mitzpe Masua. Admission to the park is free.
Mountain peaks like the one Mitzpe Masua is located on have played an important role in historical events that have taken place in this region for centuries. When the Babylonians conquered Israel in 586 BCE, one of their main goals was to take over Jerusalem and sack Solomon’s Temple. In an effort to better defend Jerusalem, Jews living in the area used Azeka and Lachish, two mountain cities, as the first line of defense to Jerusalem. The two cities managed to communicate effectively and quickly thanks to the fire beacons that they had set up on their respective hilltops. Unfortunately, this defense system didn’t end up working out for the Jewish people, as the Babylonians succeeded in overtaking Jerusalem and destroying the Temple.
Many hikes start from this location. Feel free to try any of them out, but we recommend hiking on the red trail. You’ll start this easy hike out by walking through some wooded areas. Make sure to wear shoes with good traction, as there are a few steep parts of the trail, going both uphill and downhill. As you pass through the forest, keep you eyes out for any number of lizards, who frequent the area and can often be spotted crossing the path.
The trail will take you east. Cross the street carefully when you reach it and continue on your way up the hill that you’ll see up ahead. Once you make it up the hill, you will have arrived at the site of several ancient dwelling caves that Jews used to escape from the Roman army some 2,000 years ago. One of these Jews was Simon Bar Kokhba, who led what’s known today as the Bar Kokhba Revolt between 132-135 CE. While the revolt had disastrous ramifications for the Jewish people living in Judea at that time, Bar Kokhba’s legacy is celebrated during Lag Ba’Omer, the annual Jewish holiday during which bonfires are lit to symbolize the bonfires that the Bar Kokhba rebels lit on the mountain tops to communicate.
You’ll find several ancient tombs and tunnel systems in this area that were once used by people like the Bar Kokhba rebels. Bring a flashlight to fully enjoy the experience of walking through the tombs, caves, and tunnels. Check out the tombs when you have the chance to walk through them. Once you’re done here, proceed on your way and switch to the green trail.
Columbarium Cave will be on your route. Walk inside the well-lit cave and take in the site of the many dove holes carved into the wall. The large stone cave looks like a work of art, but it is assumed that it once served as a base for messenger pigeons, a room to collect bird-droppings in for fertilizer, or a good place to find birds for food.
Later on, in the “bell cave,” you can crawl through an ancient tunnel system and get a sense of where the cave-dwellers lived. As you’ll see, the tunnel system connects several rooms to each another. Cave rooms had many different purposes when they were in use; some were used to store food, oil, and water, while others were used for living. Some rooms and tunnels were even used to divert and confuse the enemy in case of attack. The crawl should take you about twenty minutes. Follow the arrows in the tunnel, and you’ll end up back in the space that you started at.
Once you leave the cave, follow the trail until you reach the parking lot. This is another trail that requires two cars; park one at the starting point and one at the end in order to avoid having to walk all the way back to get your ride.
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Adam Schrag 2015