Israel's Good Name

Nachal Soreq & Palmachim

In Central Israel, Israel on April 8, 2018 at 5:25 AM

Just over a month ago I went on a Friday adventure with my friends Adam and Efrat. We had four destinations planned, covering interests such as botany and archaeology. Adam and I set out from Givat Shmuel and were picked up by Efrat in Rishon L’Tzion, and together we began the trip. Our first destination was the wildflower-covered Chumra Hill located on Road 4311 just before reaching Road 4.

Tel Aviv stork’s bill (photo Efrat Guli)

We pulled onto the dirt access road and parked atop the hill, surrounded by the spring blossoms. Knowing that it was the height of iris season, we came to see the dark purple coastal irises, and we were not disappointed. Here and there we spotted clusters of dark iris flowers, looking quite distinct in the blanket of red, yellow and blue flowers. We briefly explored the graffitied ruins of what seems to be a British Mandate-era house and made a circular loop of the hill, admiring and photographing the many species of wildflowers.

Coastal iris (photo Efrat Guli)

Leaving Chumra Hill, we headed over to Nachal Soreq, just minutes away on the other side of Road 4. We first attempted to explore the northern side, but were informed by some official-looking folk that the site was undergoing an ecological renovation and is temporarily closed. Instead, we parked at the southern side and began our walk alongside the calm, murky-watered stream.

Syrian woodpecker (photo Adam Ota)

It had rained earlier in the week, so the trails were rather muddy, which provided tell-tale signs of the wildlife visiting the area in the form of footprints. Even the occasional frog provided entertainment, jumping into the trail puddles as we approached.

Walking the sandy trails (photo Efrat Guli)

We continued along the stream until the rushes blocked our view of the water and the trail morphed into a dry, sandy path set among plant-covered dunes. It was quite a drastic change of scenery but we stuck with it knowing that there are some interesting ruins to see further along the way. There wasn’t much nature to see, other than some stonechats and other regular birds for the time and place, but the location was interesting enough.

Old well (photo Adam Ota)

Before long we reached the first ruins, which appear to be Ottoman-era antilia wells, long since filled in with sand. These wells would have served to provide water for pilgrims to the nearby holy site, the tomb of Nabi Rubin. Even though I had researched the area a wee bit in advance and knew that there was this tomb, it wasn’t until I was staring at the building and the painted Hebrew name “Reuven ben Yaakov,” that I realised this was meant to be the grave of Reuben, the eldest of the Children of Israel.

Reverse side of the grave

We entered the rectangular complex from the northeast corner, and explored the interior. Having the appearance of a traditional Muslim maqam (shrine), with the courtyard, large trees, arched structures and mihrab (prayer niche), it makes sense that this complex was a Muslim holy site for many hundreds of years. In fact, it was only in 1991 that the minoret was torn down, and the site became a kever (grave) of Jewish importance. Looking for a nice place to eat lunch, we climbed up into the large tree that adorns the centre of the courtyard and pulled out our food.

Courtyard of the complex

Sated, we put our backpacks back on and left the Nabi Rubin complex, heading back toward the car, but taking a slightly different route through the dunes. This was a wise decision because it led to us seeing a very cool dung beetle racing over the sand ripples, a business of little flies resting on its back waiting for some dung to be found.

Dung beetle with hitchhikers

That excitement carried us over to the next destination, just a few minutes drive: the famous beach area of Palmachim.

Palmachim Beach (photo Efrat Guli)

We parked and got out to explore, starting with some ancient quarries (which sound more exciting than they were in person) and the incubation cage for sea turtle eggs. To add a touch of macabre to the story, we found a semi-decomposed sea turtle far up on the beach, a sad sight to say the least. Next we walked along the surf, heading southbound and pulling interesting shells and potsherds out from underfoot.

Part of a mosaic floor

Before long we reached the beginnings of the ruins of Yavne Yam, an ancient port city which was abandoned during the Crusader period some 900 years ago. Wall portions and even part of a mosaic floor are exposed to the elements and visitors. Signs warning people to stay away from the beach’s cliff edge due to the danger of falling stones, many of which belong to the ancient structures.

Fortress of Yavne Yam

We didn’t just enjoy the archaeological aspects; there were a few jellyfish to be admired as well as some great cormorants and some gulls, including lesser black-backed gulls and a Heuglin’s gull. Having fun in the sun, we eventually pulled ourselves away from the waves and headed back to the car to our very last destination, the fortress ruins of Yavne Yam, inaccessible from the beach due to its location on the craggy promontory. With only a little bit of time to spare before we had to get going (since Shabbat was approaching) we parked outside the ruins and took a quick tour of the site.

View from the ruins

Crossing into the ruins of the Early Arab fortress, built over a thousand years ago, we encountered the bathhouse, built in Roman style with the double floors and heat piping. The other ruins were unmarked, though interesting nonetheless, and the view afforded from the end of the promontory was rather enjoyable as well. Although we could have spent longer, time was running out and we called it a day, pleased with the fact that we managed to visit all four places on our list and already looking forward to exploring even more in the future.

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