Wednesday, August 3, 2011
BANIAS - AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND NATURAL SITE
Last Friday we visited the nature reserve of the Banias river at the hour of Pan, the midday hour, the silent hour in the high noon heat, when the sun is the hottest. This is the hour when Pan got tumultuous and startled the resting herds and flocks and chased them around, and could even cause damage to human beings and "panic" them with his fury. Luckily he did not find us and we remained unharmed. We did not panic, but stayed peaceful. Resting in the shade of a beautiful oriental plane tree with its leaves shaped like hamsa hands, we faintly heard the tunes of the syrinx, the pan flute, made from reeds, and its vague "Echo" sliding over the caves... :-)
Banias, transported from the Greek "Paneas" by the Arabs, who's alphabet is lacking the letter "P", is one of the most beautiful places in Israel. It is full of natural wonders, history and mystic ancient past. Located on the outskirts of the Hermon mountain the Banias river feeds by the waters of the mountain snow which are seeping through the limestone, then gushing out of a cave and being collected in springs, from there floating into several pool like enclaves. The water is cool and crystal clear. At its beginning the river flows through a deep canyon with mighty force and descends into several waterfalls, the highest being the Banias waterfall, about ten meters high. Further south the Banias stream joins with the Dan river and together they form the Jordan.
"This is a very fine cave in a mountain, under which there is a great cavity in the earth; and the cavern is abrupt, and prodigiously deep, and full of water. Over it hangs a vast mountain, and under the cavern arise the springs of the River Jordan." (The Works Of Flavius Josephus).
The Banias nature reserve is really glorious. The banks of the stream are covered with splendid forests. Due to the plenty supply of water, the trees grow tall and the vegetation is very lush. Large carob and poplar trees impress us, willows suspend their powerful reddish roots into the open and marvelous huge fig trees with their sexy scent agitate the emotions! Many tree trunks are entwined with grape vines. Beautiful animal life is present, but was hiding from us in the noon heat, only a big fat Syrian rock hyrax was crossing our path, slowly, not in a hurry at all, we didn't dare to photograph in order not to disturb it. :-)
The lovely walk along the clear water rushing and cascading down leads below a roof of trees and shrubs and under an ancient Roman bridge, and is utterly enjoyable even on such a 40 degrees hot and humid day like last Friday. It is prohibited to enter the stream at the reserve, but the feet can be cooled off a bit while resting and watching the pretty fish leisurely swimming around.
Pan, the Greek god of nature, of wildlife and sheperds, forests and mountains, and the lover of rustic music, with the upper human half and with the lower body and legs of a goat, goat horns sprouting on his head, was worshiped here, after the Greek culture was brought to this region in the 3rd century BCC. Here the majestic Paneon was built and became the center of pagan cult and culture. Niches were hewn into the cliff and statues of deity were placed in them. If you zoom into the niches, you can see their pretty embellishments.One niche housed a sculpture of Echo, the mountain nymph and Pan’s companion for a while. Another niche housed a statue of Pan’s father, Hermes, son of nymph Maia.
When later the Romans came to rule the Paneon was converted under Herod the Great to a white temple of marble, dedicated to the Emperor Augustus.
Below is the work of an artist, depicting how it all might have looked. Zoom in to see the details!
The many pieces of architectural finds from several time periods of the site are collected in a small archeological garden at the entrance of the reserve.
Walking up near the edge of the pools leads to the impressive remnants of the Sanctuary of Pan. Only part of the sacred complex has been uncovered and the excavations are certainly not finished. Part of the ruins of a Roman city are laid bare and can be explored, but much is still to be expected.
After the death of Herod the Golan heights came under the authority of his son Phillip who founded a city at Banias which he called Caesarea Philippi. Christian tradition has it, that at this place Jesus gave Simon (Peter) the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19), after he had answered a question correctly, declaring Jesus as the Christ, and it is believed that there he also healed a bleeding woman. In the time of the Byzantines Banias lost its significance as a place of pagan worship and the Pan temples were deserted. Over time Muslims and Jews came to Banias and the Crusaders tried to gain access to the region with the aim to reach Syria and to conquer Damascus, but were defeated successfully in the end by Muslim forces (you can read more about it in my post about the Nimrod castle - yes, it's all a puzzle!).
So nowadays we are able to admire what is left from all those different cultures and we can enjoy this splendid place of natural beauty!
Photographs by Uri Eshkar.
The photo of the rock hyrax was taken from the flyer distributed at the park.