A short account of Gamla, given by your Israel & Jerusalem private tour guide

“…for it was situated upon a rough ridge of a high mountain, with a kind of neck in the middle: where it begins to ascend, it lengthens itself, and declines as much downward before as behind, insomuch that it is like a camel in figure, ….. On its acclivity, which is straight, houses are built, and those very thick and close to one another. The city also hangs so strangely, that it looks as if it would fall down upon itself, so sharp is it at the top….. its southern mount, which reaches to an immense height, was in the nature of a citadel to the city; and above that was a precipice, not walled about, but extending itself to an immense depth”. (josephus Flavius, Jewish Wars, IV chapter 1)

In the southern part of the Golan Heights, in a hidden place, you can find the ruins of the ancient Jewish city of Gamla. When you see it, you can tell that it is no wonder that it was called by that name (camel in Aramaic), as the hill upon which slope of the city sits, looks indeed, like a camel’s hump.

A bit of history

The Golan was a rocky area, and as a result, few people lived there during much of the time. The situation changed at the end of the 2nd century BCE, when the Golan was taken by the Hasmonean (Maccabee) King, Alaxander Janeus (Yanai). He brought Jewish settlers to the Hellenstic settlement that used to be there, and later it became a Jewish town.

Gamla would have almost no record in Jewish history if not for one event – its participation in the Jewish Great Revolt against the Romans. The heroic fight waged by the Jews, and the city’s tragic end are recorded in great detail by historian Josephus Flavius.

At the end of the summer of 67 CE, after the entire Galilee was already taken back by the Romans, all three Roman legions camped opposite the eastern wall of the city. In their second attempt, they breached the wall and chased the defenders uphill. The soldiers climbed onto the roofs, but because the city was built on a steep slope, the houses collapsed and rolled downhill, killing many Romans in the process. A few days later, the Romans recovered and came back. This time they managed to kill 4,000 people. The remaining 5,000 Jews preferred to die by jumping from the highest point of Gamla, rather than fall in the hands of the Romans.

What can one see in Gamla?

  • Gamla is a beautiful nature reserve located between two major canyons of the Golan Heights. The Gamla waterfall is the highest in the country, (the same height as Niagara Falls, but with much less water). The largest habitat of vultures in the country is at Gamla, and you can see them gliding in the area.
  • There are the remains of a Syrian village, named Deir Kroch that was based on a Byzantine village, with its 6th century church that is beautifully preserved.
  • Above all, the excavations of the Jewish city, synagogue, mikvahs (ritual baths), houses, the breached wall and the other signs of the bitter fight are very interesting. When you stand on the opposite hill and see the entire slope of the city, it is very easy to imagine the brutal battle that once occurred here.
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