Elijah Prophet Cave on Mount Carmel

Projects and Partners Worldwide

The site was developed with contributions from friends of KKL JNF worldwide.

Photo: Paul Orliyev
Photo: Paul Orliyev

Elijah, the Prophet of Mount Carmel

“Thine head upon thee is like Carmel,” says the Biblical Song of Songs, and, indeed, ever since antiquity, Mount Carmel has been a symbol of beauty and splendor, with its green woodlands, its forests and its magnificent wild landscapes. Mount Carmel is also the mountain of the Prophet Elijah, and in the article below we shall making our way through the sites associated with him.

Significant portions of Mount Carmel are covered in forest and natural woodland that remain refreshingly green all year round. This characteristic is the result of a curious circumstance: although the Carmel enjoys plentiful rainfall, it has few springs. In the past, this lack of natural water sources rendered the site unappealing to human settlement, allowing comparatively large areas of its native woodland to survive. Thanks to the hill’s relative isolation and its distance from the principal highways of antiquity, the persecuted prophet Elijah was able to find sanctuary there and escape his pursuers.

The Horvat Hermesh Recreation Area and the Keren HaCarmel Scenic Lookout

Length of walking route:

To the carpets of cyclamen flowers: approx 15 minutes; to the scenic lookout: approx an additional 20 minutes.
Photo: Paul Orliyev
Photo: Paul Orliyev

Those interested in a walk surrounded by flowering cyclamen (in (December-February) should start out from Horvat Hermesh (“Scythe Ruins”). Near Elyakim Junction, adjacent to the hitchhiking pickup spot on the road to Daliyat al-Carmel, a KKL-JNF signpost reading “To Keren HaCarmel Forest – Horvat Hermesh Recreation Area” points to the right. A dirt road leads you (after around 800 meters) to a calcareous sandstone (kurkar) area of ground fringed with tall cypress trees. This is where you leave your vehicle.

Follow the signs that read “to the cyclamen forest” – the trail is marked in red – enjoying the sight of the cyclamen as you go. After a fifteen minute walk, you will arrive at the Horvat Hermesh Recreation Area, and some 200 meters after that, you will see six arched burial caves hewn into the rock. Beside them is the Shaar HaCarmel (“Carmel Gate”) recreation area. If you continue up the red-marked trail for another twenty minutes or so, you will come to the Horn of Carmel (Keren HaCarmel) scenic lookout, where you can rest at your ease on the wooden benches and look out over the Jezreel Valley, the Lower Galilee hills, Ramat Menashe and Mount Gilboa. Above us is the Carmelite Monastery known in Arabic as Deir al-Muhraka (“Monastery of the Place of Burning”), and on a clear day you will be able to see the peak of Mount Hermon.

Use the circular footpath to return to the red-marked Cyclamen Trail and continue westwards to the Horvat Hermesh Recreation Area.

The Muhraka Monastery

From the recreation area we drive northwards for around six and a half kilometers and turn right (eastwards) on the outskirts of Daliyat al-Carmel. Another three kilometers or so of driving will bring us to the parking lot at Deir al-Muhraka monastery. Here, too, you will find a small recreation area equipped with picnic tables.

Photo: Paul Orliyev
Photo: Paul Orliyev

As we enter the monastery courtyard we are greeted by a stone sculpture of the Prophet Elijah, who is depicted holding a sword in his hand while his foot stamps upon the head of a man. This portrayal represents the climax of Elijah’s struggle against the prophets of the Canaanite god Baal, which, according to tradition, took place at the site where the monastery now stands.

According to the Biblical account, after years of drought, Elijah competed against four hundred of Baal’s prophets, all servants of King Ahab, to see who could make it rain (1 Kings, 18): whichever of them could persuade “his” god to send down rain would be recognized as a true prophet. The contest was organized as follows: each of the two participants built an altar, sacrificed a bullock and prayed to his god to send down fire from heaven and consume the sacrificial animal. Baal’s prophets called upon their god every day, but no response was forthcoming. After they had given up in despair, Elijah poured water on the altar and began to pray. Fire descended from the sky and consumed the sacrifice. Elijah and his followers pursued the prophets of Baal and killed large numbers of them. Before long the sky clouded over and rain descended in torrents.

The tradition that identifies the Horn of Carmel as the scene of the struggle between Elijah and the prophets of Baal is a very old one. In the 14th century, when an anonymous pupil of the Ramban (Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman) visited the Land of Israel, he described the site as the altar of the Prophet Elijah. Its Arabic name, Al-Muhraka, derives from the verb haraq, which means “to burn,” and thus also hints at the descent of fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice.

Deir al-Muhraka belongs to the Carmelite order of monks. Three sculptures in relief, adjacent to the stairs that ascend to the monastery roof portray the events of the Biblical story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Climbing up to the roof involves a token fee, but the experience should not be missed: the magnificent landscapes of the Jezreel Valley lie below and there are views towards the Galilean Hills and the peak of Mount Hermon.

Stella Maris (“The Star of the Sea”)

We drive back along Route 672 and head northwards, past Daliyat al-Carmel, Isfiya (Ussefiya) and the University of Haifa, and continue on into the Haifa suburbs at the top of Mount Carmel. From Moria Avenue (Sderot Moria) we continue northwards along Sderot HaNasi, and at the northern end of the street we turn left into Tchernichovsky Street, which will bring us to the Stella Maris Monastery (also known as the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel).

The memorial to Napoleon Bonaparte’s soldiers, opposite the Stella Maris monastery. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.
The memorial to Napoleon Bonaparte’s soldiers, opposite the Stella Maris monastery. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.

The monastery is situated at the tip of Mount Carmel, at the top of the steep slope where the hill descends into the sea, providing a splendid view of Acco Bay and Western Galilee. Perhaps because of its beauty, the tip of the Carmel Ridge was considered sacred in ancient times too, and pagan temples were constructed there. Rituals were performed in honor of the god Adonis, who, like Elijah, was believed to have the ability to bring rain.

The Carmelites have been in possession of this area of the Carmel since the 17th century, but it was not until 1767, after the Bedouin ruler Dahr al-Omar came to power, that the monks were able to begin construction of the Stella Maris monastery. The French consul of the time helped them to acquire the longed-for permit, and ever since then, that area of Mount Carmel has been known as “French Carmel.” Building, however, was interrupted by a number of events, and the monastery was not inaugurated until 1836. Thereafter it became an important feature of the area, and served as a medical center for the local people. Today it is a spiritual center for Carmelites worldwide.

Elijah's statue. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive
Elijah's statue. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

The symbol of the Carmelite Order - which depicts Mount Carmel with a cross on its summit and Elijah’s sword above it, surrounded by the inscription “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts” – is engraved over the main doorway. On the door itself is a sculpted relief of Elijah brandishing his sword.

The main hall of the church is very impressive. The ceiling is decorated with colored paintings that depict scenes from the Bible and the New Testament: Elijah’s ascent to heaven in a whirlwind, King David playing upon the harp, the Holy Family and the four evangelists. Verses from the Bible are inscribed in Latin around the ceiling dome.

Over the altar is a statue of the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Mount Carmel). Beside it steps descend to a crypt in the form of a cave hewn into the rock. Inside is a stone altar bearing a sculpture of Elijah, who, according to Christian tradition, once lived in the cave. The museum attached to the monastery displays artifacts from the ancient Byzantine church.

The monastery is linked to Napoleon Bonaparte’s unsuccessful campaign to conquer Palestine in 1799: when he retreated from Acco he left behind at the monastery those of his soldiers who had fallen ill with the plague. Those who survived were murdered by the Ottomans, and a stone in the form of a pyramid – intended to remind visitors that the French had attacked Israel from Egypt – was erected in their memory in front of the monastery.

The Carmelite Order

The Carmelite Order was founded on Mount Carmel in the 12th century by a monk named Berthold. During this period the region was ruled by the Crusaders, and the first monks to follow Berthold’s example built themselves a center in Nahal Siah (today part of Haifa, this gully is located below the Kababir neighborhood). When the Crusader kingdom fell, the Carmelites made their way to Europe, and did not return to Mount Carmel until the 17th century, when they were granted rights to Elijah’s Cave and the summit of Stella Maris. At first they lived in holes in the rock around the cave, until in 1767 they built the Stella Maris monastery at the top of Mount Carmel, the chapel inside the cave and Deir al-Muhraka.

Elijah’s Cave

The best way to reach the monastery is to descend on foot from Stella Maris to Elijah’s Cave, continue on to the main road and then return to Stella Maris by way of the cable car. It is, course, possible to climb back up from the cave on foot, but the ascent is steep. The cave can also be reached by car: drive along the coast road (Sderot HaHagana), and beside the Naval Museum turn on to Allenby Road (Derekh Allenby)). Elijah’s Cave is situated adjacent to the turn from Sderot HaHagana into Allenby Road.

Elijah's cave. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive
Elijah's cave. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

The path that leads down from Stella Maris departs from the parking lot opposite the monastery and descends conveniently through abandoned terraces. After some 300 meters, it arrives at the Sacred Heart Chapel, a small white-domed church that dates back to the 19th century. It is closed to visitors and reserved exclusively for the inhabitants of the monastery, who use it for prayer and contemplation. The chapel site offers a magnificent view of the coastline.

Some 400 meters further on the path leads us to Elijah’s Cave, which also appears to have been considered a holy site for a very long time indeed. Dozens of Greek inscriptions dating back to the Byzantine period were found on the walls of the cave, together with two drawings of a seven-branched menorah. According to ancient tradition, Elijah took refuge here from his persecutors and pursuers. The cave is an official holy site under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs.