Mount Tabor Walking Trail

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

To the Top of Mount Tabor

You can’t miss it. Its green-clad rounded shape looks out towards Galilee and its summit is crowned with a church. This is Mount Tabor, of which the Bible says: “Surely as Tabor is among the mountains, and as Carmel by the sea, so shall he come,” (Jeremiah 46:18) and “Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name…,” Psalms 89:13).

A walk along the hillside paths reveals a wealth of magnificent scenery as the plowed fields of the valley and the ponds and communities hidden amid the tangle of greenery are disclosed one after another as the visitor views the panorama from different successive angles. A gentle breeze blows on the hill in both winter and summer, and at every step long years of history unfold: the victory of Deborah the Prophetess and Israelite general Barak Ben Avinoam against General Sisera and his Canaanite army, the fortifications built by Yosef Ben Matityahu Josephus), the transfiguration of Jesus and the period of Mamluk rule.

KKL-JNF has created a special woodsmen’s route at the site that allows foresters and fire trucks easy access in order to care for and protect the trees. In the past, numerous forest fires broke out, but these were not the only reason why the trees dried up: the lack of rain was another cause. KKL-JNF has rehabilitated the forest and planted new trees to cover up the “bald spots,” inhibit soil erosion and prevent the land from sliding downhill to the inhabited slopes below.

Photo: Michael Huri
Photo: Michael Huri

Our route

Energetic walkers will leave their cars in the parking lot adjacent to the village of Shibli and set out for the top of the hill, following an extended route that is some five kilometers long. Those seeking an easier route will continue by car for another half a kilometer to the junction, where they will turn left on to the road that climbs to the top of the hill. They will park their vehicle in the Gate of the Wind parking lot beside the wall and begin to climb on foot up to the Franciscan monastery, a distance of some 2.5 kilometers. These days the top of the hill can be reached with no great effort, but it is astonishing to think that around 1,600 years ago no fewer than 4,000 steps had to be climbed in order to attain the summit.

The church on Mount Tabor. Photo: Michael Huri
The church on Mount Tabor. Photo: Michael Huri

Mount Tabor has a long and distinguished history in Jewish, Christian and Muslim tradition. We enter through the reconstructed Crusader gate known as the Gate of the Wind, which is also referred to as the Damascus Gate, into the area around the Catholic Church of the Transfiguration, which forms part of the Franciscan monastery complex at the site. To the right of the trail is a hostel for pilgrims, a clock tower, and, adjacent to the parking lot, a small local museum. To the left of the car park is a sun dial with ruins beside it. The foundation stone for the impressive church we see today was laid in 1919 on the site where a Crusader church had once stood, and building was completed in 1924, in accordance with the plans drawn up by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi. The two towers in the façade have prayer niches in honor of Moses (the North Chapel) and Elijah (the South Chapel). Inside the building remains of the earlier churches, mosaics and additional rooms can be seen. In the center of the interior is a fine mosaic that portrays the transfiguration. Outside the church are fortified strongholds with lookout platforms that provide a view of the magnificent landscapes of the Jezreel Valley, Lower Galilee, the Valley of Kesullot, Mount Carmel, Mount Gilboa and the surrounding communities.

In Jewish tradition, as recorded in the Book of Judges, Mount Tabor is linked to the period of Deborah the Prophetess (Dvora) and Barak Ben Avinoam, when the Israelite tribes gathered at the site in preparation for the battle against Sisera, commander of the army of King Yavin (Jabin) of Canaan (Judges 4: 6, 12, 14). Although this is not explicitly stated in the Bible, Gideon’s battle against the Midianites would also appear to have taken place here, at the foot on the hill (Judges 7). During the Second Temple period, the Tabor hilltop was one of the sites on which beacons were lit to announce the start of a new month in the Hebrew calendar. In Roman times, Mount Tabor was fortified by Yosef Ben Matityahu (Josephus) and captured during the First Jewish-Roman War (the Great Revolt). Ben Matityahu had built a fortified position here on the top of the hill and surrounded it with a thick wall, but in the battle that took place at the site, the Romans tricked the Jews: when water supplies ran out, the Roman commander assured the Jewish defenders that if they surrendered no harm would befall them, but when they did so they were killed. In Crusader times, too, battles raged on Mount Tabor. Initially it was fortified and a church was built on it, but like other sites at this period, it changed hands repeatedly until it was captured and destroyed by the Mamluks.

Photo: Michael Huri
Photo: Michael Huri
According to Christian tradition as described in the New Testament (Matthew 17:1-3; Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36) the "Transfiguration of Jesus" occurred when he ascended Mount Tabor with his followers “And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him,” (Matthew 17:2-3). When he came down from the mountain, Jesus’ aspect changed once more, and he appeared like any other man. Because of this tradition, the site on Mount Tabor has been a place of Christian pilgrimage since the 4th century CE, and over time monasteries, convents, hostels and other buildings sprang up in the area. These were destroyed in the wake of the Mamluk conquest, and construction of this kind was renewed only in the 19th century, when Christians began to return to the site.

After the visit to the church, we recommend returning to the Gate of the Wind and following a woodland trail used by KKL-JNF foresters when forest fires break out and easy access for fire trucks is necessary. Although other vehicles are not permitted along this route, walkers, cyclists and horse-riders are. The path is flanked by magnificent scenic lookouts dotted among the cultivated pine trees and the woodland of Tabor oak and Israeli common oak. The path is situated at a height of some 400 meters above sea level, and it is around five kilometers in length.

Visitors accompanied by children will enjoy a visit to Moshav Shadmot Dvora, whose visitors’ center at the Dvorat HaTavor silk and honey farm offers an opportunity to learn about the life of bees and see how silk is made. We also recommend a visit to the Galilee Bedouin Heritage Center in the village of Shibli.