Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik
In the past, at least a dozen flourmills were in operation in the area that is now the park, driven by the abundant waters of the River Jordan that flowed to the mills along four plastered channels. One of these channels has been restored, and it carries water for a distance of 600 meters to two reconstructed flourmills near the main parking area. Both are chute mills, in which the water flows down a diagonal chute to the lower floor of the structure, where it turns a large paddled waterwheel attached to an axis that rotates the upper millstone on the floor above, grinding the wheat grains into flour. Funnel mills, which were built in areas where water flow was slower, used a different technique, dropping the water down a tall funnel to provide greater power.
Bethsaida (Beit Tzeida)
In the Bethsaida Valley, in the southeastern section of the park, we come to Tel Mishpa, which in the First Temple period was the site of the town of Tzar, capital of the Kingdom of Geshur, which possessed a palace, a sturdy city wall and some impressive buildings. Geshur maintained close relations with King David, who married Maachah, daughter of King Ptolemy (Talmai) of Geshur, who gave birth to King David’s son Absalom. Because of the large quantity of silt that accumulated in this valley to the northeast of the Kinneret, secondary channels developed here to circumvent the River Jordan. Near the point where the Jordan flows into the Kinneret these channels combine into a single river mouth.
Bethsaida. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik
The name Bethsaida (Beit Tzeida) means “House of Fishing,” and in the Second Temple period, it was the site of a prosperous fishing village. Philip, the son of Herod the Great, developed the region and changed the name of the village to Julias in honor of the Roman Emperor Augustus’s daughter Julia the Elder. Three of Jesus’ disciples – Philip, Peter and his brother Andrew – were born in Bethsaida. Jesus visited the village, and in old Christian tradition, it was the site of two miracles: the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the miracle of the blind man whose sight was restored. Later Christian tradition, however, attributed the miracle of the loaves and fishes to Tabgha.
In the early stages of the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans the town was destroyed in a local battle in which the Jewish troops were led by the historian Josephus Flavius (Yosef Ben Matityahu), and its ruins were uncovered by the American Biblical scholar Edward Robinson in the mid-19th century. Portions of the Biblical city and the fishing village have also been revealed in recent years and there is now a sign-posted footpath at the site.
To the southwest of the foot of Tel Bethsaida is a spring, and beside it is an attractive pool from which water flows into the River Jordan.
All routes are marked and signposted.
The Watermill Route
Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik
Route markings: Red
Type of route: Easy walking among the streams of the River Jordan and its ruined watermills in the pleasant shade of willow trees amidst abundant riverbank vegetation.
Time required: Around 40 minutes.
This circular route begins and ends at the watermills.
The Eden Route
Route markings: Yellow
Type of route: A pleasant stroll along the banks of the River Jordan in the shade of willow trees and through natural tunnels created by the tall reeds.
Time required: Around 30 minutes.
The route begins at the small bridge adjacent to the eucalyptus grove in the southwesterly section of the park and ends at the watermill site.
The Aqueduct Route
Route markings: Blue
Type of route: A walk along the River Jordan among the remains of ancient watermills. Note: This route is not suitable for midday walks in summer.
Time required: Around an hour and a half.
The route is circular and it begins and ends at the watermill site.