Sataf - Ancient Agriculture in Action

Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
The Sataf site is situated to the east of Har Eitan, on the western fringes of Jerusalem. Sataf offers many stunning walks in nature, where you can also see olive orchards and agricultural plots on ancient agricultural terraces.

The Sataf site is situated to the east of Har Eitan, on the western fringes of Jerusalem where a green slope tumbles down to Nahal Soreq. The two springs that emerge from the site water the agricultural terraces that serve as a reminder of an almost vanished Hebrew culture dating back thousands of years. Here, as in the days of the ancient Israelites, irrigated vegetable gardens grow alongside vineyards, olive groves and almond orchards that need no artificial irrigation and color the countryside green all year round.
  • How to get there

    There are three ways of getting to Sataf:
    1. Turn southwards off the main highway to Jerusalem (Route no. 1) at the Harel Interchange and continue southwards via Maoz Zion in the direction of Kibbutz Tzuba (Route no. 3965).
    2. From Jerusalem you can take Route no. 395 from Ein Kerem in south-west Jerusalem.
    3. From the Coastal Plain you can also take Route no. 395 (in the opposite direction) from Eshtaol Junction and continue via Kesalon, Ramat Raziel and Tzuba. From Sataf Junction a paved road leads to Sataf. For pedestrians: from the Nahal Sorek road below the site (Route 386), a footpath ascends to Sataf.
  • Geographic location-

    Jerusalem - Judean highlands and surroundings
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Area-

    Ein Sataf spring, channel-irrigated agricultural plots, the Land of Israel Orchard, Ein Hindak spring.
  • Facilities-

    Lookout, Marked path, Archeological or Historic site.
  • Other sites in the area-

    Kibbutz Tzuba, Ein Kerem, Eshtaol, Ramat Raziel, Nahal Sorek (“Sorek River”).

Projects and Partners Worldwide

The Sataf site was restored and developed thanks to
contributions from Friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, including
Switzerland, Canada and Israel.

Photo: Eyal Bartov.
Photo: Eyal Bartov.

The Sataf Site – Rules and Regulations

Sataf is a restored historical site that contains reconstructions of ancient hillside agriculture, and it is intended for visiting and educational purposes only. The following regulations are designed to preserve the character of the site for the enjoyment of visitors:

  • Camping, picnicking, barbeques and campfires are all prohibited in the area of the springs. For these purposes, we recommend using the forest recreational sites along the vehicle-access road.
  • Please do not use the spring water for either drinking or bathing; both are strictly forbidden.
  • The footpaths are steep and hilly – please exercise caution when using them, and stick to the marked paths. During and after rain these paths may be slippery.
  • Entry to the cultivated areas is prohibited.


Reconstruction of ancient agriculture

Archeological research shows that settlement at the Sataf site began around 6,000 years ago, in the Chalcolithic period, and that terrace construction started around 4,500 years ago. The site attained its greatest size and splendor in the Second Temple and Byzantine periods. In Crusader and Ottoman times, Sataf experienced variable fortunes, and in 1949, Moshav Bikura was founded on the ruins of the Arab village of Sataf, which was abandoned in Israel’s War of Independence.

Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik.
Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik.

Within a short time, however, the Bikura residents were obliged to abandon the moshav, and after the retaining walls collapsed, an earthslide covered the two collection pools and the aqueduct that had fed them with water from the springs.

Throughout the 1950s, the site was used as a training area by Israel Defense Forces’ paratroopers and Unit 101.

In the early 1980s, KKL-JNF workers began to reconstruct Sataf’s agricultural terraces and restore the two collection pools serving each of the two local springs, Ein Sataf and Ein Bikura. They re-dug the irrigation channels to the agricultural plots on the re-terraced land, and, thanks to their efforts, today we can observe hillside agriculture as it was practiced in Biblical times. In the future, visitors will also be able to see items connected to harvesting, such as olive pressing, trampling grapes for wine, etc.

Restoration of the site continues. Some of the work is carried out by schoolchildren and IDF soldiers, whose activities bring them in direct contact with concepts from the Jewish sources such as ma‘yan hatum (literally “a sealed spring,” i.e., a spring whose waters have been diverted to make them more easily accessible), shalhin agriculture (i.e, agriculture that uses channel-fed irrigation) and ba‘al agriculture, which is dependent only on natural precipitation, without recourse to man-made irrigation methods. Two families resident in Sataf are employed by KKL-JNF to continue the restoration work, cultivate the orchards and vegetable plots and offer visitors guidance and explanations.

After viewing the springs and the shalhin agriculture, visitors can explore the paths developed by KKL-JNF in the ba‘al farming areas, where the terraces are planted with olives, grapevines and fruit trees and period farming artifacts such as watchman’s shelters and wine presses can be seen. This network of footpaths is indicated by wooden posts marked with arrows of different colors that differentiate between the various different routes. Brochures and / or maps showing the routes are available at the site.

The Sataf site also offers a unique opportunity unavailable anywhere else in Israel. In Hebrew it’s called Bustanof (literally: “landscape orchard”) and it offers Jerusalem residents, for a token fee, the use of a small allotment of land that they can come and work in and cultivate as they choose in their leisure time. This offer gives city dwellers a chance to relax, get away from the daily grind, breathe in “mountain air pure as wine” and experience for themselves the Biblical verse “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree…” (Micah 4:4).

Photo: Yossi Zamir.
Photo: Yossi Zamir.

Terraces and watchman’s towers

Incoming settlers on this hillside throughout the ages discovered that the best farming areas in the region, i.e., the valleys, were already occupied by long-established veterans who had preceded them. For lack of an alternative, newcomers found themselves obliged to cultivate the rocky scrubland of the Judean Hills and southern Samaria, as described in the Book of Joshua: “… Get thee up to the wood country and cut down for thyself there…” (17:15). These new settlers had to work very hard to clear away the rocks – a labor referred to in the Bible as ‘izuq – and remove them to the edges of the natural rock terraces (this action is referred to in the Bible as siqul, and the word is still used with the same meaning by Hebrew-speaking farmers today).

These rocks were then used to build retaining walls that held in place the layer of fertile soil they had brought from elsewhere – and this was how the agricultural terraces (from the Latin terra, which means “earth / land”) were constructed.
Photo: Gidi Bashan.
Photo: Gidi Bashan.

With the surplus stones from the ‘izuq and siqul the settlers erected lookout towers (shomerot in Hebrew), from which they could keep an eye on their crops. All these activities are described in the Parable of the Vineyard in the Bible, in the Book of Isaiah: “…My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill. And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein….” (Isaiah 5:1-2). In this way the terraces and the watchmen’s shelters or towers became part of the landscape of the Judean Hills and Jerusalem. A vineyard of the kind described in Isaiah, complete with terraces, piles of stones and a watchman’s shelter, has been created at Sataf, and twenty-six of the ancient varieties of vine grown in the Land of Israel have been planted in it. Just nearby are the remains of a wine press where grapes were trodden.

“A garden inclosed, a fountain sealed…”

Most of the terraced areas were used for ba‘al farming (without artificial irrigation), and in the Judean Hills the main crops grown in this way were grapevines, olives, figs and pomegranates. In the few areas where water was readily available, larger, more level terraces were constructed in order to take advantage of the rare opportunity to grow a variety of irrigated crops all year round. These exhausting labors produced only a small area of land suitable for cultivation, but yield was improved by situating the terraces in close proximity to the natural springs in the area.

These springs did not produce a great deal of water, and early settlers in the region increased their flow by tunneling into the water-bearing layer of rock (the aquifer). The water flowed into large collection pools, and from there a system of aqueducts carried it to the plots of land on the terraces. In this way water adits (i.e., tunnels) were created and became an inseparable part of the terrace systems of the Judean Hills. The Biblical Song of Songs refers to them as “… a garden inclosed… a fountain sealed…” (4:12).

Any village built adjacent to such a spring was naturally built above it, so as not to waste any land that could be irrigated by the force of gravity. Below the spring shalhin (channel-irrigated) agricultural methods were used on the terraces, enabling each terrace to produce several harvests each year.

Photo: Gidi Bashan.
Photo: Gidi Bashan.

Routes to Follow at the Site

The site is accessed from the Sataf Junction, where the roads from Mevasseret Zion, Tzuba and Ein Kerem meet. Close to the junction is the upper parking lot, which is equipped with an information center, a snack bar and toilets. Further on, at the entrance to the site, we arrive at the central parking lot, which is intended for private vehicles only.

Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik.
Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik.

Those who have plenty of time can explore the entire walking route, which begins at the upper parking lot. The footpath, which is marked in green, follows an ancient route among olive groves and cultivated plots of land and leads down to Pinat Ofer (“Ofer Corner”), which provides an impressive view of the site. From here, the houses of the abandoned Arab village of Sataf, the path’s eventual destination, can be seen clearly. Below the olive grove a Chalcolithic site that dates back to around 4,000 BCE has been excavated, revealing the oldest remains of agricultural settlement found in the area.

From here, we turn towards Ein Sataf, which was the village’s main spring. From the terrace above the pool we can make a careful descent to the source of the water: a cave partially hewn into the rock to increase the spring’s flow. A man-made tunnel emerges from the cave and carries the water to the large pool, which has a capacity of around 180 cubic meters. The tunnel is accessible, and, if we stoop, we can enter it at one end and emerge from the other. A small chamber built into the back wall of the pool would appear to have been used by the village women when doing laundry.

From the pool we can follow the signs to the channel-irrigated shalhin plots. On the terrace to the left, we can see the exit tunnel of the Ein Sataf pool, from which man-made plastered channels carry the water to the plots, overcoming by a variety of techniques the differences in altitude created by the terraces. Here we can leave the path that turns left to the shalhin area and turn right instead, heading towards a high wall with an iron gate set in it. Behind it is the Land of Israel Orchard, where original native varieties of fruit tree are cultivated using traditional methods. From here we can return to the shalhin plots, where vegetables and spices are grown organically in flowerbeds or furrows.

Below the shalhin area we come upon the Bustanof terraces, on which KKL-JNF allows people to cultivate small kitchen-garden allotments as a hobby in their spare time.
From the shalhin we can continue to the Ein Bikura spring. On the way we can observe steps suspended from the terrace wall – a technique employed to save as much precious land as possible. Here, too, we can walk along the tunnel – upright this time – until we reach the cave from which the spring emerges. Inside the cave stalactites and stalagmites can be seen. The path that ascends from Ein Bikura has been restored in the style of a traditional hilly terrain footpath. Beside it is a fenced and gated vineyard, where traditional trellising methods are used: espalier (‘aris), stake (dalit) or trailing (roglit).

Further along the route we can turn on to a path that climbs back up to our vehicle in the upper parking lot. From here we can also set out along an ancient path that leads down toward Ein Hindak. Or, alternatively, we can go back to Ein Sataf pool via the ruins of Sataf village, and descend from there to the lower recreational area at Nahal Sorek (but if we do this, we have to ensure that a vehicle is waiting for us at the end of the route) or turn towards the central parking lot, if that is where we have left our car.

Photo: KKL-JNF Archive.
Photo: KKL-JNF Archive.

Volunteering for Sataf

For details please contact Gidi Bashan at 050-7694650, by e-mail at or on the Forest Hotline, KKL-JNF’s information center: 1-800-350-550.

Do you want to feel the soil between your fingers? Do you want to help conserve the terraced landscape of Sataf and the Jerusalem Hills? Are you willing to be guides, to learn about Sataf’s landscape and history and pass your knowledge on to others? If so, KKL-JNF invites you to volunteer and help care for and develop Sataf’s Biblical hillside farming site in the Jerusalem Hills.

Photo: Gidi Bashan.
Photo: Gidi Bashan.

Volunteers are required for two main purposes: to help tend the agricultural terraces and to provide information and guide visitors at the site.

KKL-JNF, assisted by schoolchildren, soldiers and adults, is restoring the agricultural terraces, springs, collection pools and irrigation channels at the Sataf site. Here the volunteers encounter tangible representations of Biblical farming concepts such as “sealed spring,” “channel-irrigated agriculture,” “non-irrigated agriculture,” and “watchman’s shelter.” The site is very popular with visitors and KKL-JNF provides explanations from a variety of different aspects, such as history, farming, geography, botany, etc.

Come and join us in Sataf, come and connect to the roots that have linked us to this piece of land since Biblical times, come and be part of the team that cares for this unique and historically fascinating corner of the landscape in a beautiful setting. KKL-JNF thanks all those willing to volunteer for the sake of the green landscape of the Jerusalem Hills. Volunteers will receive training, will become members of Friends of KKL-JNF and will be granted reductions and various other benefits when participating in KKL-JNF events.