Karnei Hittin (The Horns of Hittin)

This walk in northern Israel is suitable for fit walkers. It ends with a splendid view overlooking the Kinneret Basin and the city of Tiberias.



Geographic location: Sea of Galilee, the valleys and lower Galilee
Track type: Walking path
Target audience: Fit walkers
Season: All

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This walk in northern Israel is suitable for fit walkers. In some places it partially follows the route of the Gospel Trail, and it ends with a splendid view overlooking the Kinneret Basin and the city of Tiberias. The forest includes a series of recreational sites where visitors can enjoy themselves amid natural surroundings.

Geographic location: Lower Galilee

Special Sites in the Area: Lavie Forest, Gospel Trail, Maskan Pool, Karnei Hittin,

How do you get to  Karnei Hittin?

Karnei Hittin is located near the busy Golani junction, at the edge of the Lavie Forest, on the cross road of Tiberias and Nazareth.

Drive 400 meters south from the Golani junction along Route #65 and turn left into the Lavie forest. Continue straight until you arrive at the KKL-JNF office of the Golani Tree Planting Center. It is from there that your walk starts.

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

Karnei Hittin (The Horns of Hittin)

The walk begins at KKL-JNF’s Planting Center on the northern edge of Lavie Forest, which lies to the north of Route 77, and it follows the route of the Gospel Trail before culminating in a view from the hill at Karnei Hittin. Most of the forest, which extends over an area of some 3,000 dunam (approx 750 acres), lies to the south of Route 77. Inside the woodland KKL-JNF has provided a whole series of recreation areas where visitors can relax and enjoy themselves amid natural surroundings. Foremost among them is the Active Recreation Area, which is equipped with disabled-accessible tables and toilet facilities.

Before you set out on the Hittin walk, we recommend making a short side trip to the Birkat Maskana pool. To get there, drive in accordance with the directions below, but instead of turning off to the Tree Planting Center, continue on until you reach the Golani Brigade Museum’s large parking lot, where you can leave your vehicle.
 

To Birkat Maskana (Maskana Pool)


Length of route: Around three kilometers there and back.
Time required: One to two hours.

From the parking lot we walk eastwards along the edge of the road for around 500 kilometers until we reach the start of a red-marked path that heads northwards. The path ascends towards a number of eucalyptus trees growing not far from the corner of the fence of the Golani Brigade Museum. Here we need to keep our eyes open so as to observe, close to the trees, the remains of a Roman road: a section of foundations 200 meters in length and six meters wide can be seen quite plainly. This is all that remains of the Roman road from Acco to Tzippori and Tiberias. Not far from here is the junction where this road met up with another that came down from Damascus via Bnot Yaakov; this important crossroads of past and present is now named Golani Junction.

The red-marked trail turns westwards and closely approaches Route 65. Birkat Maskana, which lies very close to the road, is a nature reserve comprising a seasonal winter pool that provides a habitat for small creatures and a breeding ground for amphibians such as tree frogs, salamanders and European green toads.

The pool takes its name from the ruins of Khirbet Maskana, which lie to the east. The site is generally identified with the old Jewish settlement of Maskana, which is mentioned in the Talmud. Experts also identify Birkat Maskana and the village formerly adjacent to it with Marescalia, where Crusader forces camped on the night of
July 3rd 1187, before proceeding the following day to the Horns of Hittin where they suffered an appalling defeat.

Here we follow the route taken by the Crusader force, but before reaching its end, we can return to our vehicles and drive to the Planting Center, as described in the directions below.

From the Planting Center to the Horns of Hittin

The Lavie Forest Golani Tree-Planting Center offers an opportunity for people – and for visitors from abroad in particular – to plant a tree in Israeli soil. A pedestrian access gate is always open here, even when the gate for vehicle access is shut. On the far side of the gate is a picnic table shaded by a protective pergola.

The Gospel Trail passes close by here. Designed to meet the needs of Christian pilgrims, it starts at Nazareth’s Mount of Precipice and continues for around 62 kilometers, crossing Lavie Forest and skirting the base of the Horns of Hittin before descending to Capernaum on the shores of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). The trail was constructed by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism in conjunction with KKL-JNF.

The trail is marked with four or five basalt stones threaded on to an iron pole; the anchor that appears on one of the stones is a direction indicator. We walk northwards along a broad dirt road, following the signs. After about half a kilometer, the path diverges from the Gospel Trail and, turning left, crosses a cattle fence via a green bridge. Now we find ourselves walking between outcrops of chalk rock among which an abundance of small Mediterranean bushes grow. In winter and spring the slopes are bright with the profusion of their flowers.

Some 600 meters after the gate, we come to two large and prominent carob trees, and walk on past them. The Gospel Trail keeps close to the rocks in order to avoid encroaching upon the farmland in the plain to our right, and we continue onward in this way for around 1.6 kilometers until we reach a junction. Here, although the Gospel Trail turns left towards the Kinneret, it recommends that walkers turn right and follow the black markings uphill to the Horns of Hittin. If we do this, we shall have a good view of the two peaks or “horns” that give the site its name.

Our route leads us initially between two fences in an area used to pasture cows, and further on it approaches the base of the Horns of Hittin. A Nature and Parks Authority sign declares the site to be a national park. Climbing to the top of the hill is easy. The summit is shaped like a rounded crater and, indeed, it is actually the mouth of a dormant volcano that became active around four million years ago. The hill’s conical shape was created by the volcanic material that erupted from the crater and solidified in the area around it.

We make our way across the crater to its eastern edge. Here we find ourselves utterly unprepared for the tremendous “landscape hit” that awaits us. The imposing cliff of Mount Arbel rears up at our feet, with Mount Nitai facing it on the other side. Between Mount Arbel and the Horns of Hittin lies the fertile Arbel Valley, all of which is farmed. Beyond it, at the foot of the Golan Heights, is the Kinneret, while far to the north the majestic profile of Mount Hermon can be seen.

We turn to the southern extremity of the hill to view the landscape from a different perspective. Opposite us are the Galilean Hills. This is a good opportunity to examine the southern peak of the hill and the remains of the fortifications still visible upon it: some date back to the Late Bronze Age, while the others are from the period of the Israelite Kingdom (9th century BCE). Some experts identify the site with the Biblical city of Adamah in the territory apportioned to the tribe of Naftali, but the Horns of Hittin are renowned primarily for an incident that occurred at a time when the area was not settled at all. On July 4th 1187 it was the site of the final decisive battle between the Crusader army, commanded by King Guy de Lusignan, and the Muslim army under the leadership of Saladin (Salah al-Din). Although accounts of the battle differ, it is clear that the Crusaders, who had made their way from their favorite assembly point at Einot Tzippori, were suffering from a serious lack of water, and Birkat Maskana was in no way sufficient to slake the thirst of a large army. Their misery was compounded by the fact that the Muslims had set fire to the dry undergrowth of the surrounding area. The Battle of the Horns of Hittin heralded the beginning of the end of the Crusader Kingdom in the Land of Israel. Saladin constructed a triumphal dome on the peak of the southern hill, but it would appear to have remained in place to glorify his name for no more than a few decades.

On the southern side of the hill, a blue-marked path descends to the plain at the foot of the Horns of Hittin. We follow this blue trail for a kilometer or so until we arrive at a small copse of eucalyptus trees, where our vehicle is waiting to pick us up. The ruined buildings at the side of the trail are all that remains of the long-ago community of Tad-Hetz (an acronym composed of the initial letters of the Hebrew words Tora, Daat, Hesed, Tzedaka, i.e., “Torah, wisdom, grace, charity”), which settled the site on Lag Ba`Omer 1949. The community later changed its name to Ahuzat Naftali (“Naftali’s Estate”), but this effected no change in its fortunes, and the site was abandoned after about a year and a half, leaving only memories behind.