The Natural Wonders of the Banias
Located in Israel's Golan Heights region, the Banias waterfall is one of the natural wonders of the north. The Arabic name for this lush body of water, Panias, is taken from Greek mythology and refers to Pan, the Greek god of shepherds, perhaps due to the plentiful herding available in the area in ancient times.
Follow the shepherds' ancient paths on your tour through the area, either through the Senir River or along one of the Jordan River's many tributaries, all the way down to the Banias waterfall, which gushes out of a limestone cave creating natural pool-like enclaves.
The Banias' freshwater grottos are a must-see site on any Israel tour. While a serious environmental problem affects this watershed of the Jordan River, causing its waters to gradually recede and further affecting the level of the Sea of Galilee, the Banias remains a beautiful place to visit and a useful way of understanding how resources need to be better shared in the region. The full extent of the Banias' importance was understood in the 1960s when Israel forcefully stopped Syria from diverting its waters over the border and managed to utilize its waters for agricultural use in the area known as the Hula Valley.
The Banias - A Historical Overview
Though there is no mention of the Banias in the Old Testament, it is believed that the area was documented in biblical texts as Baal-Gad and Tel Dan. It appears with the name Banias in historic documents dating back to the third century BCE when a large Hellenistic settlement is said to have existed near the Banias riverbed.
In later centuries, the Banias waterfall and surrounding landscape became a stronghold for several Semitic tribes, serving as the battleground upon which the Egyptians and the Syrians fought for ownership of water supply. One of the Banias' grottos is named the Officer's Pool, and was used by Syrian officers stationed in the area as a spa and social gathering area.
While under Roman rule, the Banias was annexed to Herod's Kingdom and later passed on to Herod's son, Emperor Philip the Tetrarch, along with the rest of northern Palestine and made into the capital of his kingdom.
The Banias is significant to Christians as it is the place where Simon, son of Jonah, received the ‘keys to the kingdom of heaven’ from Christ. As noted in the book of Matthew (16:13-20), it was on the banks of the Banias that Simon answered a question posed by Christ regarding the origin of man and upon correctly answering the theological query was given the status of a saint.
During the summer, visit the Banias during the cooler, early morning hours and take advantage of the many shaded areas of lush vegetation on the grounds. If visiting Israel during the winter, make sure to enjoy the full power of the waterfall during these months of rainfall.
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