Travel Your Way    

Gamla

GamlaThe name of Gamla originates from the Hebrew word gamal, which means camel, and was probably given to the city because of the shape of the ridge where Gamla is located.  The ridge is surrounded on three sides by ravines (Wadies) and looks like the back of a camel. The city was inhabited as early as the Early Bronze time (3,500-2,500 BC) but became famously known as “Massada of the north” for its role in the great rebellion against the Romans on 67 CE. After fighting courageously and fiercely against the Romans its 9000 citizens were killed.

Massada was the last strong hold against the Romans in the great rebellion. After the Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, a group of zealots fled to a herodian palace in the Judean desert. There, they were under Roman siege for 3 years. When the Romans finally breached the walls and entered the palace they found all its inhabitants dead, killed by their own hand. The freedom fighters preferred to take their own lives rather than surrender to the Romans.

When reading the story of Gamla in the writings of Josephus Flavious “The Wars of the Jews”, we learn that the inhabitants were either killed by the Romans or jumped to their deaths when there was no more hope of fighting, some compare it to the collective suicide act in Masada.

In light of new findings showing the valiant and fierce fight against the Romans in Gamla, the archeologists now think that the fighters tried to flee from the Romans, but suicide was not at all their intention.

Gamla became a symbol of courage, patriotism, and devotion to a cause. Its fighters taught future generations the idea that your home and beliefs are worth fighting for, even when facing a great powerful foe.

Finding Gamla

Josephus described the city and the fighting in great details but failed to provide a detailed geographical description of Gamla in the Golan Heights. The first to recognize the Gamla ridge as the city Josephus Flavious described was Yzhaki Gal who was an officer during the six day war. Identification was firmly established only in the course of archeological excavations during the 1970s.

Shmarya Gutmann, one of the main excavators of the site, tried to prove that the camel like mountain and the citadel with its remains, match the descriptions Josephus Flavious has in his story of Gamla. After excavating the place and finding evidence of fire and destruction in the buildings and remains of a fierce battle: a breached wall, thousands of Roman arrowheads and ballista stones (used in catapults), it was confirmed that the site was indeed Gamla- the tragic/ heroic rebel town.  The remains are a vivid testimony of the drama which unfolded when the Roman Legions captured the city. The city was abandoned after 67 AD never to be rebuilt again.

History

Gamla was inhabited since the early Bronze Age (3,500BC to 2,500BC). Remnants of structures that were later used in the Roman times, and a large amount of Dolmens (A prehistoric monument generally regarded as a tomb) on the northern cliff, suggest an early settlement.

GamlaGamla is thought to have been a prosperous agricultural center, due to the 600 sickle blades and the large number of oil presses that were found. The oil presses suggests that olives and the production of oil were the basis of the city’s economy. Olives and olive oil were used for cooking, light and for religious purposes. The houses of the city were built on terraces with stepped alleys between them, so close to each other, that they Josephus writes:” The city also hangs so strangely, that it looks as if it would fall down upon itself: (The wars of the Jews, 4,1). Well-constructed residences with large rooms, obviously of the wealthy, were uncovered in the west of the city. In them numerous beautiful objects were found, such as jewelry and precious stones, even containers for perfume and make-up. Recently a luxurious villa was excavated with a granite façade and frescoes decorating the inside wall.

Inside the city, near the wall, perhaps the most important finding of all was uncovered: an impressive public building identified as the synagogue of Gamala. It is rectangular in shape (25.5 x 17 m.) and oriented northeast to southwest in the direction of Jerusalem.

Along the building’s walls are several rows of stone-built benches, and columns around the center of the hall to support the roof. Wide steps lead down to a ‘mikve’ (A Jewish ritual bath). The arrangement of the hall, with its four rows of benches and columns, is characteristic of the Galilean-type synagogue. A rosette with flanking palms, a sample of Jewish art, was found as well. The Gala synagogue is one of the oldest found, and it became a popular place for celebrating a Bar- Mitzvah (Jewish coming of age ceremony, where young person become responsible for observing the commandments of the Torah). 

The Great Rebellion

Since the Romans had first occupied Israel in 63 B.C.E., their rule had grown more and more difficult .Beyond the annual taxes, they often imposed confiscatory taxes. The roman governors took over the appointment of the High Priest and showed continued contempt towards Judaism to a degree of persecuting the Jewish people. At the beginning of the Common Era, a new group arose among the Jews: the Zealots (in Hebrew, Ka-na-im). These anti-Roman rebels were active for more than six decades, and later instigated the Great rebellion in the year 66.

Gamla joined the rebellion when zealots form other cities found refuge between its walls. It was one of few cities who chose not to surrender to Vespacian’s legions.  At the time of the revolt, the town minted its own coins, bearing the inscription "For the redemption of Holy Jerusalem” only 6 of these coins have ever been found.

 

Historic Gamla is located on a rocky ridge surrounded by canyons, providing the city excellent defense advantages. The main approach road leads to the eastern part of the city, where a massive 18 ft. thick fortification wall was constructed. The findings suggest that along the wall several square towers were situated and a circular tower at the top of the hill, contributed to the city’s defenses.

In 66AD when Gamala joined the rebels against the Romans, they felt safe within the city walls “Gamala ...relied upon the difficulty of the place...and they had such a confidence in the situation of the place, that they thought the enemy could not be too many for them"(Wars 4 1 1).  However, Josephus - then the general of the Galilean forces - fortified the city to prepare for the worst. He writes: "As this city was naturally hard to be taken, so had Josephus, by building a wall about it, made it still stronger, as also by ditches and mines underground" (War 4 1 2).  In some sections of the wall, rooms of adjacent houses had been filled with stones. Archeologists think, this fortification might have taken place when preparing for the Roman siege.  

The emperor Nero called Vespasaian to the task of crashing the Jewish rebellion. Vespasianus was an ”old war horse” that has successfully helped conquer Britain. Vespacianus appointed his son Titus as one of his generals. They would both become emperors after their success in Judea.  

Evidence of the fierce battle that took place can be seen today in one of the walls next to the synagogue, where a ‘V’ shaped breach is located. Arrow heads and ballistas were also found in the synagogue showing the battle took place even there.

Gamla fell three years before Jerusalem (70 CE). Vespacianus planned first to subdue the region and then turn to Jerusalem- the prize. He and his son Titus would both become emperors after their successes in Israel.

Vespacianous, who knew about an earlier failed attempt to conquer Gamla by king Aggrippa, brought 3 legions with him (30,000 soldiers) the X Fretensis, XV Apollinaris and XV Macedonica.  The Roman’s first attempt to conquer the city failed. On their second attempt they breached the walls and entered the city at the sound of trumpets and the clash of weapons, and cries of their worriers. The Romans and the Gamla fighters were engages in face to face bitter battle. They were  fighting their way up the mountain going from alley to alley form roof top to roof top, when suddenly, because the roofs could not sustain the weight of the soldiers, they collapsed burring and injuring thousands of soldiers. The damaged to the roman army was so great they had no choice but to retreat.

Another attempt was made a few days later, when 3 soldiers collapsed the round watch tower. Titus, vespacianous’ son led the attack entering the city with 200 cavalry men and the last battle began. The Romans, remembering their last defeat fought ever fiercer, and they pushed the Gamla defenders uphill until they were trapped between the ravines and the soldiers. In their haste they jumped to the ravine in hope of escape. According to Josephus, 4000 were killed by the Roman sword, and 5000 by jumping to the ravine.  

          

Gamla today

Gamla WaterfallToday Gamla is an archaeological site and a nature reserve

When visiting you can enjoy a thrilling view of Gamla from the observation point at the top of the trail. The walls, the tower that the Romans undermined and the synagogue can be clearly seen.

Adventurers and good walkers can go down to the actual site and have a closer look and the city that fought the Romans so long ago. The trail also leads to a reproduction of the industrial area- the oil presses- to allow visitors a glimpse to the past showing how these presses worked and revealing elements of daily life in a prosperous community.

Gamla vultureA trail from the parking lot leads to  the byzantine dolmens, a view of the Gamla water fall- the highest waterfall in Israel (150 feet high), and the Griffon vultures so famous to Gamla.