There are several good reasons to tour in the Golan Heights and the Banias Nature Reserve is one of them. This spot is the perfect place to take in nature, history and archeology- Greek, Roman and Jewish.
Panias is a spring flowing down from Mount Hermon. It is named for the Greek god Arcadian Pan, a goat-footed god of victory in battle, isolated rural areas, music, goat herds, hunting, herding, and of sexual and spiritual possession. In Arabic, there is no “P” sound so a “B” was substituted. The name Panias became Banias. Modern Hebrew uses the Arabic word.
In pre-Hellenic times a deity associated with the site was called Ba'al-gad or Ba'al-Hermon. It was here where goats were sacrificed to this god so it was logical that when the Greeks came when Alexander the Great conquered the area, they would connect the place to their goat-like god.
Banias is a beautiful place to visit. It boasts the largest waterfall in Israel and one that can be visited in the driest summer season. Besides the nature trails there is the Temple Precinct where you can see the remains of five pagan temples and the remains of a palace, synagogue, Byzantine church and flour mills.
The Romans eventually took over the area and then handed to over to Herod the Great in the year 20BCE. Herod, although a Jewish king, also built pagan temples here to honor his patrons.
During the time of king Agrippa II (Herod’s great grandson) the city, called Caesarea Philippi, had a population of about 25,000. Agrippa built a huge palace here. Visitors can walk through the remains of this palace today.
For Jewish history buffs, it should be noted that it was at this palace that the Romans celebrated their victory over the Jews in the Great Revolt of 67CE. It was here where Jewish prisoners were forced to fight each other and wild animals to the death for the amusement of the victorious Romans.
The area is important to Christians as well. It is mentioned in the Gospels that Jesus and his disciples went to Caesarea Philippi to be alone. It is here where Jesus asks the question: “who do you think that I am?” and Peter answers “you are the Messiah”.
The area is beautiful with much to see – definitely worth a visit.