Itri is a large, partially reconstructed village from Second Temple times located in Adullam Nature Reserve in the Shefelah. The villagers were involved in agriculture – the production of wine, olive oil and dried figs and the production of textiles. Itri is of interest because it participated in the Great Revolt with Rome in 66 CE and was destroyed as a result. Part of the village was repopulated but was destroyed again during the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132 CE.
The beginnings of Itri can be dated to the time following the return of the Jews from Babylon. It was then part of a self-governing province of Persia called Yehud and was close to the border with Edom, the Edomites having moved north after the exile of the Jews. This entire area of the Shefelah was extensively settled during this time and there were villages on many of the surrounding hills. Itri reached its peak in population size by the time of the Great Revolt against Rome. Its inhabitants participated in this revolt and coins have been found from the 2nd and 3rd year of the revolt. A layer of conflagration indicates that it was burnt down. It was resettled in the years up to the Bar Kochba Revolt, either by its original inhabitants or new people. The new village was about half the size of the previous one and was located on its eastern side. In preparation for this revolt, extensive tunnels systems were built throughout the village, as was done throughout Judea. The village was burnt down as a consequence of the revolt and this layer of destruction is also evident. It was settled again in the Roman period and possibly in the Byzantine and early Arab periods.
Difficulty: The ascent is on a path with small rocks which is minimally difficult although no climbing is involved.
Directions and starting point: Enter into Waze “Horvat Etri.” This will take you off the paved road and onto a broad, dirt jeep road. The parking area is in front of a gate leading to the ascent to the village.
Public transport: There is no close public transport.
Diagram of how the eastern part of the village would have looked before the Bar Kochba Revolt.
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Eastern part of the village destroyed during the Bar Kochba Revolt.
A short tunnel in the corner of a room in the western part of the village.
Western part of the village destroyed during the Great Revolt. The large stones of the houses would also have comprised an outer wall protection.
A wine press just outside the walls of the village.
Walk towards the top of the hill, and take the first turning on your right onto the green-marked trail. You will soon see on your right the ruins of dwellings from the Second Temple period. You can enter the homes.
These buildings were destroyed during the Great Revolt against Rome and were never rebuilt. Note how the outer walls of the rooms are constructed from large ashlars that are joined together as part of a defensive wall. The rooms are quite large, evidence that this was a prosperous village. Look carefully and you will see the entrance to tunnels in some of the corners of the rooms. Unlike during the Bar Kochba Revolt these were not extensive tunnels, but provided a limited space for hiding during danger and perhaps for storage. This is not evident here but the roofs of these buildings would have been made of mud packed on a wooden frame.
Continue to the far eastern section of the village where there are ruins that have been excavated and partially reconstructed. This section of the village was built after the Great Revolt and was destroyed during the Bar Kochba Revolt. As was done throughout the country, extensive tunnels were constructed in preparation for this revolt. A sign in front of you displays a helpful picture showing how the village would have looked in that period. Numbers for identification indicate a mikvah, a public building, caves intended for use during the Bar Kochba Revolt, and other buildings.
The assumption is that the public building is a synagogue. It faces towards Jerusalem. There was a mikvah within the synagogue, and was also the entrance to an extensive tunnel system built in preparation for the Bar Kochba Revolt.
Walk away from these buildings in an easterly direction and you will come to one of the many winepresses in this area.
Return the way you came.
The Bar Kochba Revolt
Jewish life in Midras and Itri came to an end during the Bar Kochba revolt, as Rome was determined to wipe out Jewish life in Judea.
The dates of the Bar Kohba Revolt are usually considered to be 132 to 135 CE, although these dates are not well documented and it may have begun a few years earlier.
Who was responsible for this revolt?
There is no doubt that the Jews initiated hostilities by carrying out guerilla attacks against Roman garrisons, but this struggle was the culmination of unfinished business for both Jews and Romans.
Some 60 years earlier the Jews were unable to defeat Rome during the Great Revolt and this resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Hadrian, the Roman emperor prior to the Bar Kochba Revolt, instituted laws against circumcision, the observance of the Sabbath, public prayer and family purity. He also planned a new Roman city on the ruins of Jerusalem, which would now be called Aelia Capitolina, and a temple to Jupiter would be erected on the Temple Mount. This was all more than the Jewish people could bear. Moreover, considerable messianic fervor was building up in the country and the Zealots felt that the time was ripe for reestablishing control over the country and rebuilding the Temple.
The Romans also had scores to settle. The Great Revolt had left bitter relations between Rome and the Jews. Many in Rome saw not only the country of Judea as a threat, but Judaism itself. The Jews refused to accommodate themselves to the norms of a unified empire. There was also much interest in conversion to Judaism within the Roman Empire by those who felt that the paganism of Rome was spiritually bankrupt; this also was perceived as a threat by the Roman leadership.
The revolt had the approval of Rabbi Akiva, the foremost Rabbi in Israel, and he gave the military leader Bar Kosiba the name "Bar Kochba," meaning “Son of a Star” thereby promoting his leadership as the "King Messiah".
As distinct from during the Great Revolt, this time round the Jews were unified and had prepared in advance for armed conflict. Extensive tunnel systems were carved out in the towns and villages for hiding. Over 350 of these have been discovered by archeologists in different parts of the country.
For the first two years, the revolt went well and the Jews were able to establish autonomy within the country with its capital being Jerusalem. However, Rome could not permit the secession of any province from its empire. A top general was brought in, together with reinforcements.
The Roman legions starved out the villages and systematically destroyed every village and town in Judea. By the end of the revolt, Bar Kochba, his fighters and other fugitives were besieged in the city of Betar. The rebellion ended on Tisha Be’av (the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av) in 135 CE when Betar was destroyed and its inhabitants massacred.
The Bar Kochba revolt was a devastating event for the Jewish people and the country of Judea. According to the Roman historian Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews died during the revolt. Many more were sold into slavery or exiled. Fifty fortified towns and 985 villages were razed to the ground. Hadrian continued his campaign against the Jewish faith and leading Rabbis, including Rabbi Akiva, were put to death. Jerusalem was "plowed over" and the pagan city of Aelia Capitolina was built in its place. Jews would be banned from the city for the next 500 years.
Many Jews migrated to the Lower Galilee and later to the Upper Galilee and southern Golan Heights. They remained in the Holy Land over the next few centuries and produced the Mishna and Jerusalem Talmud. However, with no Temple, no state, limited autonomy. and sometimes hostile governments, the focus of Jewish life began shifting to Babylon. This marked the beginning of 2,000 years of exile.