Tel Ofek and Mekorot HaYarkon parks in Yarkon National Park
This is a very pleasant hike in three parts of the Yarkon National Park - Tel Afek with its Ottoman fortress, the Mekorot Hayarkon Park, and a path along a water channel (Einat channel) that links the two. The tel is of considerable historic interest and the Rosh Ha’ayin Springs have been and continue to be an important water resource for the country. This is explained by signs along the route, although only a minority are in English.
Time: About 3 hours there and back.
Distance: Just over 7½ Km there and back.
Type of hike: There and back same way.
Directions and parking: The hike described starts at Tel Afek, although it could equally well be done in the opposite direction. Enter “Tel Afek” into Waze. Brochures with a map are available in English. From the park entrance drive to the main parking lot.
Admission: This is a park of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Hours during the summer are Sunday to Thursday and Saturday 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and Friday and holiday eves 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Winter closing is 1 hour earlier. Admission is up to 1 hour before closing time. Close to the parking area are WCs and a kiosk that sells drinks and snacks. They can also provide information about the trails. There are shaded picnic benches close to the parking lot. Mekorot Hayarkon Park also has many shaded picnic benches. Their phone number is 03 903-0760. This is their website:
Public transport: Tel Afek is only an 8-minute walk from the nearest bus stop, which is serviced by many bus lines. Enter “Yarkon National Park” into Moovit.
Ottaman fortress on Tel Afek
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Tel Afek and the Rosh Ha’ayin Springs
The fortress you see on the tel is Ottoman. However, there have been fortresses on Tel Afek since the Canaanite period, since the tel is very strategically located. These fortresses were within and controlled the Afek Pass, a 2-Km wide pass between the mountains of Samaria on the east and the Rosh Ha’ayin Springs on the west, and through which passed the Via Maris, an important trade route that ran along the Mediterranean coast and connected Egypt to the northern regions of the ancient Near East, including the Levant and parts of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). The Afek Pass circumvented the mouth of the Yarkon Stream and its swamps which would otherwise be an obstacle for armies.
Afek first became a walled city during the Canaanite period in the Early Bronze Age, in about 3,00 BCE. It came under Egyptian control during the Middle Bronze Age, but the Canaanites reestablished their autonomy during the Late Bronze Age (around 1500 to 1200 BCE). Within the courtyard of the Ottoman fortress are ruins of a Canaanite palace from the 17th century Middle Canaanite period and also the partially reconstructed ruins of an Egyptian governor’s house from the 13th century BCE late Canaanite period.
Afek is mentioned in the book of Joshua as being captured by the Israelites (Joshua 12:18). During the Iron Age, Afek came under the control of the Philistines. The Bible describes the Battle of Afek during which the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant was captured (I Samuel 4:1). The city subsequently became an Israelite settlement. A Greek city was established during the Hellenistic period. Herod the Great expanded the city in the early Roman period and named it after his father Antipatris. The city flourished during the Late Roman period (132 to 324 CE) and the remains of the Cardo from this period can be seen outside the fortress as well as the remains of a small theater.
The Crusaders built a fortress at Migdal Tsedek on the other side of the Migdal Pass and this fortress can be viewed from the tower within the fortress. A telescope (without glass) is even provided to appreciate its location.
The fortress now on the tel is Ottoman and was built between 1572 and 1574 CE. Its name Antipatris Fortress is in error in that this is the name of Herod’s palace.
The Rosh Ha’ayin Springs is the where a major aquifer emerges at the foot of Tel Afek. This aquifer is from rainwater from Judea and Samaria and it emerges here because the mountains have a westward incline. It was once a major source of water for the Yarkon River. This river is 27 Km long and is joined by other tributaries before it reaches the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv. The springs also created swamps around both banks of the river.
The Rosh Ha’ayin Springs were the main source of water for Jerusalem during the British Mandate. In 1936, water pumps in the springs began pumping water to Sha’ar HaGai and then via additional pumps into the city of Jerusalem. The British-built buildings in the park once contained a pump, filtration and settling pools and a chlorination structure. There are also buildings for the British soldiers who guarded this system.
In the 1950s, Ben Gurion ordered the establishment of Yarkon-Negev water pipelines from the Rosh Ha’ayin Springs to provide water to the Negev region, and in 1964 this water was linked into the national water carrier. The net result of this was that only a small fraction of its water now entered the Yarkon River. Furthermore, as a result of a fall in the water level of the aquifer the swamps around the springs dried up. However, the Einat Channel within the park, which is where you will be hiking, has been rehabilitated and the swamps have been recreated by pumping water from the aquifer.
After you have parked in Tel Afek Park, make your way to the fortress via the path that passes the Mandate-period water system. However, during the late summer it is worth going to the fortress via the שביל החצים (Squill Path). This is a footpath in which there are many squill plants.
The squill is of the lily family and has broad leaves, white flowers and a large bulb and it flowers at the end of the summer (see picture). The flowers blossom on a column from the bottom up and wither as new flowers appear above them. The path is not marked on the brochure map but the park attendant will point out the direction to go. This path will bring you out on the Roman cardo, past the Roman theater and then to the southern side of the fortress. Note that the stones of the Cardo are not arranged parallel to the side of the path but at an angle. This was to prevent carriage wheels getting caught between the joins.
It is worthwhile entering inside the Ottoman fortress. It contains the ruins of a Canaanite palace from the middle Canaanite period (17th century BCE) and the partially reconstructed ruins of an Egyptian governor’s house from the end of the late Canaanite period (13th century BCE). At the far-left corner of the courtyard one can climb up to the roof of the tower and see the tel and Crusader ruins of Migdal Tsedek in the distance on the other side of the Afek Pass.
Exit the fortress by its northern exit and head towards the large rain pool. At the T-junction turn to the left. After passing through a gate, you will pass a pool and marsh. A notice on the gate warns you by which time you should leave the park.
After some distance, you will app under the railway roach railway tracks and then the gate for an entrance into the Mekorot Hayarkon Park under the railway. By its entrance is a pillbox built during the Arab revolt of the 1930s to protect the railway. You can even enter the pillbox and sit on the benches. One can also turn to the left to view the Water-lily Ponds, which are artificial excavated ponds in which water lilies are being preserved. They have disappeared from other streams in the country due to pollution.
It is possible to encircle the Mekorot Hayarkon Park. Realistically, there is not a lot to see here and the park is one big shaded picnic area. However, there are covenient areas for viewing the stream.
If you wish you can continue by the stream to the Concrete House.
This was the first building in Israel to be constructed out of concrete reinforced with iron bars and it was a pump house providing water for the agriculture of Petah Tikva.
Return the way you came.
[Shorter walks are described in the brochure that are confined to Tel Afek Park or Mekorot HaYarkon Park].
Pools and marshes have been recreated.
Lillies on the Yarkon Stream.
Partially reconstructed Egyptian governor's house from Late Canaanite period within the fortress.
Quill on the Quill Path. The white flowers appear sequentially up the stem.