On this hike through Britannia Park to Tel Azeka you will be ascending a mountain range that provides views of the coastal plain from one side and impressive views of the Elah Valley from the other. Tel Azeka also overlooks the Elah Valley, which was the site of the duel between David and Goliath, although further along the valley than here.
Time: 3½-4 hours.
Distance:About 8½ Km there and back.
Type of walk: Partially Circular.
Difficulty: Mainly easy walking along footpaths and jeep trails. There are areas with climbing on bare rock when returning on the red-marked trail which is slightly difficult, although this part of the hike is optional. Walking sticks can be helpful for this section.
Directions and parking: Enter "צומת פארק בריטניה" into Waze and this will bring you directly to a gravel parking area at the entrance to Britannia Park. The entrance to the park is the first turning on your right 1.2 Km past Sarigim on route 353. (There are two park entrances on either side of the road. You will be entering the southern entrance to Britannia Park on the right-hand side of the road coming from Sarigim). The trail starts from this parking area. There are shaded picnic benches by the parking lot.
Public transport: Enter into Moovit "Sarigim." From Jerusalem, take buses 415, 417 or 418 to Bet Shemesh and then bus 27 to the stop "Cramim." To get to the starting point of the hike, return to route 353, turn right, and continue along this road until you come to the side-turning for the starting point of the trail. This is a 1-mile walk and will take you about 21 minutes.
View over the Elah Valley.
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From the parking area, a signpost with a green arrow points you in the direction of "תל עזקה". Follow this green-marked jeep trail until after about 680 meters you come to an "old oak" tree . Much of this hike is also on the Schvil Yisrael trail (Israel Trail) and you will recognize its orange-blue-white markers. From here take the red-marked trail up the stone steps on your right.
After ascending the red-marked trail for about 6 minutes, you will pass a clearing on your right by a KKY wooden pillar containing two eucalyptus trees and a typical ancient winepress carved into the bedrock, evidence that vine growing was once part of the agriculture here. As you continue along the red-marked trail you will enjoy view of the Judean Lowlands (Shefela), and the coastal plain. At the top of the hill is Khirbet Shikalon containing the ruins of a Byzantine settlement.
By a water cistern and a KKY pole, the road forks. Take the right-hand fork and descend the hill. There is a Schvil Yisrael marker on the low wall ahead and throughout this trail. As you descend, you will have wonderful views of the Elah Valley below (see picture).
Continue along this trail until it meets a black-marked jeep trail. Turn left along this jeep trail. (Do not continue along the Schvil Yisrael down the hill).
Continue on this black-marked trail to the first intersection, which is a 4-way intersection. Take the first road on the right, which is a continuation of the black-marked trail. (There is also the possibility of either now or on your return of taking the red-marked forest trail ahead on the other side of the road. It leads to the same place, but takes longer than the jeep trail).
At the next intersection, which is also the intersection for many roads, look for a blue-marked footpath on the other side of the road. It is clearly labelled and has 3 wooden steps at its beginning partially enclosed by a stone fence. There are also has faded Schvil Yisrael-markings on the trail.
After 15 minutes or so on this trail, you will come to a road that is partially surfaced. Cross this road and look for the continuation of the blue-marked trail on the other side of the road and about 20 meters to the left. The trail is through a gap in the stone wall.
You will eventually reach the parking lot at the foot of Tel Azeka. There are shaded picnic benches here and also a wooden hut on the right with a pit WC.
Go around the brown metal gate on the paved road and follow the steps up to the top of the tel. On the way up are stones engraved with biblical verses from the life of David.
The observation point under the tree at the top of the tel is a good place to appreciate the topography of the area and the strategic location of this city. This is also a good place to read the biblical account of the David and Goliath story from the Bible (I Samuel chapter 17). Azeka was the rear position of the Philistine army, which extended all the way to Socho.
The section of the Elah Valley below you is in the shape of an L. A bit to your right, the Elah Valley makes a sharp turn southwards towards the Hebron Hills. If you have good eyesight, The Gush and Hebron can be just made out on the tops of the hills above the valley. On the left side of the valley, you can see the housing of Ramat Bet Shemesh and you may just be able to make out the ruins of Qeiyafa. It is close to Qeiyafa and on top of the ridge that King Saul's army was camped. The right-hand side of the valley is where the Philistine army was camped. In other words, the confrontation between David and Goliath was some distance from where you are sitting now and is at the beginning of the second part of the L. After Goliath was beheaded, the Philistines fled to their cities of Gath and Ekron. The ruins of Gath are thought to be at Tel Tzafit, and this also can just about be made out.
To return to the beginning of the hike, go through the recreation area and retrace your steps on the blue trail to its intersection with the black-marked jeep trail. Make sure you stay on the blue-marked trail as there are lots of paths here and it is easy to get lost. Cross the paved road for the second part of the blue trail.
When you come to the 4-way intersection, take the black-marked jeep trail straight ahead on the other side of the road (If you want some variety, you can take instead take the red-marked forest footpath. It will take longer, but reaches the same intersection).
At the next multiple-road intersection look for the red-marked trail straight ahead on the other side of the road. You cannot miss it. This makes this hike partially circular. There is a short wooden pole with a red arrow pointing you in the direction of תל שקלון. This part of the trail does involve some climbing on bare rock, but this is not difficult.
When you reach a 3-way junction by a protected but open water cistern, turn to the right following the red-marker on the wooden post. Continue on the red-marked trail (and also Schvill Yisrael-marked trail) back to the "old oak."
When you meet the green-marked trail, turn left back to your car.
Alternative ways of visiting Tel Azeka:
1. A one-way hike with 2 cars. Your staring point will be as above. But drive both cars to the foot of Tel Azeka. (Enter "Tel Azeka" into Waze. It's about a 9-minute, 6-Km drive from the starting point of this hike). Then drive back to the starting point with one car.
2. A shorter non-circular hike from the northern entrance to Britannia Park. For a shorter 1½ hour ,4¼ Km, non-circular hike, begin at the northern entrance to Britannia Park, which is about 2-3 minutes along route 383 from Azeka Junction. Enter into Waze "פארק בריטניה" and click on "פארק בריטניה צפוני". After entering the park, take the first turning on the left to park your car in the recreation area. An unmarked jeep trail on your left just as you enter this turning will take you in the direction of the tel. Continue along this jeep trail until you come to a T-junction where it meets the green-marked trail. Turn right along the green-marked trail until you come to the bottom of the tel. After visiting the tel, retrace your steps back to your car.
Approaching the tel.
Azeka is first mentioned in the book of Joshua. An alliance of five southern Canaanite kings attacked the Canaanite city of Gibeon that had made peace with the Israelites. Gibeon appealed to Joshua to come to their aid and Joshua made a surprise attack on the alliance. He then smote them "to Azeka and Makeidah." Many of the fleeing Amorite fighters were killed by huge hail stones "until Azeka." God also acceded to Joshua’s request and the sun stood still in the Valley of Ayalon, allowing the Israelites to completely wipe out their enemies (Joshua 10:10-15).
Azeka was an important Judean city. King Rehoboam fortified the city (II Chronicles 11:5-10). Azeka was destroyed, together with other Judean cities in the Shafela, during the campaign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib although Jerusalem was miraculously saved. Azeka was rebuilt but onquered again by the Babylonians before Jerusalem was also destroyed (Jeremiah 34:6-7). It was rebuilt yet again by the returnees from Babylon (Nehemiah 11:30).
The Israelites and Philistines
The Israelites struggled with the Philistines during the period of the Judges, even before the time of Samson. The Philistines succeeded in dominating the Israelites and ruled them harshly. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin lived primarily on the southern part of the central mountain range while the Philistines inhabited the southern coastal plain. The Elah Valley, which was part of the inheritance of the tribe of Judah, was the border between these two nations, and during the reign of King Saul was the front line for a confrontation between their two armies.
The word "Elah" means a terebinth tree, and this valley received this name because of the many terebinth trees in the area. The Elah Stream flows through this valley from the watershed of the Hebron Mountains and is fed by several tributaries. This valley was of considerable strategic importance as it provided a convenient route for enemies of the Israelites to pass from the coastal plain to the mountain ridge via these tributaries. Today's route 375 follows a path similar to this ancient road. Azekah and Qeiyafa were among several walled cities and fortresses strategically located at the entrance to the Elah Valley to provide protection to the main cities of the mountain range, including Hebron and Bethlehem.
The Elah Valley is well-known for being the site of the battle between David and Goliath. As described in 1 Samuel 17:1-3 “And the Philistines assembled their camps to war; and they assembled at Socho which belonged to Judah, and they encamped between Socho and Azeka …. And Saul and the men of Israel assembled, and they encamped in the Valley of Elah. And the Philistines were standing on the mountain from here and Israel was standing on the mountain from there, and the valley was between them.”
One can easily get the impression from the notices on Tel Azeka that this conflict took place immediately below Azeka, but this is unlikely. The Philistine camp being "between Azeka and Socho" means that their camp was located on the same side of the mountain ridge as Azeka, but further along the valley somewhere opposite Qeiyafa. Goliath would have taunted and challenged the Israelites from within the valley between the two camps.
Goliath proposed settling the conflict with a duel between himself and the Israelites’ best soldier; by mutual agreement, the nation whose representative lost would submit to the rule of the other. The Israelite camp was in a state of panic and no one wanted to accept the challenge. Undaunted, David (who was quite young and not even a trained soldier) volunteered to fight Goliath. With no other options available, Saul hesitantly agreed. David confidently approached Goliath with his famous declaration: “You come to me with spear and javelin, and I come to you with the name of the Lord of Hosts.” (ibid 17:45). A single stone shot from David’s sling stunned Goliath and catapulted David to fame. It also launched his long journey to the throne and the beginning of the Israelite kingdom's Davidic dynasty.