An Incredible Time Machine: Canaanite Citadel Transports Us to 12th Century B.C.E.

The Canaanites built the fortress to defend themselves against the Philistines

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The Gal On Citadel seen from above. Until its conquest in 1948, it the Arab village of Zeita was located near Gal On.
The Gal On Citadel seen from above. Until its conquest in 1948, the Arab village of Zeita was located near Gal On. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad

The long stretch of reeds along Nahal Guvrin draws a beautiful line, moving slightly in the wind. Along the stream, south of Kibbutz Gal On, a turn leads to Gal On Citadel. You should park immediately after getting off the road. From here walk a little. Cross the creek bed, and then the time travel begins. Prepare for a leap over more than 3,000 years.

A visit to Gal On transports us to the 12th century B.C.E. Welcome to the days of the Canaanites, the biblical judges, Ramesses III, the Trojan War, the journey of Odysseus and Helena’s beauty. Here, not far away, stands a modest site that has endured since that time.

The Gal On Citadel from the air. Welcome to the days of the Canaanites, the biblical judges, Ramesses III, the Trojan War, the journey of Odysseus and Helena’s beauty. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

A dirt road less than a kilometer long climbs the hill and leads between the green fields and a pine grove to Gal On Citadel. In the 12th century B.C.E, the Canaanites lived here. It was not easy for them. The Philistines settled on the coastal plain, the Israelites captured the mountainside, and the Canaanites were stuck in the middle, without protection and with a sea of worries. Nahal Guvrin marked the border between the Philistine kingdom of Gath and the Canaanite Lachish kingdom. To defend themselves the Canaanites built the citadel that dominates the stream and the main road.

A map showing the location of the Gal On Citadel

It is advisable not to have too high expectations. Citadel is a big word. The remains mostly stimulate the imagination. What remains of the ancient structure is a 18-meter square of large stones. The foundations of the citadel were 2-meter-wide stone walls. The walls above the foundations were built of mud bricks and were not preserved. In August 2020, after excavation and preservation by the Israel Antiquities Authority and environmental development of the Jewish National Fund, the site was opened for visitors. Green fields, wide open space and flowering cyclamen now make it a great trip.

The Gal On Citadel seen from above. It was abandoned around 1150 B.C.E.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Gal On Citadel was abandoned around 1150 B.C.E. The hypothesis is that the sentries withdrew to Lachish. This was the end of the Canaanites as a nation. The small fortress in the heart of the fields illustrates this lonely end.

Until its conquest in 1948, the Arab village of Zeita was located near Gal On. The village stands on a hill about a kilometer north of Wadi Zeita (the Arabic name of Nahal Guvrin). Kibbutz Gal On was established in 1946, as one of 11 settlements in the Negev.

In the future, Gal On Citadel is to be used as the northern entrance of the Kings of Judah Road, a 100-kilometer tourist route planned by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The road is supposed to pass through 32 sites, crossing the Judean plain through the historical and cultural heritage of the people of Israel in ancient times.

How to get there: “Gal On Citadel, Guvrin Forest” in Waze. The visit is free and doesn’t require prior coordination. By bus: Line 63 from Kiryat Gat. The site is not accessible to people with disabilities. When the river is dry, you can reach the citadel by car.

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