Monks' Caves

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Seclusion in the desert is an historical phenomenon, known throughout the ages. Many hermits came to the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea during different periods. During the Byzantine Period (4th to 7th centuries AD) the hermit-monk phenomenon increased, and various monasteries were established throughout the desert. Most of the activity took place in the northern part of the Dead Sea, although evidence of this was also discovered in the south of the Dead Sea and in the Negev, as seen in the monks’ caves near Zin stream.

Zin stream is one of the largest streams in the Negev, and drains the high Negev Mountain in the Mitzpe Ramon area. It carved out its bed in the Sodom area, along the hills of the ancient ‘tongue’ lake (which later evolved into the Dead Sea as we know it today). Zin stream has created a desert landscape of plains, deep gorges and canyons since its water eroded the soft, crumbly rocks. In these many rocks, natural cave openings were created that have been expanded by man over the years. Some of them were used as dwellings or for the storage of food and equipment, and some of them were utilized for religious activity.

The monks’ caves were already used during the Nabataean Period as transient abodes and even tombs were discovered from the Nabataean-Roman Period. During the Byzantine Christian Period, local monks operated in these caves. The monks’ caves and a Byzantine Cappella (prayer chapel) are located alongside Zin stream, on its way to the Dead Sea estuary, in the area of Sodom. Three caves were found in the small Wadi below the marlstone hills, one on the western bank and two on the eastern bank. In the burial cave on the eastern bank, excavations of the burial chambers can be seen, from the Nabataean-Roman Period (1-3 centuries AD). Alongside this burial cave, there is another cave that was also used during the Nabataean Period, up until the Byzantine Period.

Opposite, on the other side of the Wadi on the western bank, the central chapel can be seen, from the Byzantine Period (the cave spanned the 5th – 6th centuries AD) and, in the inner part, is another hermit’s cell. Crosses were engraved into the soft stone of the cave’s roof and walls. The cave walls were covered in thick plaster and various drawings. Some of the ancient colors can still be seen in the spot. From the entrance to the cave is a beautiful southward view to the flow-channel of Zin stream. This point is particularly impressive during floods, and the lovely grove of acacia trees alongside the salvadora bushes in the riverbed, can also be seen.

Alongside the caves, opposite Zin stream, is a Memorial to Michael Bloom, Shmuel Bernstein and Harry Lubyanov, who were murdered there on January 3, 1939. The murders took place during the riots of the Arab Revolt against the British Mandate and the Jews in Eretz Israel.

A short path climbs up the nearby hill, topped by a lookout point in memory of the soldier, Amir Philosoph, who fell during his military service (11.02.2001). Amir loved the desert very much and traveled a lot around the country. His family established the lookout point in his memory. From the top of the hill there is an impressive panoramic view: in the north Mount Sodom can be seen, and to the east of the mountain, the Dead Sea Works and salt-flats can be viewed clearly. Above and west of Mount Sodom, you can see the slopes of the Rom Cliffs and, on them, Mount Tzurim and Mount Hamarmar. In the south and southwest, the estuaries of Zin, Peres and Tamar streams can be seen draining together into the Zin stream reservoir. Also seen clearly are the hills created from sediment from the ancient ‘tongue’ lake.

We recommend that you park your car in the small dirt-square next to a sign pointing to the monks’ caves. A short walk will lead you to the caves. When your visit is complete, you can back-track and make your way to the lookout point and the nearby monument in memory of Amir Philosoph.

Have a pleasant trip!

  • Length of Trail: 200 meters. It can be combined with the lookout point.
  • Trip Duration: Half an hour.
  • Suitable for: Everyone.
  • Recommended season: all year round, the cave is shady and pleasant.
  • Trail Map: # 14. Craters according to the map of the Society for the Protection of Nature.
  • Starting and Finishing Points: the small dirt-square next to the sign pointing to the “monks’ caves”, close to Sodom stream.

 

The itinerary, as described above, is a recommendation only, and those who choose to take this trip do so at their own discretion and responsibility. The Regional Councils will not be held accountable in the event of any adverse consequences that may ensue.

General details about the place
  • Degree of difficulty – easy
  • Free Entry
  • Linear trip
  • Private Car Route
  • Suitable alone
  • Suitable for families
  • Walking trail
  • עונה מומלצת – כל השנה
Location on the map
Contact us
Email|moked@ma-tamar.co.il Address| “Monks’ Caves”, close to Zin stream
Phone|08-8000210 Hours of Activity|

24/7

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