History – The Phoenicians – The Mandatory Period Train Tunnel
Legend relates that when our forefather Abraham left Mesopotamia (Aram Naharaim) heading for the Promised Land (Eretz Israel): "Upon reaching Sulma at Tzur, he saw the people busying themselves with weeding, when this was necessary, with tilling when the proper time for this arrived, and then he proclaimed: Would that my portion shall be in this land! Then the Lord said to him: To your seed will I give this land."
From here we learn that this was a fertile land with happy people. Many generations later, in the time of the Romans, the Talmudic sages said of this area "Why, there is no Land of Life other than Tzur and its surroundings … Over there things are cheap and plentiful …"
Rosh Hanikra is on a high mountain known as the "Ladder Range" (the ladder of Tzur – Tyre). This whole mountain range has been declared a nature reserve and consists of about 5000 dunams.
What is the Origin of the Name "Ladder Range"? In ancient paintings, one can see at the edge of the ridge, through stairs quarried into the mountain to form a passage for the crossing of caravans of camels and horses. Additionally, in the history books it is told of Alexander the Great of Macedonia who in the year 333 BCE (Before Common Era) was forced to quarry into the mountainside a passage and stairs in order to transport his army. Another explanation is that the way north of Rosh Hanikra, along the Lebanese coast, rises and falls with several ridges that approach very close to the sea, and therefore looks like a ladder …
Many armies of the ancient world passed here on the coastal road, counted among them the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and the Crusaders.
The Crusaders fortified Achziv and defended it because it guarded over the way to the northern part of their kingdom at Tyre (Tzur) and Sidon (Tzidon).
During the First World War the British conquered Eretz Israel from the Turks and their allies, the Germans. At the same time the French conquered Lebanon and Syria, and in order to ensure the connection between themselves and the French, the British in 1918 paved the road crossing the Ladder at Rosh Hanikra. While paving the road, they wiped out the traces of the ancient route.
During the rule of the British Mandate in Eretz Israel, the British paved a rail line between Haifa and Tripoli in Lebanon. The rail line was dug into the rock of Rosh Hanikra. Today, one can still view the remains of the magnificent rail line and train tunnel at the tourist site.
Let us focus for a moment on the unique peoples who lived in this area for thousands of years - the Phoenicians and the Sidonians:
Along the coastal stretch reaching from Sidon - located 40 kilometers north of Rosh Hanikra - to Haifa, situated around 40 kilometers south of Rosh Hanikra, there lived for thousands of years a Canaanite people known in the Bible as the "Sidonians", and known to the world as the "Phoenicians" (starting from the 19th century BCE up to the 9th century CE).
In spite of their being Canaanites, peace and friendship reigned between them and the Children of Israel during most periods. In the days of the kings David and Salomon and their successors, covenants were made between the kingdoms of Sidon and Israel. They helped each other not only in times of warfare defending against outside invaders, but also with trade and construction. As experts of the ancient world in woodwork and stonework, they supplied both the building materials and artisans for the building of the First Temple.
Together with the great economic benefit and cultural contribution which they brought, there also was an invasion of a foreign religious influence based on gods. Queen Isabel persecuted the prophets of the Israelite G-d, and in that period the relations with the Phoenicians deteriorated. For thousands of years the Phoenicians were the glass producers of the ancient world. They produced it from sand in this area … In their honor the modern Israel glass factory which was once in Haifa is named "Phoenicia".
They were also once the important sailors and deck hands of the eastern Mediterranean and builders of wooden ships. They dealt with fabric crafts and dyeing, jewelry making and were also goldsmiths and artisans, working in valuable stones and ivory.
Their most important contribution to history was in inventing writing based on the alphabet. They invented the written letters in use even today with some slight changes.
Ancient Industries in the Area
Along the coastal line from Rosh Hanikra to Achziv and along the isles, it is possible to note that some of the rocks have quarried surfaces. In ancient times the residents would quarry rocks for building to supply the needs of all the coastal settlements of the western Galilee. In later periods these quarries were used as pools for making salt by drying up sea water.
It is possible that this is the source of its name as it appears in the Bible, "Water Blazes". In other words, the sea water was dried up by the sun, turning into salt …
In this area one can also find pools, recalling a press for making olive oil or wine. Because of the proximity to the sea it is hard to believe that this was really its function. However, it is in fact known that the ancients were interested in having a slight sea spray in their wines as a preservative …
Other schools of thought maintain that it seems these pools were quarried in order to store fish and accumulate enough of them so that a big enough shipment could be made to send to the markets. Some say that the pools served for the collecting – and even maybe the breeding – of the sea snails and gastropods which were once plentiful here in order to produce the purple and light blue dyes.
The purple and light blue dyes were of the essence in the ancient world and also very costly. Among the Gentiles, only the very wealthy were allowed to wear clothes dyed with these colors, while the Jews used light blue dye in their traditional prayer shawl, the "tallit".
This material was provided by: Uri Usri – a member of Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra, Mishal Gershon - tour guide at the "Riders' Experience" farm club.
The western foothills of the mountain are where the tourist site of Rosh Hanikra is located. This mountain is part of the Galilee mountain ridge, and is the only ridge in Israel which continues westward to the sea, descending into it in a steep cliff without a flat sand strip.
From a geomorphological point of view, the cliff of Rosh Hanikra consists of three layers:
The bottommost layer is made of hard limestone most of which is under sea level. The underwater grottoes were quarried out of this layer.
The middle layer is a steep cliff which reaches a height of 60 meters. This is a light colored rock made of soft chalk (a soft sea rock sediment) lined with rows of dark flintstone which developed in the era when the sea was warm and shallow. As a result, seaweed and marine life were discharged forming and consolidating into the flintstone.
The chalk is a rock made of calcite low in magnesium which does not dissolve and remains soft. Calcite has tiny pores through which water cannot penetrate and it can withstand erosion and therefore there is a landscape of steep cliffs at the point where the chalk ridges come into contact with the sea.
The chalk supplies building material and land rich in lime good for fertilizing fields. The white chalk once favored by teachers to write on class blackboards is essentially this kind of chalk.
On this part of the cliff a different sort of destruction is going on: The rock surface is covered at many points with thin crust and a white dust which are the result of the ongoing crumbling of the outer rock layer. This disintegration is helped along by salt carried on the sea spray throughout the year.
The outer layer is made of hard dolomite. Dolomite is a kind of sediment or residue rock, much like limestone in its composition and characteristics. However, unlike chalk, dolomite is very porous allowing water to seep in. Dolomite is rather common in Israel, found mostly in the earth's crust.