The town Gamla was founded early in the Maccabean period, about 200 years beforeits destruction in 67 C.E. That year the Jews revolted, and the Emperor Nero sent his greatest general, Vespasian, conqueror of Germany and England, to suppress the rebellion. Supported by 60,000 troops, he invaded northern Israel as a prelude to an attack on Jerusalem.
Aided by the treachery of the renegade Jewish general Joseph ben Mattahias, who later became famous as the historian “Josephus”, the major Jewish fortified areas, Tsippori and Yidefat, were quickly overcome. No bases for resistance remained other than small isolated strongholds. Gamla was one of these.
Situated on a steeply peaked, humped-back” small mountain, Gamla (camel) was a perfect natural fortress, surrounded by impregnable gorges on three sides. On the fourth side a deep trench was dug in the ground and topped by an imposing wall. Inside this compound lived a Jewish community, fully determined to withstand the powerful Roman onslaught.
Two major attacks were made on the Jews of Gamla. The first produced a thorough defeat of the attacking Romans. The weight of the myriad roman soldiers encased in their heavy armor as they charged up on top of the roofs of the steeply terraced houses caused a cascading collapse of the heavy stone buildings. The crushed and disheveled Romans fell easy prey to the Jewish defenders, while the rest beat a hasty retreat.
The siege of Gamla followed this first encounter. After a sustained catapulting of boulders and firebrands, the Jewish defense positions were totally destroyed and the inhabitants too weakened to mount further resistance. Josephus writes that five thousand Jews leapt into the gorges rather than be taken alive. This is certainly credible, since it is known that Roman soldiers were highly rewarded for young captives, who were then used for depraved purposes. Tragically, the Romans still managed to capture one thousand and massacre four thousand Jews. Gamla was never again inhabited.
Gamla is situated in a large ravine in the Southern Golan Heights. It overlooks the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), with spectacular, commanding views on all sides. A lookout post near the entrance to the Gamla Reserve provides a magnificent birds-eye view of the historical site. To fully appreciate Gamla, you should take the1½ hour hiking trail leading to the ancient ruins, where a synagogue, mikveh, houses, etc. have been restored. The adventurous may continue on the marked path to the 150 ft. “Gamla waterfall” which surges powerfully during winter and early spring. There is also the ruins of a Byzantine city and a number of dolmens — ancient burial mounds — scattered on the slopes.
Before starting at Gamla, you may wish to stop in at the Archeological Musuem in nearby Katzrin, where they have an excellent video presentation on Gamla several times a day.
Buy guidebooks to Safed and the Golan at the Kabbala Online Shop.