Banias / Caesarea Philippi, Israel

waters of the Banias Spring (one source of the Jordan River), with Pan's Cave, aka the Gates of Hades, in the background - For Greco-Roman pilgrims to the sanctuary, the large cave, with its seemingly bottomless pool and flowing stream, marked an entrance to the underworld or “gates of Hades.” The spring no longer flows out of the cave but rises from the ground below.

waters of the Banias Spring (one source of the Jordan River), with Pan’s Cave, aka the Gates of Hades, in the background – For Greco-Roman pilgrims to the sanctuary, the gaping cave, with its seemingly bottomless pool and flowing stream, marked an entrance to the underworld or “Gates of Hades.” The spring no longer flows out of the cave but rises from the ground below.

In or around the last decade before the Common Era, the city of Caesarea Philippi was commissioned by Philip the Tetrarch, a son of Herod the Great. The site already had a long history as a religious sanctuary. For over two centuries it had been known as Paneas, a major sanctuary for the Greek god Pan. The modern Arabic name Banias derives from the Greek Paneas. Before the Hellenistic period, the area was sacred to the Canaanite god Baal. Sheltered in the foothills of Mt. Hermon, the region’s highest mountain, with abundant  water and a lush, garden setting, it does feel like hallowed ground.

The rock-cut niches hanging over the Court of Pan and the Nymphs held inscriptions and votive statues.

The rock-cut niches hanging over the Court of Pan and the Nymphs held inscriptions and votive statues.

The site is sacred to Christians as the place where Jesus revealed himself as the Messiah to his disciples: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-20)

Today it is the Banais Nature Reserve, encompassing a network of trails, lots of flowing water, including a waterfall, gorgeous views of the Jordan Valley, and scattered remains of Greco-Roman, Byzantine and Crusader occupation.

resting by the Banias River

resting by the Banias River

Banias is located in the Golan Heights of northern Israel and is easily visited as a day trip from Tiberias or anywhere in the Galilee region.

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