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Monday, July 2, 2012

The Caverns of Rosh HaNikra©

By Vardah Littmann
The Force of Water
You stand in the tunnels through stone at Rosh HaNikra, and waves sweep into the serrated grottoes and rounded alcoves. You can’t but marvel at the beauty around you. These tunnels formed by the force of the ocean water may remind you of the words of the song “Evenim Zachaku HaMayim.
These cavernous tunnels formed by sea action on the soft chalk rock were created by the force of many drops of water. The water stood on the surface of the rocks till they caved in and these wondrous hollows in the rocks were shaped. So too we are told to put the words of Torah on our hearts (Shema), and at some point, they will enter into our  very beings, turning us into “caverns” of Torah perception that are even more beautiful then the glorious Rosh HaNikra aqua caves.
Breathtaking Panorama
On the Mediterranean coast at the Israeli and Lebanese border, the cliff tops at Rosh HaNikra provide a magnificent observation point over the coastal area of Haifa Bay, the hills of the Galilee, and the Mediterranean. The mountain range at Rosh HaNikra descends from the ridge directly into the sea without an intervening beach, creating a steep rock-face into the waves. The panorama is breathtaking, so don’t forget your camera.
This unique geological formation is composed of three layers: the upper layer is hard chalk rock and dolomite, the middle layer is soft chalk, and the last layer is hard chalk that lies mostly below the sea. Rain water seeped into the soft rock, creating small caves as well as stalactites, and then the sea created grottoes in the soft chalk layer. Duckweed and other micro-organisms covering the rock also contributed to the crumbling of the soft rock.
The total length of the natural caves is some 200 meters. They branch off in various directions with some interconnecting segments. In the past, the only access to them was from the sea and only experienced divers were capable of visiting this awesome sight. Then in 1968, a tunnel was hewn into the cliff to give access to the grottos. It is 200 meters long and took two years to complete.
Rosh HaNikra Throughout History
Chazal’s “Sullam Tzur” (“The Ladder of Tyre”) is identified as Rosh HaNikra. The Bereishis Rabbah brings a Midrash that tells us that when Avraham Avinu traveled through various lands, he saw the inhabitants eating, drinking and spending their time frivolously. At that time Abraham asked that he should not have a share in those lands. On arriving at Sullamo Shel Tzur, he found its inhabitants busy plowing and planting the soil. He said: ”This is the land that I am asking from G-d as my portion.”  And Hashem said to Abraham: “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” 
 The march of time saw many trader caravans and conquerors enter the Land through the coastal road near Rosh HaNikra.  Among them were the ancient Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab and Crusader armies. After an Arab conquest, the site was renamed A-Nawakir ("the grottos"). The present name, Rosh HaNikra, is a translation of a later Arabic name "Ras-an-Nakura" (Head of the Grottoes).
The English paved a new road during the British Mandate (1918 to 1948) which erased all evidence of the ancient route. Their army cut a road for vehicles during the First World War. During the Second World War, the British dug three railway tunnels and built a bridge, in order to establish a continuous rail route from Europe to Egypt. This tunnel was used as well by Jews fleeing from the Nazis. It is said the Belzer Rebie came into the county via this route. 
In “Operation Night of the bridges”, (the night of March 14,1948) just prior to the official ending of the British Mandate in Palestine, the Hagana’s Carmel Division blew up the western end of the lower bridge and tunnel. This was done to prevent the Western Galilee from being cut off from the rest of Israel by invading Arab forces that could have used the rail line to transfer troops and arms into the region. Still sandbagged and closed-off today, that area is a silent witness to the brave daring defensive action which assisted in keeping the Western Galilee safely connected to Israel.
Rosh Hanikra was the site where Israeli and Lebanese officials negotiated and concluded an armistice in 1949 which ended the Lebanese-Israeli component of the 1948 War of Israeli Independence. After the Israeli war of Independence, Rosh HaNikra came under Israeli control. The first tunnel and half of the second tunnel built by the British are in Israeli territory, while the northern tunnel is in Lebanon.
The Best Time to Visit
Extraordinarily beautiful, Rosh Hanikra is a destination that you will not want to miss. There is partial access for the handicapped and the site is suitable for families and groups of all ages. For parents with babies in wide baby-carriages, there could be difficulties in maneuvering around the grottoes, and therefore it is recommended to also come equipped with a baby carrier. The grottoes can be visited in at all seasons and weather. (On very stormy days they may be closed so do check if they are open before you visit Tel: 073-2710100, Fax: 073-2710131 ). The experience is always worthwhile, but make sure to dress weather appropriate. It is recommended to tour the site wearing sports shoes or rubber-soled shoes that are not slippery . Weddings are also held here.
There is a promenade along the coast with a lovely view of the Mediterranean Sea and the remains of the British railroad tracks. History comes alive here. At the end of the promenade is a monument to the illegal immigration during the British Mandate; the monument is made from pieces of broken immigration ships.
The fauna in the nature reserve is wide and varied. Every year giant sea turtles lay their eggs here. The male turtles dig pits for the females to lay their eggs in; after a few weeks, the tiny turtles dig out of their pits at night and scuttle to the sea before daybreak. The common hyrax and rock-rabbits can be found in the rocky areas, the tunnels, and the parking lot.
Birds can be found in great variety at RoshHaNikra. Fruit bats, swallows, and rock pigeons live in the grottoes. Seagulls nest on an island nearby, along with many other sea-shore and sea birds. The flora includes Pistacia Elastica trees and Statice shrubs.The flowers which only grow in this area include Sea Lavendar, Rhus Pentaphylla, Red Squill, Beach Morning Glory, Limonium, Sea Daffodil, and Evening Primrose
Directions to Rosh HaNikra
By car, travel north on Road 4 to the north-western most point of Israel, which is a ten minute ride north of Nahariya. For those coming by train or bus, get off at the Nahariya Station. Behind the train and bus stations, on Lohamei HaGettaot Street, there is a taxi stand to Rosh HaNikra and the surrounding area.

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