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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Banias: A testimony to the rich heritage of Syria’s Golan

The city of Banias sprawls at the foot of the western slope of the snowy white cap of Mount Hermon. It is made up of sedimentary (limestone) rocks from the upper Cretaceous geological period. Small rivers wind around it, forming the Banias River, which eventually rests at Lake Hula.

The Greeks dedicated the cave above the Jordan Spring to the god “Pan,” the guardian of fields, forests, livestock, and hunters. From this dedication the city derived its name, Paneas

The ruins of the ancient city of Banias (Caesarea Philippi) after its destruction by earthquakes; Credit: https://t.ly/1-do4

The ancient Syrians established this city, located about 20 kilometers away from the city of Quneitra. It overlooks the Hula Valley to its southwest and stands at an elevation of 329 meters above sea level. This was before the arrival of the Greeks in the 7th century BC, a period that gained more prominence during the Hellenistic era. The Greeks dedicated the cave above the Jordan Spring to the god “Pan,” the guardian of fields, forests, livestock, and hunters. From this dedication the city derived its name, Paneas, which later evolved into its current Arabic name, Banias.

Herod the Great; Credit: https://t.ly/KzwKr

Herod the Great had a Nabatean wife from Palmyra and reigned from 73 BC – 2 AD.  After being appointed governor over Galilee, he became a king ruling over the region stretching from the Golan Heights in the north, to the Dead Sea in the south. During his reign there was significant cultural and economic prosperity in the area. Herod the Great was a trustworthy ally of the Roman Empire and his works reflected Greco-Roman culture. He constructed a pagan temple dedicated to Pan in front of the cave and its remains are still a tourist attraction today. He further developed the city to serve as the capital for his people, naming it “Caesarea Philippi.” Later, Herod Agrippa II improved it and renamed it “Neronias” in honor of the tyrannical Caesar Nero.

Ruins of the pagan temple built by Herod the Great in front of the cave; Credit: Travel Advisor

It is said to be the place where Jesus confirmed Peter‘s assumption that Jesus was the Messiah, prompting Jesus to say to Peter: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Matthew 16:18

The Christian scriptures mention that during his final days, the Lord Jesus visited Caesarea Philippi. It is said to be the place where Jesus confirmed Peter‘s assumption that Jesus was the Messiah, prompting Jesus to say to Peter: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Matthew 16:18. Banias today is a place of pilgrimage for Christians from all over the world. According to biblical accounts, Banias was also the homeland of the woman who was healed from bleeding by Jesus in Capernaum. It is also suggested that perhaps from there, Jesus ascended to Mount Hermon where he was transfigured.

Artistic rendering of Jesus with his disciples in the area of Banias (Galilee); Credit: https://www.jw.org/en/

There is an ongoing debate to this day regarding the belief held by some that Banias is the ancient city of Baal Gad described in the Torah, located beneath Mount Hermon, and associated with the victories of Joshua in the northernmost part of the Promised Land.

However, it is certain that the Roman general Titus arrived there in 70 AD, pursuing the believers involved in the proclamation of Christ. He commemorated in Banias the victories of the Roman armies in the battles of Palestine and their capture and destruction of Jerusalem. During that time, a stadium was established in Banias where the locals were forced to engage in combat with wild beasts. A significant number of them perished as a result of this brutality. Following this period of persecution Banias converted to Christianity and by the 4th century AD it had become a prominent episcopal center.

Its archaeological remains, antiquities, and fortresses have granted Baniyas a prestigious status as an important tourist destination. Archaeological excavations carried out in the 1950s in the city of Banias led to the discovery of numerous valuable artifacts. These included pieces of mosaics, engraved rings depicting the goddess Diana, the Greek goddess of hunting, as well as inscriptions dating back to the Islamic era. Gold jewelry, a brocade silk robe still adorned with golden threads, and a diverse collection of coins from the Seleucid, Byzantine, Roman, and Islamic periods were also unearthed.

In 1965, excavation campaigns resulted in the discovery of rock-hewn tombs near the town and a stone coffin found in one of the orchards containing a half-length bronze medallion statue of an attractive woman dating back to the 1st century AD. The statue was named “Princess of Banias” and that designation became associated with the city itself. This artifact now resides in the halls of the National Museum in Damascus.

The village, which was demolished, served as the site for establishing the Jewish settlement of Katzrin in place of the former village

Unfortunately, in June 1967, Israeli occupying forces invaded the entire Golan Heights. Israeli excavation teams followed the tanks, digging for artifacts scattered throughout the Syrian Golan Heights. Following extensive research, excavation, and the appropriation of discoveries, the Israeli forces placed the findings in a museum in the village of Qatrin. The village, which was demolished, served as the site for establishing the Jewish settlement of Katzrin in place of the former village.

Thus, the city of Banias and its Golanese counterparts remain under occupation. Despite this, this city, formerly part of the Quneitra Governorate, continues to be registered among the historical cities within the specified borders on the preserved map of the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums in the Syrian Arab Republic, according to Decision No. 39/A dated 30-3-1983.

George Tuma
George Tuma
George Tuma is the publisher and chief editor of Medical & Cosmetic Arts Magazine; specialist in Spirituality, Health, and Healing; an Instructor of Electro Cosmetic, Therapy and a Practioner of Holistic Medicine, (Complementary and Alternative). He has published several articles in scientific journals.

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