Gamla, The Camel-backed Mountain
Founded by King Janneus around 80 B.C.E., Gamla was a Jewish town of 5,000 farmers. Excavations have revealed fascinating finds, including one of the world’s oldest synagogues
Not long after the Six Day War in 1967, a young kibbutznik participated in an archaeological survey of the Golan Heights. Munching on a sandwich while on a lunch break one day, he glanced down by chance at a foliage-covered mountain. When he realized what he was looking at, he gasped in astonishment: the mountain corresponded exactly to a description of ancient Gamla in Wars of the Jews, one of Josephus Flavius’ famous books!
Archaeologists who eventually excavated the ancient Jewish city of Gamla discovered six unique coins minted by town fathers almost 2,000 years ago. The coins bore the inscription “For the Redemption” on one side; on the other — “Of Holy Jerusalem.” Like the coins, whose inscriptions have never been found anywhere else in the world, the story of Gamla is incomparable. Gamla itself has been called the Masada of the North.
Gamla’s Jewish history began in the first century B.C.E. Founded by Hasmonean (Maccabee) King Alexander Janneus between 83‑80 B.C.E., Gamla was a Jewish town with a population of 5,000 farmers. Excavations at Gamla have revealed some fascinating finds, including one of the oldest synagogues in the world. Along with the synagogue, a number of ritual baths (mikvas) were discovered, both clear indications that the city’s residents were observant Jews. Two neighborhoods have been uncovered as well, one for the middle class and another inhabited by the rich.
Like many contemporary houses in hilly Israeli cities, the dwellings on the single built-up slope of Gamla were terraced apartments. Thus each roof was the floor of the home above, saving a lot of space and contributing to the success scored by the Jews in their first major battle against the Romans during the Great Revolt.