Stranger Than Fiction: Israel's Oddball Locales

Written by
Cindy Katz
We all know about Israel's world-class historical, religious and natural landmarks. But, what about Israel's stranger features? From Biblical giants and vegetarian Utopias, to Harry Potter's grave and Prehistoric cavemen, welcome to the lesser known side of Israel.
Gilgal Refaim, Golan Heights
Discovered in the Golan Heights a year after its capture in 1967, Gilgal Refaim is a mysterious display of concentric stone circles that has long baffled archaeologists. Dating back between 5,000 and 6,000 years, Gilgal Refaim ("Wheel of the Ghosts" in Hebrew) or Rujm el-Hiri ("The Stone Heaps of the Wild Cats" in Arabic) is reminiscent of England's famous—and similarly puzzling—ancient Megalithic structure, Stonehenge. The site consists of around 42,000 tons of basalt rocks forming four circles, and archaeologists believe that the walls of the structure once towered nine meters high, making the structure an especially impressive site when viewed from the air (and from Google maps). Like Stonehenge, Gilgal Refaim appears to be connected to the earth's place in the cosmos, as every year it aligns with the summer and winter solstices. Unsurprisingly, theories abound as to Gilgal Refaim's role. From common hypotheses revolving around astronomical observations and calendars, to more intriguing whispers about Biblical giants from the heavens, no one can pinpoint exactly why the mysterious rock formation was arranged in such a meticulous manner and in this particular location.
Gilgal Refaim is accessible only by foot and is located about a third of the way between Rds 808 and 98 in the Golan Heights, around an hour's walk from the road. If hiking in this region, be careful to stay on marked trails, as there are landmines around the area
Gilgal Arch Book

© PR

Tel Megiddo
Not ringing a bell? Perhaps you're more familiar with Tel Megiddo's Greek name: Armageddon. This sprawling valley is a UNESCO world heritage site that has long been important due to its strategic location connecting Egypt to Damascus. Inhabited from 7000 BCE until fall of the First Temple in 586 BCE, Tel Megiddo marks an ancient battlefield that has seen a lot of action, including a historic battle between the Egyptians and the Canaanites in 1500 BCE, and another between Egypt and the Kingdom of Judah in 609 BCE. However, Tel Megiddo is not known so much for its ancient battles but rather for its future battles—earmarked by the Book of Revelations as the spot in which the Messiah will defeat the Anti-Christ. During the end of times battle of Armageddon, Tel Megiddo seems to have a grueling future of fire and brimstone ahead of it. For now though, it hosts a small, peaceful Kibbutz and a fascinating museum and archaeological excavations that include a well-preserved water cistern from the time of Solomon.
Between Rd 66 where the Megiddo and Yokne'am junctions. The site can be accessed daily from 08:00 to 16:00
Tel Megido Aerial View

© Itamar Grinberg

Harry Potter's Burial Site, Ramle
While Israel may be a continent away from Hogwarts and the company of Hermione and Ron, our tiny Mediterranean country surprisingly harbors Harry Potter's grave. Don’t get too excited though, we are not talking about the same fictional wizard admired worldwide. Tucked away in a British military cemetery outside Ramle is the final resting place of Private Harry Potter, a young British soldier who lost his life in a firefight outside Hebron in 1939. According to his gravestone, Mr. Potter's was 19 when he passed away, but research proves he was actually one year younger, having lied in order to enlist. Meticulously maintained, the cemetery is the final resting place for hundreds of British soldiers who died during World War I, and later, during the British mandate of Palestine. Whether you choose to see the gravesite as marking the remains of Harry the Wizard or Harry the Soldier, the strange site and its surroundings are nevertheless, quite evocative.
Duchifat Rd, Ramle. Potter’s grave is all the way in the back, across from the farthest obelisk, second section from the left
Hermit House, Herzliya
Carved into the cliffs of Herzliya's Serene Sidney Alley Beach is a fantastical residence that is both decrepit and beautiful. Called the Hermit House, this real-life sandcastle is what happens when you mix a fairytale wonderland with a junkyard. The owner, Nissim Cachlon, has been tunneling deep into the dunes and surrounding cliffs since the 70s in order to construct this intriguing and frankly, bizarre, home (in defiance of local zoning laws). In addition to creating chambers and passageways through the rock, Cachlon has used recycled materials like tires, bottles, toys and glass in order to add an undeniably lovely aesthetic to his abode. While we've never seen Nissim in person, we hear he is quite friendly and happy to give tours. But, even if he is not around, it's still worth a good moment or two pondering what life would be like in a real-life giant sandcastle maze. 
Sidney Alley Beach, Herzliya, just south of Apollonia Archaeological Park
Hermit House

© Shutterstock

Nahal M'araot, lower Carmel
Although we may never know the nature of the prehistoric humans’ language or how they related to the world and their peers, the Carmel Range provides the perfect backdrop for this type of contemplation. Here, three elevated caves formed out of an enormous fossilized reef have become safe havens for different subspecies of early humans for at least 200,000 continuous years. Consistently inhabited sites like these are very rare. In addition to the sheer beauty of the site, highlights include a clever Neanderthal "deer trap," a 10,000-year-old graveyard, and a stone-age informational movie. Yabadabadoo! 
Rd 4, 8 km north of Furedis Junction. Open daily 08:00 to 17:00
Achzivland, northern coast
Israel may one day be ready for a two-state solution, but will it ever be ready for a three-state solution? Eli Avivi, the self-declared ruler of Achzivland, an independent, albeit unrecognized, micronation just north of Nahariya, sure hopes so. The eccentric former seaman first became smitten with this beautiful stretch of beach at the northern edge of Israel in 1952. Convinced this was the spot for him – with or without the government's consent – he soon built himself a home there. In 1970, after a string of mishaps with the government (one of which involved a bulldozer), Avivi, a born renegade, declared his 2.5 acre fiefdom its own nation called "Achzivland." While still unrecognized by Israel, the "country" now boasts its own official road sign (although “Eli Avivi” and not “Achzivland” is written), a museum showcasing artifacts from the area, as well as lodging options in a small guesthouse. Not surprisingly, the spot is known to draw a crowd of young, hippie-dippie internationals and Israelis, making late night parties, concerts and drum circles a part of Achzivland's cultural heritage. If you visit, be sure to ask Avivi to stamp your passport. 
Rte 4, 4 km north of Nahariya

© Israel nature and parks authority

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