Photographing 3 fascinating historical sites in the Ellah Valley that share one secret: more than what meets the eye




The winding, narrow backroad in the biblical Adullam region by the Ellah Valley is a scenic and pleasant journey through luscious vineyards, green forests, and tranquil fields, and during the rainy winter season is covered by a myriad of colorful flowers. Once in a while, you may even spot a herd of gazelle running about or a red fox catching some sunlight. A truly peaceful place to visit and get away from the hectic daily routine here in Israel.

But it wasn’t always so peaceful here. Most of the area's hilltops are covered in ancient ruins that date back thousands of years and were destroyed during the Bar Kochva revolt against the Romans in 132–136 CE. Archaeologists have excavated a number of these sites and found some extraordinary evidence of the events that took place here including an extensive underground system used by the rebels in their fight against the Roman empire. Ultimately, their downfall marked the end of independent Jewish life in Israel until the State of Israel was formed in 1948. 

("Rise From The Ruins, Etri) 

The Bar Kochva revolt 

To better understand the historical findings in the Ellah Valley, it’s important to first get a general picture of the events that transpired in the area. The Romans first arrived in the area in 63 BCE besieging Jerusalem and over the years tightened their grip over the land of Israel. In the year 66 CE, the Jews fought the first of three wars against the Romans and it concluded with the destruction of Jerusalem and the second temple in 70 CE. The following years were relatively quiet but heavy taxes were levied on the remaining Jewish population which led to another revolt during the years 115-117 CE. Part of what fueled this revolt was the messianic yearnings of the Jewish population to rebuild Jerusalem for the third time. These messianic yearnings coupled with outrage over the Roman ruler, Hadrian, erecting a greek idol with a shrine to Jupiter at the site of the destroyed second temple fueled the revolt a few years later starting in 132 CE. The rebels had faith in the revolt succeeding under their leader, Simeon Bar Kosiba or his sobriquet “Bar Kochva” which means “son of a star” and refers to the Biblical verse (Num.24:17) “A star shall go forth from Jacob” taken to refer to the Messiah. The revolt lasted for three and a half years as the Jews inflicted heavy damage on the Romans and even managed to retake Jerusalem, declared independence, and started minting their own coins, many of which have been found in these archaeology sites by the Ellah Valley. Bar Kochva’s army also succeeded in destroying an entire Roman legion. The Romans in response started pouring in massive numbers of troops to fight back and eventually had 12 out of the 24 legions of the entire Roman empire’s military fighting the Jews in the small land of Israel. 

One of the tactics used by the Jews was conducting guerilla warfare out of an extensive underground system throughout the Shfela region and in northern Israel in the Galil region. The Romans finally overcame the Jews by simply making fires at the entrances of these underground systems, suffocating and killing the rebels inside. 

(Undefground entrance at Etri) 

Bar Kochva’s final stand was made in Betar, between Adullam and Jerusalem but ultimately fell on the same date the first two temples fell, the 9th of Av, in the year 135 CE. After squashing the revolt, the Romans destroyed the Jewish settlement in Israel, expelled the remaining Jews, and changed the name to Palestine. 

In the words of the Roman historian, Dio Cassius -  “Fifty of their most important outposts and 985 of their most famous villages were razed to the ground, and 580,000 men were slain in various raids and battles, and the number of those who perished by famine, disease, and fire was past finding out. Thus nearly the whole of Judea was made desolate”

Remains of the last Jewish settlement and archaeological testaments of these mighty events are scattered throughout Israel and today we’re revisiting three of these sites located in the Adullam region. 


Pottery remains suggest that Etri was first established as a farming village at the end of the Persian empire (4 BC)  and was built up through the Hellenistic period and the early days of the Roman period. Etri was abandoned after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE but was eventually rebuilt and served as an outpost for the Bar Kochva army. Archaeologists believe that the complex underground system was initially created in the first century BCE to hide fruit as a means of tax evasion in light of the heavy taxes imposed by the Roman empire. 200 years later it provided the Jewish fighters a way to conduct guerrilla warfare and hide from the Romans. 

In the words of the aforementioned Dio Cassius - “To be sure, they did not dare try conclusions with the Romans in the open field, but they occupied the advantageous positions in the country and strengthened them with mines and walls, in order that they might have places of refuge whenever they should be hard pressed and might meet together unobserved underground; and they pierced these subterranean passages from above at intervals to let in air and light”.

Excavations at Etri uncovered testaments to the destruction that eventually took place including remnants of a fire and mass graves, some bodies decapitated. Today, a large section of Etri has been uncovered and even partially restored. Seeing the remains and walls of such a prominent site of the ancient Jewish settlement is a truly special experience and I highly recommend visiting it yourself. After an easy 5-minute hike up the hilltop, you’ll be transported back in time by the impressive remains.


(Sunrise at Etri) 


The Burgin ruins are situated one hilltop over from Etri and it’s believed that this is the site of the ancient town “Bish” mentioned in the Talmud. Burgin was the site of a large Jewish settlement during the Roman period and was besieged by the Romans during the Bar Kochva revolt. Much to the surprise of the Romans, it’s accounted that Burgin surrendered rather quickly, likely after watching Etri go up in flames on the hilltop across from them. Unlike Etri, Burgin was resettled by Christians during the late Roman period and the Byzantine period. Archaeological findings include artifacts and structures from both time periods including a synagogue, Jewish ritual baths (mikveh) as well as a church. The site was later re-settled during the Ottoman empire in the 19th century. 

Just like Etri, Burgin features an impressive underground complex used by Bar Kochva’s army to fight the Romans. A visit to Burgin will lead you up a short but steep path to some impressive structures that are still intact including an incredible mosaic floor facing the Gush Etzion hills. 



The Midras Ruins lay just down the road from Burgin and feature what’s probably the most impressive underground complex in the area. These caves served more than just a hiding place for the Jewish rebels. 

It’s believed that Midras was first populated in the Iron Age (1,000 BCE) and the Jewish settlement lasted there until the end of the Bar Kochva revolt. Afterward, the site was settled by Christians much like Burgin during the late Roman period. Excavations in the area in 2011 uncovered a church with a large mosaic floor and toppled columns, perhaps destroyed in the great earthquake in 749 CE. 

On the eastern side of Midras is a large pyramid of stones that serves as a grave marker. Some believe that this is the burial site of the prophet Zechariya. 

What makes Midras unique is the caves and underground system. As mentioned above, they served more than just a hiding place during the revolt. Many of the caves here served as columbariums, large hollowed cavities underground with triangles chiseled into the walls used for raising pigeons and doves. Up until today, large flocks of pigeons fly through the surrounding fields and nest inside some of these caves. 

(Columbarium cave at Midras) 

These large caves and the complex tunnel system make Midras a popular place for visitors and tourists.  It’s also closer to the main road and more accessible than the other ruin sites in the area making it the most popular one in the Adullam region so I made sure to come out here early in the morning to beat the crowds and get some clean photographs of these unique and impressive structures. 


The Adullam region is home to some of the lesser-known but very impressive archaeological sites in Israel and played a huge role in the Jewish settlement in Israel throughout the Roman empire and was a massive stronghold during the Bar Kochva revolt against the Romans. It’s also one of the last areas that the Jews were conquered before being exiled from the land of Israel. Thankfully, there are some truly impressive remains today that tell the story of Jewish prosperity, courage, and ultimately their downfall in the land of Israel. It’s a huge privilege for me to visit these sites 1,900 years after the Jews were expelled from the land to capture the story through my camera and share it forward around the world as the fine artwork it is. In a few days from now, Jewish people around the world will observe the fast day, the 9th of Av, to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem and afterward, the Jewish settlement in Israel. Seeing these sites firsthand brings a whole new meaning to the fast day and helps connect to the events that transpired thousands of years ago. May we witness the complete rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Jewish settlement in the land of Israel, speedily in our days. 


P.S - Interested in visiting these sites? I offer unique photoventures at sites like these across Israel where I provide a custom-tailored trip and a photoshoot combined in one. Click here for more details! 

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