The Carmel Range
Mount Carmel, or the Carmel range, is a coastal range recognized as a UNESCO biosphere and a nature reserve. The Carmel is characterized by its rich flora and fauna, long human history and significant agricultural activity. The name Carmel is thought to mean “Vineyard of God,” and to originate in a conjunction of the Hebrew words for vineyard (kerem, karm-) and God (El ).
Today, the primary settlements on the Carmel ridge are the city of Haifa on its northern extremity and the scenic Druze villages of Daliyat al-Karmel and ‘Usfiya near its peak. Nearby is the small kibbutz Beit Oren. On the southern and western periphery of the Carmel are the Jewish towns of Zikhron Ya’aqov and Yoqne’am and the Muslim Arab communities of Fureidis and the Wadi ‘Ara villages.
Nature, Flora and Fauna
With summits reaching up to 528 meters, the Carmel range towers over the coastal plain to its west, the Jezre’el Valley to its east, and the Haifa Bay to its north. The bedrock is primarily sedimentary, with significant volcanic deposits of tufa and basalt. The range began rising from the sea in the Pliocene, and may be adding as much as one centimeter a year to this day.
The Carmel range is characterized by a Mediterranean climate, and is green all year round due to the oak groves, pines and carob trees that cover its slopes. Other plant life commonly seen in the Carmel include almond and terebinth trees, as well as a wide array of wildflowers.
Due to land’s natural fertility and bio-diversity, agriculture has long influenced the landscape and fed the Carmel region’s inhabitants, alongside wild greens.
The dominant crop traditionally grown on the range has been the grapevine, which gave its name to both the Carmel range as a whole and the village of Daliyat al-Karmel, since daliyah means “grapevine” in Arabic. The village traditionally earned its livelihood primarily from cultivating grapes, and grapes are still grown by many Daliyat al-Karmel families. The symbol of the combined municipality of Daliyat al-Karmel and ‘Usfiya is a bunch of grapes on the vine.
As the Druze religion - like Islam - prohibits consumption of wine, the grapes are either eaten as table grapes or processed into jam or raisins, and their leaves are a popular meal cooked with a seasoned rice and meat filling.
Ancient winepresses carved into the bedrock can still be seen along the Carmel’s hiking trails, and Zikhron Ya’aqov, in the southern part of the Carmel, has specialized in viticulture and wine production since the 19th century.
Olive groves are also an important agricultural resource in the Carmel, and the olive press in Daliyat al-Karmel’s historic center is still the focus of the village’s annual oil production activity at the beginning of the rainy season.
The Carmel is also the natural habitat of various animals, including golden jackals, fallow deer, roe deer, griffon vultures and Eurasian eagle owls. While hunting and expansion of human settlement in the Carmel have taken their toll on the region’s wildlife, in more recent years conservation efforts and specific programs to reintroduce species that once typified the region have already succeeded in partially rehabilitating deer and vulture populations. At the Carmel Hai-Bar Nature Reserve, visitors may see some of the region’s wildlife and restoration efforts.
A short history of Mount Carmel
Perhaps the earliest historical mention of Mount Carmel is that of a coastal range near Akko and the Jezre’el Valley called “The Nose of the Gazelle’s Head” around 2300 BCE in the account by the Egyptian Weni the Elder of military campaigns he led on behalf of pharaoh Pepi I:
Told that there were rebels amongst these foreigners at the 'Nose-of-the-Gazelle's-head' I crossed in ships, together with these troops. I put to land at the back of the height of the mountain range to the north of the land of the Sand-Dwellers, while (the other) half of this army were travelling by land. I turned back, I obstructed all of them and slew every rebel amongst them.
About 850 years later, an official inscription of Thutmose III mentions a “holy coastal range” in apparently the same location. The Carmel was indeed considered holy by Israelites, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. In the 9th century BCE, Elijah the Prophet fought Phoenician priests of Ba’al on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18:19-46). Elisha sought refuge in the Carmel’s verdant slopes (II Kings 2:25), and later miraculously brought a boy back to life in his house on Mount Carmel, in what may be the oldest description of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (II Kings 4:25-38). In the prophecy of Jeremiah (7th century BCE), the Carmel figures as a symbol of the abundance of the Land of Israel as a whole: “And I brought you to the Land of the Carmel, to eat of its fruit and its goodness.” (2:7)
The Greek philosopher Pythagoras’ youthful wanderings led him to spend some time in the 6th century BCE in seclusion at a temple on the sacred mountain, which was then reportedly off-limits to laymen. His leisurely emergence from the wilderness to board an Egyptian vessel on the coast below reportedly so impressed the sailors, who considered the Carmel holy, that they decided not to sell him into slavery.
Sent to Judaea to crush the First Jewish Revolt against Rome 600 years later (in 66-73 CE), Vespasian came “to consult the oracle of the god of the Carmel” (Suetonius, Divus Vespasianus, 5), where he first received assurance that he would become Emperor.
More upheavals would follow. A poem vividly describing the destruction of the ancient Jewish towns at Husifa (today’s ‘Usfiya) and Haifa, written in Hebrew during the Byzantine period, was found in the Cairo Geniza. Some believe that the poem refers to destruction of Galilee-area towns and villages that occurred when the Jewish uprising against Gallus was quashed in the mid-4th century, during which the town of Shiqmona (located within modern Haifa) seems also to have been destroyed. Others suggest that the poem refers to a wave of destruction of Jewish villages under the Byzantine emperor Justinian, two centuries later. The Hebrew inscription of a mosaic floor found at the site of ‘Usfiya’s ancient synagogue, and dated to the early-6th century CE, wishes for “Peace upon Israel”.
At the beginning of the 1200s, Saint Albert, then Patriarch of Jerusalem, issued a Rule recognizing the monastic Christian community on Mount Carmel and charting guidelines for their daily life and conduct. This marks the birth of the Carmelite Order, though the hermits may have established their presence on the Carmel shortly after the First Crusade. The Carmelites became an important order in Europe, but often lost their foothold on the Carmel itself. Since the 19th century, the Carmelite Order maintains two important institutions on the Carmel ridge: Stella Maris Monastery in Haifa and the Mukhraqa Monastery near Daliyat al-Karmel.
For untold centuries, “Elijah’s Cave”, just below Stella Maris, has been an important pilgrimage site for Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze. Some researchers have suggested that this was the site of an ancient sacred precinct, or the pagan oracle visited by Vespasian.
The Druze inhabitants of Daliyat al-Karmel and ‘Usfiya trace their villages’ origins back to the early 17th century, when the entire region was ruled by Fakhr ad-Din the Great, a Druze sovereign based in Lebanon. Daliyat al-Karmel and ‘Usfiya are the two survivors of a group of villages established by Fakhr ad-Din in the Carmel region, which he populated with Druze villagers hailing primarily from Mount Lebanon and Syria. In the 18th century, semi-autonomous Arab-Bedouin ruler of the Galilee, Dhāher al-‘Umar, built up much of the Galilee area, reestablishing the center of modern Haifa in its current location and fortifying the nearby ancient port city of Acre.
The most recent faiths to contribute to the sanctity and rich cultural mosaic of the Carmel are the Baha’i and Ahmadiyya communities, whose presence here dates from the 19th century. The founder of the Baha’i religion, the Baha’u’llah, himself designated the site overlooking Haifa for construction of the Shrine of the Bab at the Baha’i World Center, whose golden dome has become one of the city’s symbols.
The more recent Ahmadiyya mosque in the Kababir neighborhood, is also an important landmark on the Carmel ridge, overlooking the Mediterranean coast.