Nahal Siah gets its name in Hebrew and Arabic from the frequent hikers. In both languages, it is derived from words meaning “tour” or “hike.” The walk begins on Lotus Street. Descend to the right near the black trail mark, first on the asphalt road and then down the stairs, into the heart of the gully.
In the upper part of the valley, we can spot exposed chalkstone. Birch trees are seen on the valley’s southern bank, while on the northern bank, which is exposed to the sun, there are many thorny shrubs typical of the Carmel, and flowers are still in bloom in the winter. The trail continues through a forest, where we can spot tangled climbing plants and wild aromatic herbs.
After about 600 meters, we reach Nahal Siah’s southern branch. At the intersection, we see the remnants of an old lime pit, a round hole in the ground encircled by rocks in which chalk was burned to turn it into the lime used to line water wells and prevent seepage. When the pit was active, a dome-shaped stone building contained chalk meant for burning. Fuel was inserted into the pit itself through a unique aperture. The fire burned for 3-6 days, depending on the size of the pit; when the dome began to glow red, the fire would be put out. The opening was sealed for several days, and the final product, burned lime, was removed from the pit.
Another 200-odd meters down the gully led to a small orchard of pomegranate and fig trees and a lovely spring on the left bank, hidden by a line of cypress trees. The spring’s waters accumulate in a pool. The spring has been given many names - in the past, it was called Ma’ayan Eliyahu (Elijah’s Spring), and it’s now called Ein Faraj, the Spring of the Salvation. Tradition has it that the Prophet Elijah drank from its waters and that anyone drinking from them recovers completely. Not surprisingly, in recent years, spring has become a place of pilgrimage for members of the Chabad Hasidic movement. A word of caution: Don’t drink its waters (or those of other springs in this gully) despite the medicinal powers attributed to the spring.
Opposite the spring, on the northern bank, we spot Ma’arat Komatayim (the Two-Story Cave), where monks living on the Carmel went for solitude. It’s a natural cave that was expanded by quarrying, with an entrance closed with a door. The stalls on its first floor are also known as Ma’arat Hasusim, the Horses Cave.
Here you can also see the remnants of a Crusader-period church and monastery. Beyond the church, a modern Carmelite chapel is surrounded by a fence. Go up the stairs on the left for a view from above of this chapel, built of local white chalkstone.
Stones brought from the coastal plain were used for the entrance. Catholic and Carmelite monks lived here and secluded themselves in a nearby cave, as far back as the Byzantine period. Nahal Siah was popular with monks due to the belief that the Prophet Elijah lived in the area. The church at the site was built in the 13th century. According to one version, in 1238, before the fall of the Crusader kingdom, the Carmelite order left the Holy Land after Muslims massacred their monks. The name of the wadi, Valley of the Martyrs, commemorates the massacre. In his book “Haifa or Life in Modern Palestine”, British 19th-century historian and Haifa resident Laurence Oliphant wrote (page 37), “There came a day, however, when their peaceful solitude was rudely disturbed. In 1238 the Saracens came upon them unexpectedly and massacred them all, not leaving one to tell the bloody tale. There seemed to be no record of the number who fell victims upon this occasion, but they must have been very numerous.”
Continuing to descend, we come to the pool filled with water from a pipe. This is Ein Siah, a spring that provided water for Central Carmel neighbourhoods in the 1930s. Above us is a slope dotted with red and yellow. Those are euphorbia dendroides (halabolbei hasiah), a rare plant in Israel only on the western Carmel.
Another few steps along the trail, a long staircase (300 steps) leads to the Halavluv. We reach an orchard with stone fences and concrete flowerbeds, with open canals between them spilling into small pools. It’s the Bustan of Aziz Khiat, a member of a Christian family that was among Haifa’s wealthiest during the British Mandate years. It was built as a holiday site, with a club, a cafe and three swimming pools. Family members and their guests descended to the orchard on the steps we saw previously. The Haifa Municipality and the Keren Kayemet recently completed a program to develop and renovate the valley and stream.