Trip to Crocodilopolis

by Drew

'Nahal Taninim' and the missing crocodiles....


Trip to Crocodilopolis
Nahal HaTaninim, or the "Crocodile Stream" is a unique historical site nestled between the Ma'agan Michael kibbutz and the Arab Village of Jisr Azarka (def. the blue bridge). 

Nahal Taninim gets its name from the presense of crocodiles in the stream, dating back to Roman times. When I heard that I would get a chance to visit Nahal Taninim, and perhaps see some crocodiles in real life I couldn't wait to go! I asked our awesome tour guide, Uri,  if he would show me where the few remaining crocs lay a few days before my trip, and he said "of course!". 

There were a few legends as to how the crocodiles got there in the first place. In the first legend, there were twin brothers who ruled the ancient city Caesarea. One of the brothers suffered from leprosy and as a result would often have to bathe in the water. His brother, who wished to be the sole ruler, introduced the crocodiles into the river so that he could feed them- with his brother (!) thus leaving him the sole ruler of the land! Apparently he succeeded...
Crocodiles Were Once Part of the Landscape

The ancient name, Crocodilopolis, dating back to Persian and Helenistic periods suggest that crocodiles were present in the river since that time. It is more likely that the crocodiles were brought for the gladiator games held in neighboring Caesarea by the Romans. Regardless of how they got there, I was really excited to see them!
 When I arrived, I quickly started to search the stream waters. I saw a few different animals, but no crocodiless. "Where are the crocodiles!?" I asked Uri. 

"Oh, they haven't been around since 1912!" he said. "What!? Are you sure?!" I exclaimed. "It's true, they have been hunted into extinction". Apparently I had been fooled. Oh well, serves me right for being so gullible! After all, surely after six years of living in Israel I would have heard about crocodiles living in some stream by now. 

Despite my disappointment, I was at least happy to see this sign- the only of homage paid to our scaley friends of yore. Uri proceded to tell us the story behind what we were seeing all around us, and the history was pretty neat. 
The Dam

The History of the Dam
Apparently the whole point of this ancient establishment was for the Romans to raise water levels in order to supply the ancient city of Caesarea with additional water. A dam was erected (as you can see in the picture), and water was diverted to a network of channels that flowed downhill. 
Part of the Ancient Channels

The dam contiuned to function into the Byzantine period, and six flour mills were dug near the dam, operated by the power of water that flowed through the channels. 

The Regulatory Water Device
A regulartory water device was established, which regulated the water that was channeled into the low-level aqueduct and to the neighboring flour mills. During the Byzantine period, another channel was dug, which directed the water directly to the flour mills. After Caesarea's decline, the low-level aqueduct and the flour mills fell out of use. 

The Regulatory Water Device
The device consists of three deep passages, a higher one and a distribution pool. Wooden slats at the exits from the passages controlled the amount of water that was allowed to flow through. 

Crocodilopolis through the Ages
In the year 636, the area was destroyed by the Arab invasion of the 7th century. The area lied in wait until it was revitalized by the Crusaders and used on and off until the 14th century. 
One of the Water Mills
With the arrival of the Mamaluk's in the 14th century, all cities along the coast were destroyed to ensure that the Crusaders could not return. As a result, the coastal plain was abandoned and the dam ceased to function. As a result of the neglect, the entire area became a swamp. Between 1830-1840 the Ottomans were pushed back by the invading forces of Muhammad Ali, the Egyptian ruler at the time. Ali brought a North African tribe called the Gawarna (Swamp Dwellers) to settle the area because of their seeming immunity to Malaria (actually, this immunity was because they carried the Sickle Cell Gene, which prevents the Malaria paraside from attaching to the body's red blood cells). The descendents of the Gawarna helped the Zionist settlers of Zichron Ya'akov that arrived in the early 20th century to begin the process of draining the swamp. The residents of nearby Jisr Azarkaa are the decendents of the Gawarna tribe .
The Pipe Factory

The Pipe Factory
The Kabara Swamp was successfully drained between 1922 and 1932. A clay pipe factory was established here by the Baron de Rothschild, who purchased the land in the Kabara valley in order to develop the area. Unfortunately, the manufacture of the pipes here was unsuccessful, and clay pipes that were imported from France were used to drain the swamp instead. The drainage was accomplished by crisscrossing the 6,000 dunams of swamp with a network of pipes, the total length of which was 50 kilometers. The pipes capped 3,000 springs and directed their flow to an outlet channel. 

Nahal HaTaninim Today
Nahal HaTaninim- The Crocodile Stream
Currently, Nahal HaTaninim is a national park open to the public, where tours and activities are offered to visitors, groups and families. Although the main entrance is from Road 4 towards Jisr Azarka, an alternate (secret) entrance is located right near the SPNI's field school at Ma'gan Michael, where you can take a visit and learn about the surroundings. 
If you're lucky, your guide might even open the waterways so you can see the water wheels in action!

I had a wonderful time visiting Nahal HaTaninim even though the crocodiles have long been gone. But who knows? Maybe there are lone crocodiles hiding in the mist, coming out only when they know no one is around....

Category: Nature Trips

Tagged under: Nahal Taninim, Ceasarea, Jisr A-Zarka, Ma'agan Michael