Hariton Cave is a network of dwellings carved into the mountainside by Byzantine monks. It is named after Haritun, a 5th century monk who founded a monastery with study cells in the walls of a wadi. It is said to be the largest system of such dwellings in the Middle East, some five kilometers long. Map.
There are 60 chambers connected by narrow and mostly low passages. The cave is a labyrinth of low passages and so it is easy to get lost.
There is a rope in the main passage which allows a sort of self guided visit, but as it starts some way inside the cave we recommend to remember the location of the entrance. However, the cave is not really dangerous and intensively visited, so the biggest danger is if visitors panic.
We recommend to join a guided tour which is offered by various organizations or at least obey the general safety rules for caving: never go alone, take enough spare lights with you and tell someone where you are going and when you will be back.
In some descriptions we read it was a natural cave with stalactites and stalagmites. Also there seems to be some difference in the exact size of the cave, we also read about a length of some three kilometers.
Haritun Cave is located right below the famous fortress Herodion south of Bethlehem, named after Herodes who was buried here.
Also there are three cisterns of enormous size which were needed for the water supply of the fortress. They were originally dug when the hill was much lower, before Herodes built the palace above. The walls are covered by thick plaster and were completely watertight.
A little below is a pool which was filled by an aqueduct, with water flowing by gravity. But the cisterns could not have been filled by rainfall, so it is supposed they were filled by hand, most likely by donkeys transporting the water uphill or by slave work.
Another small cave nearby called Wadi Haritun Cave got notorious for the discovery of two bodies. Yaakov Nathan Mandell and Yosef Ish Ran were students who were hiking through these hills. They were stoned to death by a group which called itself Palestinian Hizballah on the 9th of May 2001. The parents of Yaakov Nathan Mandell created a foundation to help the relatives of victims of such terrorist attacks. There is a small bronze plate commemorating this event at the cave entrance.
- Below Herodion, near Teqoa.
- Open: no restrictions.
- Fee: free.
- Classification: Cave House Cave Tomb
- Light: bring torch