Abu Ghosh Tourist Attractions
Situation and characteristicsAbu Ghosh is an Arab village 13km/8mi west of Jerusalem, just north of the expressway to Tel Aviv. Its main feature of interest is its Crusader church.Abu Ghosh is named after a sheikh from the Hejaz who settled here with his four sons about 1800 and was granted the right to protect the pilgrim route from the coast to Jerusalem. In return for his services he levied a toll which was the foundation of his fortune. The present inhabitants of the village regard themselves as his descendants.HistoryThe site was inhabited before the coming of the Bedouin, for there was a spring here with an abundant flow of water. In the first century the Romans established a fort here for units of the 10th Legion (Fretensis), which is believed to have been involved in the crucifixion of Christ. In the Islamic period a caravanserai was built, and in 1099 the Crusaders passed through the village on their way to Jerusalem. The spring led them to believe that this was ancient Emmaus. They built the castle of Fontenoide and a church (1142), which was abandoned in 1187 after the battle at the Horns of Hittim.
Abu Ghosh is dominated by the Crusader church, whose builder took over from the Muslim caravanserai the idea of the pointed arch - a feature that was to become characteristic of Gothic architecture. For many years the church was used as a stable; then in 1899 the French government purchased the building and handed it over to the Benedictine order. Since 1956 it has belonged to the Lazarists. Built on to the church is a mosque. In the wall of the church near the entrance is a stone with the inscription "Vexillatio Leg(ionis) Fret(ensis)" - a reminder that the site was occupied more than a thousand years earlier by a Roman fort. Like the rather older church of Notre Dame in Tartus (Syria) and the contemporary church of St Anne in Jerusalem, this is a fine example of the monumental church architecture of the Crusaders in the 12th century. With its 4m/13ft thick walls the church (three-aisled; 20m/66ft long, 15m/49ft across) has a fortress-like character. The interior of the church is plain but full of atmosphere. In the crypt is the spring which has been an important feature of the site since its earliest days.
Just outside Abu Ghosh on the Jerusalem road a side road goes off to Qiryat Anavim ("Village of Grapes"), beautifully situated above a valley. Founded in 1920, this was the first kibbutz in the Judaean uplands. The spacious guest-house, with a swimming pool set in carefully tended gardens, is a pleasant quiet place to stay before or after a visit to Jerusalem.
Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant
On a hill above Abu Ghosh is the church of Notre Dame de l'Arche d'Alliance (Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant), conspicuous with its commandingly situated statue of the Virgin. Built in 1924 over the remains of a fifth century Byzantine church, it belongs to the French order of the Sisters of St Francis. The name of the church reflects the belief that this was the site of Kirjath-jearim, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept for a time.
The village of Qiryat Yearim ("Village of the Forest"), 1km/0.75mi west of Abu Ghosh, was founded in 1952. It takes its name from the Biblical Kirjath-jearim, which may have been situated on the tell 3km/2mi northeast but is thought by some to have occupied the site of present-day Abu Ghosh.The name of Kirjath-jearim occurs several times in the Old Testament in connection with the Ark of the Covenant. During their struggle with the Philistines in the 11th century B.C. the Israelites carried with them the Ark of the Covenant, which was normally kept in Shiloh. It was captured at Eben-ezer by the Philistines, who took it to Ashdod and then to Gath and Ekron (1 Samuel 4 and 5); but since they believed that it brought them ill-fortune they returned it to the Israelites, who took it to Kirjath-jearim. There it stayed for twenty years in the house of Abinadab (1 Samuel 6 and 7). Then when David became king of the whole of Israel and captured Jerusalem he took it there. At first, however, it went only as far as Perez-uzzah on Mount Qastel (4km/2.5mi east of Abu Ghosh); then three months later it was taken to Jerusalem, where it was greeted "with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet" (2 Samuel 6).
An attractive trip from Abu Ghosh is to Aqua Bella, an idyllic spot a few kilometers southeast of the village. It is reached by leaving on the Jerusalem road, following the expressway for a short distance and then turning right at the Hemed intersection. Aqua Bella (Hebrew En Hemed, the Well of Grace) is known to the Arabs as Deir el-Benat ("House of the Women") after a 12th century convent which was destroyed in 1187. The buildings in the square complex have been restored. The surrounding country, with a grove of pomegranates round the well which gave the place its Latin name, is now a much frequented National Park with picnic areas and a camping site.