In the heart of the Jerusalem Hills, on the eastern slopes of Mt. Eitan, lies a green area of 1,000-dunam (250 acre). Two springs flow from the mountain, irrigating agricultural terraces – a reminder of the ancient Hebrew culture, dating back thousands of years, which was almost lost to the world.
Archeological research indicates that Sataf was first settled about 6.000 years ago, and its inhabitants began building terraces about 4,500 years ago.
The site flourished in the Second Temple and Byzantine period. During the Crusader and Ottoman periods, its situation deteriorated and improved intermittently.
During the Israelite period, (Iron Age I (IA I) 1200–1000 BCE) the easily workable lands in the valleys were occupied by the veteran local populations, which only left them the rocky ground and forests in the Judean Hills and southern Samaria. Thus, Joshua told the new immigrants: “Go up to the forest and clear ground for yourselves....” Joshua 17:15
The labor-intensive job of clearing the rocks (the Bible describes as izuk) and removing them to the edges of the natural terraces (sikul). These stones were then used to build supporting walls for a layer of fertile soil imported to the area. This is how the agricultural terraces were constructed. ‘Terrace’ is derived from the Latin word ‘terra’ = land.
Leftover stones from izuk and sikul were used to build watchtowers to guard the crops.
Their construction is described in the Parable of the Vineyard:
“...My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it;”
Isaiah 5:1-2 ESV
In this area, 26 of the ancient types of vines that grew in Eretz Israel are now cultivated by use of roof, pole and ground trailing methods.
The terraces and ‘watching places’ thus became part of the landscape op the Judean Hills and of Jerusalem.
Most of the terraces were used for dry farming, relying solely on rainfall. In the Judean Hills, the chief produces consisted of grapes, olives, figs and pomegranates.
In the few places that had water, larger terraces were built on several levels in order to make the most of the rare opportunity to raise different crops all year round through irrigation. It was exhausting work, yielding only limited arable land. Crops were maximized by building the terraces as close as possible to natural springs.
The Bikura and the Sataf are layer springs. They form where the water-filled permeable limestone meets the impervious yellow marl (clay and flint) rock strata. Weathering and erosion expose the top of the marl layers, at which point the water emerges from underground as a spring.
These layer springs’ exits were artificially widened; their waters are collected in cisterns and directed through a system of channels to the levels of the crops that need them most.
Since the springs did not supply a great deal of water, the early inhabitants increased their supply by tunneling into the water-bearing strata. The water was then stored in large pools and ducted via a system of channels to the terrace plots.
Tunneled springs thus came to be an integral part of the terrace systems in the Judean Hills.
Ein Sataf was the main spring in the village.
The cave was partially quarried out of the rock to increase the output of the spring and a tunnel was built to convey the water to the large pools, which as a capacity of some 180 cubic meters.
A small room is built in the back wall, where the village women apparently did their washing.
Man-made plastered channels duct the water to the agricultural plots, using different devices to overcome the varying terrace height.
In 1949, Moshav Bikura was founded by new immigrants from North Africa on the ruins of Sataf, and Arab village that was abandoned during the War of Independence. Before long, the new residents too had to leave and over time, the supporting walls collapsed, and dirt and debris covered the two storage pools and the conduits bringing spring water to them. In the 1950’s the site served as training grounds for the UNIT 101 special operations force and the paratroopers Brigade.
In the early 1980’s, KKL, with the help of JNF Switzerland, began renovating the agricultural terraces in the area. It restored the storage pools of the Sataf and Bikura Springs, repaired the terraces and redug the irrigation channels.Volunteer soldiers and pupils help with the restoration work and learn first hand about the ‘sealed well’ , ‘irrigated agriculture’ and ‘dry farming’. As a result, biblical hillside agriculture can once again be seen in action and in future, also industries will be established for olive pressing for oil, grape treading for wine, etc.
Sataf’s Bustanof project, named form the combination of the Hebrew words for “fruit garden’ and ‘scenic view’ is unique in Israel. For a nominal feel, JNF enables Jerusalemites to cultivate small plots for their enjoyment in their spare time. In doing so, they can breathing in ‘mountain air as clear was wine’ and relive the passage: ”Each man under his own vine and fig tree.”
Organically grown vegetables and herbs grow in the furrows and beds of the irrigated plots.
The Eretz Israel tree garden cultivates by traditional methods fruit trees of the original strains known in the country.
The hanging stairs on the terrace wall are an efficient wat to save precious ground.
In Sataf, the Bible comes alive.
Looking at the vineyard through the bars of the ‘locked garden’ or entering the Ein Bikura, the visitor begins to visualize Song of Songs 4:12:
“A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
a spring locked, a fountain sealed.”
Sataf definitely is a place where time seems to have stood still!