Ruins of a Canaanite city and fortresses dated to the Iron Age II period (Israelite Kingdom), on a ridge at the crossing of the Jordan valley and Tirza (Farha) valleys.
Ruins of a large Early Bronze Canaanite fortified city and fortresses from the Israelite Kingdom period. The site is located on a broad ridge, at the crossing of the Jordan valley and Tirza (Farha) valleys. The ruins date to the Early Bronze age and the Iron age II, which were damaged by modern (IDF) fortifications.
Map / Aerial View:
The site is located at a height of -247m, 30m above the valley surface, and covers 45 Dunams (11.25 acres). An aerial photo of the area around Khirbet Makhruk is shown below, indicating the major points of interest.
Early Bronze age
During the Early Bronze age a fortified city covered most of the area of the ridge. The shape of the walled city was triangular, with the head of the triangle pointing north. A square fortified structure, dated to this period, was located on the highest edge of the fortified city.
Biblical period – Iron Age II
During the Israelite Kingdom, a rectangular fortress was rebuilt on the eastern hill and a circular tower in the southern part of the ridge. These fortifications served as a road fortress that protected the westward roads to the heart of the kingdom – Samaria.
According to Israel Guide (Judea/Jordan valley section, p286) the fortifications may have been conducted by Jeroboam, the first King of Northern Israelite Kingdom, in order to protect the route to the frontier city of Penuel, on the northern bank of Yabok (Zarka) brook, which passed at this place (1 Kings 12 25): “Then Jeroboam built Shechem in mount Ephraim, and dwelt therein; and went out from thence, and built Penuel”.
The site is located on a junction of two major roads. This was the case in ancient times as well as in the modern period. The Romans, masters of road construction, constructed a major “highway” that connected Jericho to Beit Shean (see below) and a road that connected this road and passed westward via Tirzah valley.
The Peutinger Map (Tabula Peutingeriana) is a medieval map which was based on a 4th C Roman military road map. The map shows the major roads (in brown lines), with indication of the cities, and geographic highlights (lakes, rivers, mountains, seas). Along the links are stations and distance in Roman miles (about 1.5KM per mile).
In this section of the map is the area of Jordan valley, drawn in a rotated direction (Dead sea is on the left; Sea of Galilee is the right).
The major Roman road in the Jordan valley connected Beit Shean (“Scytopoli”) and Jericho (“Herichonte”). The red square marks the place of Khirbet Makhruk, in the middle between theses major cities.
The site was damaged by modern armies; fortifications constructed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Communication lines and trenches were built into the circular and square towers, and in other parts of the ridge.
The site is an open area today, and is easily accessed. It is recommended to make a stop here, visit the site, and enjoy the views of the Jordan and Tirzah / Far’ah valleys.
A diagram of the site is shown below (based on Manasseh Hill country survey), with indication of the position of the rectangular fort, circular tower and square structure. A paved road traverses the ridge, and continues on to the top of the ridge (Ras El Harubeh, a view point at a height of +211m, with great views of the Tirzah valley).
(a) Aerial Views:
A drone captured views above the site in Feb 2016. The eastern fortress is located on a hill, in the center of the view, just above road #90 (Beit Shean to Jericho). The green farming areas, in the plains of the Jordan valley, are on the right (east) side.
An access road climbs up to the top of the ridge, passing near the circular tower and the square structure which are located up the road.
Click on the photos to view in higher resolution…
A drone from a photo above the eastern side of the site captured this photo, with a view towards the south. The green valley of Tirzah is seen behind the hill, and leads to the right towards Shechem. The fortified hill of Sartaba, a pointed hill that towers above the mountains on the south side of the entrance to the valley, is in the center background.
The following YouTube video shows a flight over the eastern side of Kh. Makhruk, and turning around to view the surrounding area:
(b) Valley Road:
The old north-south road passed at the southern edge of the ridge. The new #90 road was relocated slightly eastwards, as seen on the left side.
The photo below shows a closer view of the rock formations on both sides of the old road. This split rock formation may have given the name of the site – el-Makhruk means “perforated” in Arabic (according to Z. Vilnai).
The eastern side of the ridge is pocketed with caves and traces of ruins.
Below is a closer view of modern fortifications in the caves along the eastern side. This was the site of the Ottoman’s 53rd division headquarters in WW1 (1918), and the British managed to capture it during its offensive in Israel on their attack towards Jordan.
The photo below – another view of the eastern side.
(c) Tirzah Road:
The road on the south side of the ridge is an ancient route from the Jordan to the heart of Samaria. This is the valley of Tirzah (Far’ah).
Tirzah, the name of the valley, was Biblical city in Samaria. It was once a mighty Canaanite city (Joshua 12 24):
“And these are the kings of the country which Joshua and the children of Israel smote… the king of Tirzah”.
It then became Israel’s Kingdom first capital city (1 Kings 15 33):
“In the third year of Asa king of Judah began Baasha the son of Ahijah to reign over all Israel in Tirzah, twenty and four years”.
The pointed hill is the place of the fortress of Sartaba, identified as Biblical Zarthan. According to the Bible, King Solomon prepared Brass and Gold vessels for the temple, casting them in the clay that is located here between Succoth (plains of valley of Jordan) and Zarthan (1 Kings 7:47):
“In the plain of Jordan did the king cast them, in the clay ground between Succoth and Zarthan”.
So the casting of the temple tools was done at this area.
The ridge was heavily fortified in modern times, since even today it is strategically located on an important junction. The communication lines in the picture below cut through the ridge and damaged the site.
(d) South Fortress – Circular tower:
A small Iron Age fortress is located in the south side of the site, as marked in red on the diagram of the site.
This was a circular tower, with a diameter of 19.5M, consisting of 3 concentric towers. It has an inner circular tower of 8m in diameter, a second stone wall 10m in diameter, and an outer wall 19.5M in diameter. There was space between the external wall and the two inner walls. According to the excavator (Yeivin 1993), it is dated to the 10th-9th century BC (Iron Age II), with some underlying Early Bronze remains.
The ruins of the tower is shown below from the south side.
The site is covered by a blanket of red/orange ceramic fragments. The majority of these are dated to the Bronze and Iron ages with almost no later period ceramics.
A closer view of the eastern side of the tower is seen below, as seen from the north side.
Another view of the north-west side of the tower is seen below.
The photo below shows the same view, but from the opposite angle.
Standing on the tower, the Biblical-time watchmen could see the eastern rectangular fortress below, and a great view of the plains of the Jordan valley. The watchmen would have spotted enemy troops approaching from the Jordan and alerted the army.
The tower also provides a great view of the road to the north and the plains of the Jordan valley. The Biblical name of this area was “Succoth”.
(e) North-West side – Square structure:
A square fortified structure was located on the highest edge of the fortified city- the north-west side. Its location inside the site appears on the diagram, marked in red.
According to the excavator (Yeivin 1993), it is dated to the 10th-9th century BC (Iron Age II), built slightly later than the circular tower.
The photo below shows the structure, as seen from the circular tower.
Another view of the square structure is in the picture below. A section of the early bronze period wall stretches in front – from left to right.
A closer view of the walls of this structure is in the picture below. The building was first constructed with an area of 15 x 10m, then enlarged to 24 x 20m.
The picture below shows the interior of the square structure.
A north-east view of the plains of the Jordan valley is seen from the structure.
An eastern view is shown below, with the eastern fortress in the center and the circular tower on the right.
The view towards the south is remarkable. The green valley of Tirzah (Far’ah), and the high mountains of above the valley, with the pointed hill of Sartaba (identified as the Biblical Zarthan).
The picture below is an eastern view, with the circular tower in the edge of the visible ridge.
Yet another view is in the picture below.
(f) Eastern Fortress:
A second rectangular Iron Age II fortress is located on the east side. It was built over an earlier Early Bronze Tel.
Its location is marked in red in the diagram.
The photo below shows the fortress from the west side. In the background of the photo are the plains of the Jordan valley, in the direction of Adam bridge.
The access road from the highway #90 passes between the fortress and the hill:
A closer view of the rectangular Iron Age II fortress. It is protected by a very wide (4m) wall.
A water cistern is located near the fortress, and was part of the water supply for the city and fortress.
The photo below is from the north side of the eastern fortress, closer to the modern road (near the brown sign with directions to “Ras-Harubeh” – an observation point at the top of the hill).
(g) The Fields:
The green fields near the road present a vivid contrast to the dry light-brown soil around it. Local Arab villagers work the fields in old fashion ways – by hand.
An old mine was seen near this field. After all, the area is close to the border and is a gateway for two major crossing roads. The mine was probably found during the farming of the field, and left out on the road. Since it is painted blue, this might be a dummy training mine, but we would not advise to touch it.
- Where is Coabis? (Adam Zertal, 1991; Hebrew) – discussion on Roman roads in the Jordan valley
- Studies in the Archaeology of the Iron Age in Israel and Jordan (edited A. Mazar, 2001, ISBN 1-84127-203-5)
Chapter 2: Adam Zertal (pp 38-64): The heart of the Monarchy: Pattern of settlement and Historical considerations of the Israelite Kingdom of Samaria Preview
- Manasseh Hill country survey Vol 2 Eastern Valleys Site 269 el-Makhruq Preview
- “From Watchtowers to Fortified Cities” — On the History of Highway Forts in the Israelite Kingdom” -A. Zartal, Qadmoniot 1988), pp. 82-86 (5 pages)
- Three Iron Age Fortresses in the Jordan Valley and the Origin of the Ammonite
Circular Towers – Israel Exploration Journal , 1995, Vol. 45, No. 4 (1995), pp. 253-273
* Biblewalks sites:
- Drone Aerial views – collection of Biblical sites from the air
- esh-Shukk valley – similar Iron ASge circular tower
Etymology – behind the name:
Makhruk (Mahruq, Makherouk)- Arabic for “split”. The name of the site, based on the split between the rocks where the road passed.
- Mukhrak (Muhraq) – Arabic for: “burnt” . Another common interpretation of the name of the site.
- Khirbet – Ruined site in Arabic;
Khurvah (Horvah, Horbah )- Ruined site in Hebrew; Khirbet in Arabic. Biblical references: Leviticus 26,31: “And I will make your cities waste,…”. Isaiah 44, 26: “…and I will raise up the decayed places thereof.
Tirzah – Biblical city in Samaria – Once a Canaanite city (Joshua 12 24: “And these are the kings of the country which Joshua and the children of Israel smote… the king of Tirzah”), and then Israel’s Kingdom first capital city (1 Kings 15 33: “In the third year of Asa king of Judah began Baasha the son of Ahijah to reign over all Israel in Tirzah, twenty and four years”).
- Tirzah brook – The brook from Shechem to Adam.
- Farah – The name in Arabic of Tirzah; unknown translation.
- Jiftlik, Jiftliq – Turkish: The Sultan’s estate. There were many such estates, one is located south-east of Makhruk.
BibleWalks.com – walks along the Jordan river
This page was last updated on July 5, 2022 (Added links)