Eight Days a Week

Battir might be one of the only places in the world where there really are eight days in a week. There are eight main families that own the agricultural land here and our knowledgeable local guide Hassan tells us that ‘everything in Battir is divided into eight’.

Battir is a small Palestinian village, just a few miles South-West of Jerusalem, which dates from the Roman and Canaanite era. The Romans built a pool to collect water from the spring and a channel system to irrigate the land. 3000 years later this system is barely changed. Every day one of the eight families has priority over the water, and it is channelled to their plot, with a proportion being made available for the other families.

Battir, with the Jerusalem railway line running through it

Farmers simply use stones or a piece of clothing to block one water channel and divert the water to the chosen area. It is simple yet ingenious and ensures fair distribution of water across the entire area. This is the secret to the abundant growth of fruit and vegetables here. In particular, the area is famous for the ‘Battiri bithinjan’, slender and juicy aubergines, but the harvest is far wider. 

We were told that many areas will claim to offer Battiri bithinjan but the secret to authenticity is if there are small spikes on the green stalk of the aubergine.

Hassan promised our kids ‘an adventure’ rather than a walk and that is what they got, when we set out to explore the area with him. Each tree offered something different to taste with walnuts to crack open, green beans to pick and figs, pomegranates and lemons ripening in the sun.

The area is famous for its ancient terraces and the farming plots are tightly packed into the hillside with the water channel running through it. As we walked, Hassan stopped to shout a friendly greeting to each of the farmers we passed.

Looking out over farming plots
Local art surrounds the village

The loud heehaw of the donkey echoed around the valley long before we spotted him. He was hiding behind some luscious greenery, happily munching away and smiling. The kids were delighted to receive an impromptu ride on the obliging donkey’s back and were feeling in full adventure mode by now.

The donkey was to be rewarded with a green bean but such was his indifference that he left it dangling out of his mouth like a crooked green cigarette.

The kids were then coaxed up the rest of the hillside by the promise of a ‘secret watery cave’. This was the famous Roman Bath and source of the water. We were invited to take a drink from the water fountain outside which had icy cold and refreshing water.

An icy drink
The Roman Bath, looking into the watery cave

The real highlight however, was being invited to climb into the Roman Bath itself. This was a dark stone structure with a few inches of icy water to cool your feet in and a gushing jet of water splashing down into it. The kids were delighted and there was much shrieking and hilarity as they got thoroughly soaked.   

Walking back to our guest house, an old lady chased after us to offer us a homemade biscuit. She was welcoming and hospitable without any need for introductions to be exchanged. There is a tangible community spirit in Battir and a hopefulness and sense of preservation and growth that is not felt in all areas of Palestine. It was endearing and refreshing.

Some of this has been hard fought for. In the early 2000s there was a lengthy legal battle to dispute the Separation Wall from being built through the village. This would have severely curtailed local access to the land and would have caused irreparable damage to the ancient terraces. The village successfully applied to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List and when this was awarded in 2014 it proved a ‘check mate’ move in stopping the Wall.

We were very happy to be staying at Hassan’s beautifully restored Guest House which he runs with his sister. There are three guest rooms, each with its own bathroom, accommodating up to 10 people in total.

Relaxing in style at the Dar Abu Hassan Guest House

The rooms open out on to a comfortable shaded courtyard and seating area and there is also a large rooftop area where you can read, eat or relax whilst enjoying spectacular views over the whole valley.

We’d arranged for dinner and the generous maqloubeh with local bithinjan was superb. This was followed by a top-notch breakfast the following morning. We loved having time to taste the local specialities and could easily have folded ourselves into village life for much longer.

Battir has a laid-back warmth to it that is endearing and it could well become a regular retreat for us. To book your stay, visit Dar Abu Hassan Guest House, Battir on Facebook.

2 thoughts on “Eight Days a Week

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