August 5th – Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park
On Sunday afternoon, we visited Bet Guvrin. We arrived shortly after lunch, but the lady by the park entrance reminded us that the park closed at 5 PM. After we left, we realized that there are a lot of things to see, and you can do a lot of hiking. The park combines archaeological sites, fabulous caves, and some steep hiking.
We were able to get an informational brochure in English:
“Maresha is mentioned among the cities of Judea noted in Joshua 15:44, and as one of the cities fortified by Rehoboam again the incursion of Babylon into his kingdom (Chronicles II – 11:5-8). At the beginning of the 9th century BCD, Zerah the Ethiopian attacked Judea and engaged King Asa in the Maresha Area (Chronciles ii – 14:8-10). After the destruction of the First Temple, Maresha and all of southern Judea was settled by Edomites, who came from the southeast. At the end of the period (4th century BCE), Sidonians and even Greeks came to Maresha, introducing Hellenistic culture. Isolated Egyptians and a few Jews also lived there, which created a diverse community. During this period, the Lower City was built and many caves were hewn.
Around 113 BCE, John Hyrcanus I, the Hasmoean, conquered Maresha and converted the residents to Judaism.The upper and lower city became desolate ruins, and it was finally demolished by the Parhtian Army in 40 BCE.”
“Bet Guvrin is mentioned by Josephus Flavius in 68 CE as one of the towns conquered by Vespasian. Following the destruction of the Second Temple, it continued to exist as a rather crowded Jewish settlement until the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-135 CE).
In 200, Emperor Septimus Severus renamed the city Eleutheropolis (City of the Free). It was a thriving area with aqueducts, five highways, dwellings, an amphitheater and public buildings. It is mentioned in the Talmud and Midrashim.
During the Byzantine Period, it was an important center of Christianity. The bell caves were dug during the Early Muslim period, and finds from the Crusader period indicated it was a small fortified city.
An Arab village occupied the site until 1948. In June, the Egyptian Army occupied the British Taggart Fort built at the outset of World War II. On October 27, 1948, Israeli forces recovered the area, and in May 1939 Kibbutz Bet Guvrin was established. “
We walked around some of the ruins and saw a Columbarium Cave, which is a pigeon coop with over 2,000 nciches. The birds were raised for cultic purposes and for food, and their dung was used as fertilizer.
We also saw water cisterns dug during the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE, some dwellings, and the main shopping area.
Then we climbed down the hill.
Then we saw the Sidonian Burial Caves, which also had niches and restored paintings.
The Bell Caves were amazing. Named for their shape, the caves are what remain of quarrying activity. A narrow opening was created, and the perimeter of the pit broadened during the operation. The stone blocks were raised and removed from the cave by means of rope, and most of the work was done from the 7th to 10th centuries CE.
Our final stop was at the Amphitheater, which was being cleaned up from a concert the previous night. This was used for gladiator fights during the Roman period, as a public market during the Byzantine period, and has a Crusader fortress.
We loved the confluence of history, modern Israel, geology, archaeology, and biblical reference. Equally amazing is that the site is 18 kilometers (about 9 miles) from our house.