Located on the slopes of the Judean Mountains in Central Israel, the roughly 1,200-acre Beit Guvrin National Park is a perennially popular family destination, and it possesses what is quite possibly one of the largest cave systems in the world.
Encompassing the ruins of the ancient First Temple-era city of Tel Maresha, Beit Guvrin has had a storied, if not troubled history, having endured numerous attacks and devastation over the centuries. It has been mentioned in the biblical text as Mareshah (Joshua 15:44), which translates to mean the “crest of a hill” in Hebrew.
Beit Guvrin was one of the cities fortified and garrisoned by Solomon’s son Rehoboam against the Egyptians. It was ultimately conquered by the Roman general Vespasian during the Jewish War (AD 66-73) and obliterated during the Bar Kochba revolt (AD 132-135), the last of three major Jewish-Roman wars. Reestablished as a colony during the Roman and Byzantine eras, Beit Guvrin-Maresha would emerge as a prosperous city of freemen and a burgeoning Jewish population.
First excavated around 1900, archaeologists discovered a planned and fortified Hellenistic-era city, complete with a town wall and towers. They also discovered olive presses, columbaria (housing for pigeons), and water cisterns. Subsequent digs would also uncover a Roman-built amphitheater—which can seat around 3,500 people—a bathhouse, a Crusader-era fortress, and the Church of Saint Anne, a Byzantine-Crusader era domed structure. Most, if not all of these finds can be seen today. And if you want to try your hand at some amateur archaeology, Beit Guvrin offers a “dig-for-a-day” where you can search for Roman era artifacts.
Visitors can also see the Sidonian burial caves, a series of brightly painted family and community tombs.
But the city’s most impressive attraction(s) are the caves. In the park alone, there are believed to be at least 800 bell-shaped caves, which are connected by underground tunnels. The largest caves are located in the eastern part of the park. These man-made chalk caves were used over millennia for myriad purposes, such as stables, quarries, granaries, storerooms, and much more. The bell caves are a fantastic way to round out your visit to Beit Guvrin, especially on a hot day!
Experience the mystery and natural beauty of Beit Guvrin on your next trip to Israel!
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