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Beit Guvrin

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Overview of Beit Guvrin in the Holy Land

 

Beit Guvrin National Park is located off Rt. #35 across from Kibbutz Beit Guvrin, at the junction of roads that lead from the Judean foothills to Jerusalem and Hebron.

 

Situated within Beit Guvrin is a series of hundreds of caves, the area is known as the site of the ancient cities of Maresha and Beit Guvrin. In some of the cares you need to to crawl to reach, while others, including the immense Bell Cave is just huge. On a recent outing there we witnessed people rapelling from outside the cave through the top down aobut 20 meters to the bottom. Its walls are made of beige colored limestone, it is large (over 60 feet high), airy and is easily accessible.

 

The Bell Cave is only one of about 800 bell-shaped caves located in the area. Many of these caves are linked via an underground network of passageways that connect groups of 40-50 caves. There are roughly 2000 caves in the Beit Guvrin area Today it's known that the bell caves served as quarries that supplied building materials to the cities of the coastal plain and Beit Guvrin during the seventh-tenth centuries CE.

 

Historical Background of Beit Guvrin

 

The town of Beit Guvrin replaced the city of Maresha, one of the Judean cities mentioned in the Bible (Joshua 15:44 and Chronicles 2, 11; 5-8) as a city fortified by Rehoboam, so that it could withstand Egyptian attack. In 112 BCE Maresha was conquered by the Hasmonean king, John Hyracanus I, who destroyed the city and gave residents the choice of expulsion or conversion to Judaism. The town succeeded in rebuilding itself but  was ultimately destroyed in 40 BCE.

 

During the Roman and Byzantine periods there was a large Jewish population here and during the Roman period the city was given the status of "city of freeman" and named Eleutheroolis. Beit Guvrin was the most important city in the area and thrived until the Bar Kochva revolt (132-135 CE). Josephus Flavius also wrote about Beit Guvrin and siad that the city was conquered by the Roman general Vespasian and, in fact, remains of a large Jewish cemetery were discovered on site. Additionally, a Roman-Byzantine amphitheater, public baths, mosaics and burial tombs were also found here. It was also an important center of Christianity and had many churches. The remains of St. Anne's church are still visible.

 

A visit to Beit Guvrin National Park is a wonderful adventure for the whole family. Within the park one can also reserve space in a live archaeological dig that is ongoing in one of the caves.Travelujah members receive a discount off the dig price. Ask us for details after you've registered.

 

Within the dig one can see the remains of an urban center that has existed consistently from the first century on (though destroyed and rebuilt many times over). The day we were there some people found ancient pottery, coins and a beautifully crafted hairpin, evidence of an upscale and sophisticated urban center.

 

Beit Guvrin is 35 miles south of Jerusalem, (56 kilometers) at an altitude of 820-1150 above sea level. A visit to Beit Guvrin can be nicely combined a trip to or from Beersheva,  the Tel Ashkelon, and the Elah Valley.

 

 

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