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Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park
Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park
|Location Beit Guvrin, Israel|
|City Beit Guvrin|
|Open to visitors yes|
|Need appointment no|
|Handicap accessibility no|
|Geographical Coordinates 31.61288,34.89557|
Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park is a national park in central Israel, 13 kilometers from Kiryat Gat, encompassing the ruins of Maresha, one of the important towns of Judah during the time of the First Temple, and Beit Guvrin, an important town in the Roman era, when it was known as Eleutheropolis.
Archaeological artefacts unearthed at the site include a large Jewish cemetery, a Roman-Byzantine amphitheater, a Byzantine church, public baths, mosaics and burial caves.
History and time period
Beit Guvrin replaced Maresha as the seat of power of Rehoboam, who fortified it against Egyptian attack. In 112 BCE, Maresha was conquered by the Hasmonean king, John Hyracanus I. During the Roman and Byzantine periods, it had a large Jewish population. Under Roman rule, it was granted the status of a “city of freeman.” Beit Guvrin thrived until the Bar Kochva revolt in 132–135 CE. According to Josephus Flavius, it was conquered by the Roman general Vespasian.
The earliest written record of Maresha was as a city in ancient Judah. After the destruction of the First Temple the city of Maresha became part of the Edomite kingdom. In the late Persian period a Sidonian community settled in Maresha, and the city is mentioned in the Zenon Papyri (259 BC). During the Hasmonean wars, Maresha was a base for attacks against Judea and suffered retaliation from the Maccabees. After John Hyrcanus captured and destroyed Maresha the region of Idumea remained under Hasmonean control. In 40 BC the Parthians devastated completely the "strong city", after which it was never rebuilt.
Maresha was first excavated in 1900 by Bliss and Macalister, who uncovered a planned and fortified Hellenistic city encircled by a town wall with towers. Two Hellenistic and one Israelite strata were identified by them on the mound. Many of the ancient city's olive presses, columbariums and water cisterns can still be seen
The Sidonian burial caves were the family tomb of Apollophanes, the leader of the Sidonian community in Beit Guvrin. The Sidonian caves are the only ones that are painted inside. The caves were burial caves for the Greek, Sidonian and Edumite inhabitants of Beit Guvrin. The first and largest cave has paintings of animals, real and mythic, above the niches where the corpses were laid. A cock crows to scare away demons;the three-headed dog Cerberus guards the entrance to the underworld; a bright red phoenix symbolizes the life after death. The Tomb of the Musicians is decorated with a painting showing a man playing the flute and a woman playing the harp.
There are about 800 bell-shaped caves located in the area. Many of the caves are linked via an underground network of passageways that connect groups of 40–50 caves. The bell caves were dug during the Arabian Period for chalk to cover roads. The walls are beige colored limestone. There are numerous bell caves within the park grounds and events are held in one of them. It is large (over 60 feet (18 m) high), airy and easily accessible
The remains of a Roman amphitheater were uncovered in the mid-1990s. The amphitheater was built in the 2nd century, on the northwestern outskirts of Beit Guvrin. This amphitheater, in which gladiatorial contests took place, could seat about 3,500 spectators. It had a walled arena of packed earth, with subterranean galleries. The arena was surrounded by a series of connected barrel vaults, which formed a long, circular corridor and supported the stone seats above it; staircases led from the outside and from the circular corridor to the tribunes It was built for the Roman troops stationed in the region after the suppression of the Bar Kochba rebellion. The amphitheater is an elliptical structure built of large rectangular limestone ashlars. It was in use until destroyed in the Galilee earthquake of 363.