Beit Guvrin is an important archaeological site in southern Israel around 60km south of Jerusalem. Beit Guvrin National Park encompasses the remains of the ancient city of Tel Maresha and covers 5,000 dunams. The site has a tumultuous history from the First Temple Period through to modern times, yet it is the amazing caves at Beit Guvrin which is the main attraction for many of the visitors who come here.
History of Beit Guvrin
Ruins at Beit Gurvin. Image credit Bukvoed
The Bible refers to the City of Maresha during the First Temple period. The city was destroyed in 112BCE and after recovering was again ruined in 40BCE. During the Roman and Byzantine Eras the city became Eleutherolis, a city of freeman with a large Jewish population and the city was prosperous until 135BC and the Bar Kochva Revolution. The evidence of a Roman civilization can be seen in the many archaeological discoveries made at the site including an amphitheatre and Roman mosaics. The Christians also left their mark with the remains of several churches including Saint Anne’s which can still be seen today.
A special program at Beit Guvrin allows anyone to join an archaeological dig for a day on a real site where important artifacts dating back to the Roman era are often found.
Things to see at Beit Guvrin
St. Anne’s Church dates back to the Byzantine era but was renovated by the Crusaders in the 1100s. Today you can see an impressive high semi-circular domed stone structure. Another great discovery at Beit Guvrin are the painted Greek Sidonian burial caves dating back to the 3rd to 1st Century BC. These intricately decorated family tombs of the Beit Guvrin Sidonian community’s leaders have burial niches along both sides of the caves and a bed like structure at one end for the Sidonian patriarch.
An archeological dig at Beit Guvrin. Courtesy of Scott Ableman.
A Columbarium (a place used to breed pigeons both for meat and for their droppings which were used as fertilizer) dating back to 200BC has also been discovered at the site. Spanning 30 meters, it has almost 2,000 niches which would have housed the pigeons. On a more pleasant note, Beit Gurvin’s spectacular Roman amphitheater could seat 3,500 in the audience, and today is one of only four in the whole of Israel.
Aside from the archaeology, the natural beauty of the Beit Guvrin area draws many visitors to this national park – you can hike, bike and explore the beauty of this area.
Beit Guvrin Caves
A bell cave at Beit Guvrin. Image Amos Gil
The Caves at Beit Gurvin, in particular the Bell Cave are the main reason visitors come here. In total there are at least 800 bell shaped caves in the park (and 2,000 in the area), some of which are linked by underground tunnels. The most famous of these caves is 1.28 meters high and used for special events. These caves were quarried during the 4th to 9th century when the chalk was used to make roads, plaster and mortar. There is a meter wide hole in the cave ceiling where chalk was extracted.
It is possible to rappel down the side of the limestone cliffs into some of the caves.
Visiting Beit Guvrin
Beit Guvrin Opening Times
April to September 8am to 5pm
October to March 8am to 4pm
On Friday and holidays year round, the park is open until 3pm
Entrance costs 27NIS for adults and 14NIS for kids.
You can get more details about tours, events and taking part in archaeological digs on *3639 or 08-6811020.