Beit Shearim is a national park in the Lower Galilee region of northern Israel. Beit Shearim is known for the remains of a Roman city located on a hilltop and the ancient Jewish burial catacombs located within it. Today the Beit Shearim National Park incorporates both the ruins of the city and the burial tombs.
Outside the impressive burial tombs at Beit Shearim. Image Templar 1307, via Flickr
The city was originally established between the 9th century BC and the 3th century BC during the Persian and Hellenistic periods. But it was during the Roman era that the city was most prosperous as a Jewish settlement – in the 2nd century AD the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem and established several communities in the north, including Beit Shearim. The city was the site of the best known Jewish burial ground at the time as Jews could no longer be buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. In 70AD Beit Shearim became the seat of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court and supreme council. In fact Rabi Judah Hanasi, who compiled the Mishnah, was buried here (in catacomb #14) making it a pilgrimage destination for devout Jews. Beit Shearim was destroyed by the Romans during the Gallus Revolt of 351AD and since then has not regained its former glory.
What to see in Beit Shearim
An impressive tomb at Beit Shearim. Image Vad Levin via Flickr
Beit Shearim is best known for the messianic cemetery, 20 burial grounds or catacombs have been uncovered one of which alone contains 400 stone burial places. There is a museum in one of the catacombs and you can see the catacombs with stone coffins baring intricate carvings and inscriptions. Within the necropolis are family tombs, tombs cut into the hill side, complex connecting tombs and evidence of years of damage of the graves. There is evidence of limestone sarcophagi, stone, marble and even wooden coffins. Some of the catacombs reach two stories high with interlinking halls. Jewish folk art and motifs decorate the catacombs in paintings and carvings. Some of the caves can be sealed with large stone doors carved to resemble wooden doors. A large pane of glass was found together with other objects made of glass, proving that the site had a thriving glass industry as well. The glass artifacts are on show in one of the catacombs.
On the hill top overlooking the national park are the ruins of an ancient synagogue alongside the remains of an ancient church and nearby a double domed Muslim tomb.
Visiting Beit Shearim
The impressive excavations which took place at Beit Shearim. Image Israel GPO
April to September: 8am to 5pm
October to March: 8am to 4pm
Entrance is 21NIS for adults and 9NIS for kids.
Egged bus #826 from Tel Aviv which passes by the site on route to Nazareth. Alternatively bus #301 from Haifa heading to Afula also goes by Beit Shearim.