Beit Guvrin – Maresha National Park, Land of the Thousand Caves
The park sits next to route 35, east of Qiryat Gat, opposite Kibbutz Beit Guvrin.
It covers an area of around 5,000 dunams (about 1,250 acres) and contains a unique collection of historic sites located around two focal points: the ruins of the city of Beit Guvrin (Eleutheropolis = City of Free Men) and Tel Maresha. The uniqueness stems from the enormous concentration of around 1,000 caves, of different types, carved out of the chalkstone. The region has the greatest amount of subterranean quarrying in Israel, and one of the largest collections of such caves in the world.
There is a tel from biblical times, called Maresha, on top of the highest hill in the area. It was inhabited from the Israelite Era to the Roman Era, and enjoyed its greatest prosperity during the Hellenistic Era (3rd-2nd centuries BCE). In the Roman Era the inhabitants abandoned Tel Maresha and founded the city of Beit Guvrin nearby which became the capital of West Edomea.
Beit Guvrin is mentioned for the first time in the writings of Josephus Flavius, in the War of the Jews. Hazal (Our Sages') literature also mentions Beit Guvrin several times.
The source of the name Beit Guvrin (House of Men) is Aramaic, but the Midrash attributes the name to the giants who were supposed to have inhabited the caves beforehand and, thus, it is also called Beit Giboriya (House of the Giants).
The city of Beit Guvrin was inhabited by Jews, and some architectural remains of a synagogue were found there.
Beit Guvrin was also an important place during the Crusader Era.
The people of the Arab village Beit Jubrin, who abandoned the place during the War of Independence, made use of the strong walls of the local fortress for support for some of their houses.
The main sites in the Beit Guvrin National Park are:
The bell caves – a chain of 80 large caves connected by hewn passageways.
The Sidonian burial caves – a series of impressive burial caves from the Hellenistic Era decorated with drawings of wild animals and mythological figures.
A sophisticated system of wells – enormous wells which served the inhabitants of Maresha during the Hellenistic Era.
The oil press cave – a cave containing a large fully restored oil press.
The Columbarium Cave – a cave with niches which were probably used to breed pigeons.
Roman amphitheater and remains of a Crusader fort are located to the north of the road, next to the entrance to the kibbutz. Here the public can walk along a bridge in the city of Crusader knights, and see the dining hall, bathing rooms and storerooms.
You can plan a visit here lasting from a couple of hours to a whole day. You can drive there, by car or bus, and it is also suitable for visiting on foot.
More information can be obtained by calling 08-6811020, and on the Israel Nature and Parks Authority web site – www.parks.org.il
Beit Guvrin – Maresha National Park .