Friday, April 27, 2012


Beit Guvrin replaced Maresha as the most important settlement in the area.  It is mentioned for the first time in 68 CE in writing by Josephus Flavius, as one of the towns conquered by the Roman general Vespasian.  Following the destruction of the 2nd Temple, it continued to exist as a rather crowded Jewish settlement until the  Bar-Kochva revolt  in 132-135 CE.

In 200, Emperor Septimus Severus changed Beit Guvrin’s name to Eleutheropolis (City of the Free) and granted it Polis (municipal) status.  2 aqueducts brought water from afar, which, together with local waterworks, supplied the requirements of the residents.  5 highways, all marked with milstones, led to the city from various directions.  Besides dwellings, the city boasted an amphitheatre and public buildings.  The Jewish settlement was rehabilitated and in the 3rd-4th centuries Beit Guvrin was mentioned in the Talmud and Midrashim by  sages such as Rabbi Yonatan and Rabbi Yehuda Ben-Yaakov.

A large Jewish cemetery and architectural remains from the Roman and Byzantine periods have been found.  During the Byzantine period, Beit Guvrin was an important centre of Christianity, with a number of churches.  Most of the bells caves are from the Early Muslim period, and finds from the Crusader period indicate that it was a small, fortified city, at the hub of which was a church dedicated in 1136.  The city was surrounded by Crusader villages, and it appears the Church of St. Anne was restored about the same time.

An Arab village occupied the site until the War of Independence.  In June 1948 the Egyptian Army occupied the British Taggart Fort there and on 27.10.48 Israeli forces recovered the area.  In May 1948 Kibbutz Beit Guvrin was established.

The Bell Caves

A series of 80 large caves from the Byzantine and Early Moslem periods, which the inhabitants connected by passageways. The caves, the largest of which are over 5 meters high, were dug into the hard surface rock and quarried downward in the shape of a bell.   At first it was thought that the caves were used a water cisterns, storehouses, dwellings and bunkers.  Today, however, it is clear that most of them were quarries, which supplied the building materials for cities of the coastal plain and Bet-Guvrin itself.  The stone blocks were raised and removed from the caves by means of ropes.  Arabic inscriptions and crosses found on the walls show that many of the caves were dug during the Early Arab period, in the seventh-tenth centuries CE.

The Roman Amphitheater

This amphitheater, which has a capacity of 3,500, was used for fights between gladiators, slaves and wild animals, to entertain the masses. The floor of the arena (a Latin word meaning sand) was covered in sand to absorb the split blood.  2 crossing tunnels under the arena probably served as cages for the animals, who were brought up to the arena by elevator. The shows were free to Roman citizens.

In the Byzantine period the amphitheater served as a public market.

Parts of a large Roman bathhouse were discovered east of the amphitheater.  It includes several impressive arches and the “Cauldron” (hot room).

In the 12th century a large Crusader fortress, surrounded by a moat, was built on top of the amphitheatre and the bathhouse.  In the centre was an inner fort with several arches and a mess hall.  Attached to the south of the fortress is a church with 2 rows of columns and 3 niches.  Several structures were added to the inner fort in the Mamluk and Ottoman eras, including a mosque.

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