Thursday, March 17, 2011

Beit Guvrin-Maresh National Park

Marilyn and I visited Beit Gurvin-Meresha National Park (AKA Eleutheropolis and Tel Sandahannah), today in preparation our guests to participate in Dig For A Day. We met with Asaf Stern who works in the program part time, Arava Alon who is a regular staff person in the program 054 314-5700 and Asaf's father the head of the program Dr. Ian Stern an archeologist.

There are basically three major sections to visit in the park" 1.) the Sidonian Cave near the information center; 2. the Bell Caves near the entrance to the park and 3. Amphitheater with Crusader church net store (before the main entrance of the park in back of the gas station.)

[From the Park Brochure..]

The national park has an area of 1,235 acres. The site is in the basin of the Guvrin Stream at the point of transition from the lower to the higher shephela at an altitude of 820-1,150 feet above sea level. The site was an ancient crossroads from the coastal plain to the Judean Hills and north to south through the shephela.

The bedrock here is limestone (kirton) tens of feet thick. Above it is a hardened cap of harder limestone called nari 5-10 feet thick. The nari had to be removed via small holes to get to the softer kirton. The quarrying of the kirton resulted in the Bell Caves. The quarried rock was cut into building stones. The follow spaces left behind were used as industrial installations, water reservoirs, storerooms, to keep cattle or beasts of burden and as burial caves.

Archeological Research

History of Excavations:

1900: Fredrick Jones Bliss (1859-1937) and Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister (1870–1950) excavated at Maresha for British Palestine Exploration Fund.

1902: Thiersch and Peters (Sidonian Burials)

1969-75 Ben Arieh (survey)

1989-onward Amos Kloner (Israel Antiquity Authorities)

Chronicles of Maresha

Maresha is mentioned among cities of Judea noted in Joshua 15:44 and as one of the cities fortified by King Rehoboam against the incursion of the Babylonians into his Kingdom (Chronicles 2 11: 5-8) and Chronicles 2 14:8-10.

During the Persian Period following the destruction of the 1st Temple in 586 BCE, Maresha and all of southern Judea was settled by Edonmites who came from the northeast. At the end of that period in the 4th Century BCE, the place was inhabited by Sidonians (from the city of Sidon near Tyre) and even Greeks bringing the Hellenistic culture with them. Egyptians and Jews also settled in the area at the same time. Thus Maresha became a Hellenistic city. During this period the lower city was built and many caves were hewn.

The Hasmonean King John Hycanus I in 113 BCE conquered Maresha and converted the residents of the city and the region to Judaism. The city became desolate ruins. It was briefly sparsely populate but destroyed by the Parthian invasion in 40 BCE.

Chronicles of Beit Guvrin

Beit Guvrin replaced Maresha as the most important settlement in the area. It is mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius in 68 CE as one of the cities conquered by the Roman General Vespasias. Following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, it continued to exist as a crowded Jewish settlement until the Bar-Kochva Revolt 132-35 CE.

In 200 CE the Emperor Septimus Severus changed Beit Gurvin's name to Eleutheropolis ("City of the free") and granted it municipal status.

During the Byzantine period, Beit Gurvin was an important Christian town with a number of Churches.

During the early Muslim period, most of the caves were dug.

It became an important Crusader town. The early Byzantine St. Anne's Church was rebuilt in 1136 CE.


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