Beth Guvrin (Maresha)

Also known as Betogabris, Eleutheropolis, Tel Maresha, Tell Sandahanna, Beit Jibrin, Bet Giblin, Beth-guvrin, Bet Guvrin, Gibelin, Mareshah

Maresha aerial from west

Beth Guvrin

Pictured here is the OT site of Maresha, a city of Judah given to the clan of Caleb (Josh 15:44).  It was destroyed by Sennacherib in 701 BC and eventually became the capital city of the Idumeans.  After a destruction by the Parthians in 40 BC, the population center moved two miles north to a place known as Beth Guvrin.  Beth Guvrin had been a suburb of Maresha but it became the major living center by the Roman Period.

 

Amphitheater

Beth Guvrin eventually became Eleutheropolis (“City of the Free”) in the Late Roman period (AD 200) when Emperor Septimus Severus turned it into a major administrative center.  The amphitheater dates to this period and was used for animal and gladiator fights.  One of the most obvious differences between amphitheaters and theaters is that an amphitheater makes an oval while a theater only makes a half circle.

Beth Guvrin amphitheater aerial

 

Beth Guvrin bell caves

Bell Caves

Eight hundred bell-shaped pits in the area are remains of ancient quarries, probably dating to the 4th-9th centuries AD.  Because this stone was too soft to be used for building, people mined the stone to be burnt for lime and used it in mortar and plaster.  The quarry was opened from a one-meter (3.5 ft.) hole in the hard Nari surface above, and then was widened out to create the mine.

 

Columbarium

Pigeons were raised in antiquity for meat and for their dung, which was used as fertilizer.  This large columbarium dates to about 200 BC and was shaped like a double cross nearly 100 feet (30 m) long.  There were approximately 1,900 niches in this columbarium.

Beth Guvrin columbarium

 

Beth Guvrin Tomb of the Sidonian

Tomb of the Sidonian

Sometime in the Hellenistic (or maybe Persian) period, a group of Sidonians settled at Maresha.  This beautifully decorated tomb was used by Apollophanes, the head of the Sidonian settlement for 33 years.  It was in use from the 3rd to the 1st centuries BC. The end of the cave is shaped like a bed and was the resting-place of the Sidonian patriarch.  Numerous other burial niches were carved on either side of the chamber.

 

Related Websites

Beth Guvrin (CTSP) After a brief introduction to the site, this webpage lists a history of the site's excavation and a history of its occupation based on historical and archaeological sources.

Maresha Dig Background An informative article by Prof. Amos Kloner describing the history and various features of Tell Sandahannah/Maresha. This website also contains a database of Persian figurines found at Maresha here.

Bet Guvrin (The Jewish Magazine) A good discussion of Bet Guvrin's history and a detailed description of the caves.

Bet Guvrin (Institute of Archaeology, Bar Ilan University) A presentation of some of the discoveries at Bet Guvrin, focusing mostly on the amphitheater. Includes a few photos of the site.

Bet Guvrin (ShemeshDirectory.co.il) A detailed description of the site's caves written by a licensed tour guide. 

Maresha (The Columbia Encyclopedia Sixth Edition, 2001) An extremely brief encyclopedia article on the site.