Beit Guvrin (or Bayt Jibrin) is one of the most surprising places to visit in Israel as all of its wonder lies below ground! Beit Guvrin or should I say Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park is located near Kibbutz Guvrin off the Beit Shemesh-Kiryat Gat road in the Judean lowlands; the “land of a thousand caves.” The national park encompasses ancient archaeological remains of the Roman town of Maresha; the remains of the 1st century town of Beit Guvrin; a Roman amphitheatre; the remains of a Crusader fortress and countless caves.
The Ancient Caves of Beit Guvrin
The ancient inhabitants dug caves in the limestone rock not only to quarry the chalk but also to use the caves as water cisterns, storage space,, dovecotes, tombs and to keep live stock. Highlights of the national park include the Sidonian Burial Caves, where the leading families of the Beit Guvrin Sidonian, Edumite and Greek communities were buried. These caves are the only ones here that are decorated with frescoes. You can see the burial niches in the rock and the intricate paintings of mythical figures, animals and plants. There is a burial cave where musicians were buried and this one is painted with musical motifs. Among the many caves in the area there are about 800 bell caves. Bell caves are, as the name implies, shaped like bells with an opening in the ceiling. Many of these caves are connected by passageways and some were used as columbarium where small niches have been carved into the walls for pigeons. The bell caves were carved out of the soft limestone during the Arabian period and the chalk dug from the caves was used for laying roads. Some of these bell caves are enormous, reaching heights of 18 meters. Today some of these beautiful, spacious and cool caves are used as concert venues. Other caves not to miss are the Polish Cave, a Hellenistic Period cistern; the Oil Press Cave, one of 22 underground oil presses from the Biblical period; the Bathtub Cave used for washing or ritualistic bathing; a partially reconstructed home from c.113BC and the Maze Caves of underground dwellings.
There are several routes through the park which can be followed by bike and in some places by car. Visitors to the park can take a map and follow the hike paths through beautiful countryside from site to site seeing the ancient remains and exploring the caves. Each of the caves has been made easily accessible with stairs and hand rails. You can have an amazing day out at Beit Guvrin exploring both beneath the ground and the flora and fauna above ground. There are facilities like toilets, a kiosk and picnic areas.
Where: Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park, Off road #35 between road #38 and Kiriyat Gat.
When: You can visit year round. Sunday-Thursday and Saturday 8am-5pm; Fridays and holiday eves 8am-4pm. In winter the site closes an hour earlier. Passover eve, Yom Kippur and Erev Rosh Hashana 8am-1pm.
Admission: Adults 29ILS children 15ILS, students 25ILS seniors 15ILS.
Contact: 08 6811020
Access: There is limited wheelchair access but the Bell Caves, Roman amphitheatre and Visitor Center are accessible.