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Bet Guvrin

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At Bet Guvrin National Park there are, in addition to the ruins of ancient buildings, over 4000 artificial and natural caves.

The artificial caves are nick-named 'Bell Caves' because of their shape, like bells. The caves range from 12 to 25 meters high and up to 40 meters across. They were formed when the native chalk was quarried for building materials. Later the caves were used as dwellings, cisterns, store rooms, olive presses, burial chambers, for pigeon breeding, etc.

A large number of these 'bell caves' were dug by a colony of Sidonians in the 3rd century BC. Sidon was a Phoenician city state. The Phoenician civilization centered in the north of Canaan. The Phoenician city-sates were scattered along the coastlines of modern Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Phoenicians were maritime traders. Their culture spread across the Mediterranean between the period of 1200 BC to 900 BC.

The Sidonian colony at Bet Guvrin was established by the Ptolemies in the 3rd century BC. The Ptolemies were the Egyptian dynasty which controlled Palestine from 323 to 198 BC, the first group to maintain control of the area after the death of Alexander the Great. They treated their Jewish subjects relatively well, but taxed them heavily.

Although the caves were robbed of their more valuable artifacts centuries ago, one can still explore the former burial chambers, water cisterns, storage rooms, dwellings and shrines in this extensive cave complex. The caves offer a delightfully cool refuge from the blazing heat of the region.

The cave ceilings are quite thin and some have already collapsed. In 2002 when we visited, hard hats were provided and their wear was mandatory.

Entrances to many of the over 800 Bell Caves are camouflaged by cacti and fig trees. Beware as you stroll around the area. The scenery is pleasant, but watch where you put your feet. People have been known to fall in, and it is a long way down.

The site is worth a visit. Wear sturdy walking shoes. It might be a good idea to carry a flashlight or electric torch as some of the caves are rather dark.

Take route 35 toward Lakhish. Six km east of the Lakhish turn-off and just west of route 38, you will pass the entrance to Bet Guvrin National Park. Check with the National Park system to find current hours of operation and entrance fees.

Rambo III, starring Sylvester Stallone, was filmed here.

Some views of Bet Guvrin.

Click with the right mouse button to see the full size photo.

cistern

This cistern with vaulted ceiling dates from the 4th or 3rd century BC.

cistern

The columbarium niches in the cistern, for pigeons, were added later, probably in the Byzantine period.

cistern

Access to the cistern from ground level.

burial chamber

Wall decorations in a Sidonian burial cave.

burial chamber

Wall decorations in a Sidonian burial cave.

burial chamber

Wall decorations in a Sidonian burial cave.

olive press

A press for extracting olive oil.

bell cave

Bell caves, so named because of their bell shape.

bell caves

Bell caves.

bell caves

Bell caves.

bell caves

Bell caves.

bell caves

Bell cave, a hole in the ground is the way in, watch where you walk.

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Patti

This page was updated on 18 December 2007.

Contact me at: patti.primeau@sympatico.ca

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