The ancient Jewish town of Bet She‘arim, located on a hill in the Lower Western Galilee, reached its zenith in the second-fourth centuries CE.
The inhabitants of Bet She‘arim hewed grand tombs deep within the hill. Ancient courtyards, corridors and steps lead visitors to large halls where they can see the rock-cut burial chambers and stone coffins (sarcophagi). The rooms and the sarcophagi feature an abundance of carved reliefs,
inscriptions and wall paintings. Stone-carved doors, which imitate the style of wooden doors, closed some of the caves.
The reliefs and paintings represent Jewish artistic motifs that were popular in the Roman period, including a seven-branched candelabrum, the Ark of the Covenant, a shofar, lulav and etrog. Secular motifs are also present-ships, animals, human figures and geometric patterns.
Most of the inscriptions are in Greek, but inscriptions also appear in Hebrew, Aramaic and Palmyran. They often reveal the name, profession and origin of the deceased.
In the third century CE, Bet She‘arim became a renowned Jewish center due to the presence there of the spiritual leader Rabbi Judah Hanasi, head of the Sanhedrin. The Roman authorities, who supported his leadership, gave him much property, including an estate at Bet She‘arim. Rabbi Judah moved the Sanhedrin from Shefar‘am to Bet She‘arim, and at the end of his life to Zippori. He was buried at Bet She‘arim in 220 CE, garnering fame for its cemetery in the Jewish world throughout in the talmudic period.
Before or after visiting the caves, don’t miss the ruins of Bet She‘arim at the top of the hill. Near the remains of a basilica, apparently built during the lifetime of Rabbi Judah Hanasi, is a bronze statue of the pioneer Alexander Zayid astride his horse. Zayid, who established the defense organization called Hashomer, discovered a burial cave in 1926. Nearby on the hill, with its magnificent panorama of the Jezreel Valley and Mount Carmel, is the double-domed tomb of the Muslim Sheikh Abreik.
How to get there:
Off road no. 75 between Hatishbi and Hashomrim junctions, on road 722, 10 minutes from the center of Kiryat Tivon.
Egged bus 826 from Tel Aviv to Nazareth, bus 301 from Haifa to Afula.
Length of tour: 1-2 hours
Best season: year-round
Don't miss:The sarcophagi cave; audiovisual center; cave of Rabbi Judah Hanasi; springtime blooming of the Judas trees; statue of Alexander Zayid
Other facilities and attractions:snack bar; guided tours for groups by reservation; guided tours for individuals by volunteers from Kiryat Tivon; restaurant, open 5 P.M.-midnight (except Fridays); events in the park (Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, conferences, musical performances); picnics and barbecuing in designated areas
Hours:April-September 8 A.M.-5 P.M.
October-March 8 A.M.-4 P.M.
Last entry one hour before above closing hour
Fax / Email:04-953-1551
Entrance fee:Adult: NIS 22; child: NIS 10
Israeli senior citizen: NIS 11
Groups (over 30 people): Adult: NIS 19; child: NIS 8
Entrance to dogs:Dogs are not allowed in the reserve