Bet Shean National Park

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Bet She'an National Park houses the spectacular ruins of the glory that was the Roman and Byzantine city of Bet She'an. Rising above them is the high mound on which Biblical Bet She'an stood.

​ In the heart of the national park is Harod Stream, whose waters flow all year round.

Main points of interest

  • She'an Nights - a breathtaking audiovisual display taking place after sunset.
  • The entrance plaza - model of the Roman-Byzantine city and view of the site.
  • Roman theater - the spectacular remains and reconstruction of the 2nd century CE theater.
  • Western bathhouse - the ruins of the large bathhouse of Bet She'an, in use during the Byzantine period. The remains of the bathhouse offer an opportunity to get to know this aspect of life at that time.
  • The reconstructed cardo (Palladius Street) - a street paved with basalt stone slabs, approximately 150 m in length. Along the length of the street are the remains of columns and impressive buildings.
  • The Sigma and the Tyche mosaic - a semicircular plaza that was the site of commerce and entertainment. In one of the rooms around the plaza is a mosaic depicting the figure of Tyche, goddess of the city's fortune.
  • The Roman temple - the ruins of a large temple. The four huge columns of the facade collapsed in the 749 earthquake, and since then have remained lying on the ground as they fell.
  • The propyleum (monumental gateway) - the remains of a gateway with three entrances. Processions would apparently enter through this gateway on their way to the temple that stood atop the tel.
  • The nymphaeum - the remains of a splendid, decorated public fountain.
  • The central monument - the remains of the building that stood at the intersection of the main streets of the city of Bet She'an during the Roman and Byzantine periods.
  • The decumanus (Sylvanus Street) - a basalt-paved street. On either side of the street are the ruins of shops and a large pool.
  • The Basilica (agora) - the remains of the open market of the Byzantine period.
  • Valley street – the street is paved with basalt slabs and leads to the "truncated bridge" extending over Harod Stream.
  • The Truncated Bridge – the remains of an impressive Roman-era bridge that led to the northern gate of Bet She'an during the Byzantine and Roman periods.
  • Tel Bet She'an – the remains of the Biblical tel. From the top of the tel is a spectacular view of Bet She'an and the Valley of Springs (Emek Hama'ayanot).
  • The eastern bathhouse – a large bathhouse that has been partially uncovered, between Sylvanus Street and the theater.
  • Public latrine – a building and colonnaded courtyard. 57 toilet seats are set in the walls of the courtyard.
  • Ritual compound – a religious complex with a temple, altars, and nymphaeum fountain.

Points of interest in detail

  • She'an Nights - a breathtaking audiovisual display of the finds at the site, a multi-sensory experience.
  • The entrance plaza - model of the Roman-Byzantine city and view of the site, next to the entrance plaza, souvenir store and kiosk.
  • The Roman theater - the 7000 seat theater was built at the end of the 2nd century CE. The lower block of seats, with 23 rows, has survived in its entirety. Outside the theater a row of piers was found around the circumference that apparently supported a dome surrounding the theater from the outside, carrying a third block of seats. The skene (scenery), the wall behind the stage, rose to a height of 21 m, the height of the seats.
  • The western bathhouse - the large bathhouse was built at the end of the 4th century CE, and was in use throughout the Byzantine period. It is 100 m long, and 90 m wide. The bathhouse had a courtyard surrounded by porticoes, with rooms facing into it on three sides, from the outside, most of them paved with mosaics or colored marble tiles. The central courtyard served as a palestra - a place for physical exercise. Inside the bathhouse were eight halls and four open bathing pools, surrounded by columns. Fountains stood between the pools.
  • The reconstructed cardo (Palladius Street) - the street is 150 m long, and was named after the governor who built the portico alongside it. The name appears in an inscription found in the street. The floor of the portico was entirely covered with mosaics. The street was paved between the theater and the temple, and in the center was an area of basalt stones laid in a herringbone pattern, beneath which ran a drainage channel. Alongside this section a portico was built, with Greek inscriptions on its columns, and a mosaic floor. This was a commercial street, and there were shops in the portico.
  • The Sigma and the Tyche mosaic - a semicircular plaza on the western side of the street. An inscription names the site "Sigma", apparently because of the shape of the plaza, reminiscent of the shape of the Greek letter sigma. The Sigma was a center of commerce and entertainment. According to the inscriptions found there, it was built at the time of Theosobius son of Theosobius, governor of the Province of Palaestina Secunda (in 570 according to the calendar of Scythopolis, which is 507 CE). 12 rooms or shops were built around the Sigma, and three apses at the sides and center of the plaza. In the center of the mosaic in one of the rooms is a medallion containing the figure of Tyche, goddess of the city's fortune. She is depicted as a woman with a crown on her head in the form of a crenellated and turreted wall, carrying a horn of plenty filled with fruit, and a fig tree.
  • The Roman temple – the temple was built in front of the nympheum, at the main intersection of streets in Bet She'an. The remains of the temple that can be seen at the site today were built in the 2nd century CE. The temple was apparently destroyed in the 4th century, under Christian rule. The temple is in a central place, large and magnificent, and yet we cannot know for sure who was worshipped here. The temple façade faces to the north-west, and had an entrance hall, at the front of which stood four giant pillars, 9.5 m high, weighing 25 tons each, carved out of a single stone. The pillars were topped with large Corinthian capitals, supporting a pediment. The pediment apparently towered to a height of 14 m, and had a broad flight of stairs leading up to it. The pillars and capitals collapsed in the 749 earthquake, and are still lying on the ground just as they fell. On the stairs, on the plinth of a statue, an important Greek inscription was found, which translates as: "With good fortune. The residents of the city of Nysa Scythopolis, sacred city and city of refuge, one of the Greek cities of Coele Syria, [dedicated this statue in honor of] Marcus Aurelius Antonius Augustus Caesar by Curator Theodorus, son of Titus."
  • The propyleum (monumental gateway) – to the north of the temple, on the other side of the street, the remains of a gateway with three entrances was found, and in front of it a set of large stone piers with columns between them. Beyond the gate the remains of a hall were found, with niches in two of its walls. This splendid complex apparently served as the gatehouse of the road going up from the temple to the tel and the temple that stood at its summit. It was apparently used for religious processions.
  • The nymphaeumthe nymphaeum was built opposite the portico, to the north-west of the main monument. It has a magnificent façade that served as a public fountain. A dedicatory inscription, from around 400 CE, mentions the construction of the nymphaeum but talks about it being rebuilt. The earlier nymphaeum was built in the 2nd century CE. The architectural decoration of the nymphaeum is one of the finest found in the country. The water flowed into a shallow pool at the front from pipes behind the nymphaeum. The nymphaeum combined considerable splendor with a pleasant coolness. Its height is 13 m above street level. This structure too collapsed in the earthquake of 749.
  • The central monument - at the intersection of streets in the center of the city was a paved plaza, and rising above it, a splendid columnar monument. The monument stands on a trapezoid base, 3.95 m above the plaza. The base is made of basalt and faced with limestone. Many pieces of marble found in a rock-fall at the foot of the base indicate that this was a splendid structure of columns topped with arches. Although it is not possible to reconstruct the entire structure, the pieces that were found show that the upper structure had decorated marble arches, and an apse decorated with depictions of animals set in acanthus leaf medallions.
  • The decumanus (Sylvanus street) – the decumanus is a basalt-paved street, leading up from the central monument towards the south-east. On the south-western side the street was bounded by a thick basalt wall, in which small shops with domed roofs were set. At the front of the portico, parallel to the street, was a long ornamental pond (487 m long, and 70 cm deep). In the Byzantine period, at the beginning of the 6th century CE, a new street was laid along the route of the Roman road, at a higher level, and a new hall was built over the pond, its ceiling carried by the columns of the portico. In the Umayyad period the hall fell into disuse, and in its place 18 shops were built, fronted by a portico supported by columns and arches. The columns and buildings collapsed in the 749 earthquake. Part of the facade of the shops has been reconstructed. An inscription found there mentions a Scythopolis lawyer by the name of Sylvanus, who was involved in the building of the hall.
  • The Basilica (agora) - the Basilica was built in the Byzantine period, and was an open market surrounded by porticos. In the 6th century the area of the Basilica was reduced, and by the north-eastern gate an "Oriental-style" bazaar was built, with the aim of developing commerce in the city. In the bazaar there were 21 shops in four rows, with two lanes running between them.
  • Valley Street - close to the Basilica was an intersection at which three of the city's main streets met. The longest and most important of them was called Valley Street by the excavators, because it runs parallel to the riverbed of Amal Stream. The street runs north-east from the intersection to the city gate, part of it paved with basalt slabs, and with sidewalks on either side. The paved street is some 8 m wide and the total width is 24 m. On either side of the street are rows of columns carrying stone beams. The columns are set on plinths and bases, and topped with Corinthian capitals. The length of the street up to the north-eastern gate was 560 m. It crossed Harod Stream over an enormous bridge. The columns, including the bases and capitals, were 6.9 m high. On either side of the covered sidewalks were shops, opening onto the sidewalk. The columns along the street were found fallen, as a result of the earthquake in 749 CE.
  • The Truncated Bridge – the remains of an impressive Roman-era bridge, extending over Harod Stream. The bridge led from the northern gate of Bet She'an, Damascus Gate, at the top of the hillside to the north of Harod Stream. The bridge was 37 m long, and 18 m wide. The bridge collapsed in the earthquake that struck the region on January 18, 749 CE. The impressive parts of the bridge that are still standing have been restored and reinforced.
  • Bet She'an Tel - a steep flight of stairs leads to the top of the Biblical tel. In the tel, the remains of buildings from the period of Egyptian rule were found, and a Crusader fortress. From the top of the mound there is a spectacular view of the surrounding area.
  • The eastern bathhouse – another large and  impressive bathhouse has been partially uncovered between Sylvanus Street and the theater.
  • Public latrine - to the east of the southern part of the bathhouse is the latrine. The building has a mosaic-paved courtyard surrounded by columns, with porticoes on three sides. Long marble plinths were set against the portico walls, creating 57 toilet seats. Under the seats were sewage channels through which water flowed, carrying the waste to the municipal drainage system.
  • Ritual compound – a religious complex with a temple, altars, and a nymphaeum. The temple was built on a raised square podium, with steps leading up to it. Inscriptions were found on the altars.

Identity card

Status: the Bet She'an National Park was declared in 1965.

Reasons for declaration:

conserving the tel of Biblical Bet She'an, with remains going back to the Chalcolithic period; conserving the ruins of the magnificent city from the Roman and Byzantine periods and preparing them for public display; preserving the wetland habitat of Harod Stream.

 

Geographic location:

the national park is in the northern part of the town of Bet She'an. Access is from Shmuel HaMelekh St.

Lookout points

  • The entrance – looking over the Roman-Byzantine city
      • Bet She'an Tel - a spectacular view of the center of the Roman-Byzantine city, Harod Stream flowing at the foot of the tel, the truncated bridge, and the Jordan River and surrounding area
      • The rest area - looking out at the decumanus 

    ​Activities of the Nature and Parks Authority

  • Assisting the large-scale archaeological excavations
  • Landscape development of the site for the benefit of visitors
  • Erecting means of illustration and explanation, and signs
  • Reconstructing archaeological finds, including columns along the length of the cardo and decumanus, the theater, bathhouse, the Egyptian governor's house, the nymphaeum fountain, the central public monument, and mosaic floors
  • Conservation of the house of the Egyptian governor, and regular maintenance to preserve the mosaic floors
  • Thinning the vegetation growing over the antiquities in order to preserve them
  • Grazing by sheep and cattle on the banks of Harod Stream to prevent fires
  • Dealing with invasive species of vegetation along Harod Stream

History

Bet She'an has a long and fascinating past. The city made maximum use of the fertile soil and abundance of water in the area, the good climate for agriculture, and the geographic location at an exceptionally important junction of roads.

Human beings made their homes in Bet She'an tel as long ago as the 5th millennium BCE. In the late Canaanite period ( 16th – 12th centuries BCE) the Egyptians ruled the area, and the entire land of Israel.

The Philistines apparently ruled the city for a time. According to the Bible, the Philistines exposed the bodies of King Saul and his son on the walls of Bet She'an, after defeating the armies of Israel in the battle of Gilboa: "They put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan" (I Samuel 31:10). Later, in 732 BCE, the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III destroyed Bet She'an in his campaign of war against the Kingdom of Israel.

During the Hellenistic period (4th century BCE), new settlers established a city-state (polis) in Bet She'an, in accordance with the best tradition of Hellenistic urban culture in the east: streets adorned with columns, temples, theaters, markets, bathhouses, and fountains. The city was called Nysa-Scythopolis in Greek, after the nursemaid of Dionysius, god of wine. According to the local tradition, the nursemaid was buried at Bet She'an. The discovery of a statue of Dionysius in excavations carried out at the site is evidence that the residents did indeed worship him.

In 63 BCE, after a brief period of Hasmonean rule, the city was conquered by the Romans, and became one of the cities of the Decapolis - a group of cities with a Hellenistic-Roman cultural character, most of them in Transjordan. Magnificent public buildings were constructed in the prosperous city.

During the Byzantine period too, when the state religion was Christianity, Bet She'an continued to flourish and in the 5th century CE it was capital of the second district of the Land of Israel (Palaestina Secunda), which included the Galilee valleys and eastern Transjordan. The city covered an area of 1300 dunams, and was home to more than 40,000 residents. It was known as an excellent agricultural area, and noted for the production of good quality linen fabrics. The amora Resh Lakish made his famous statement about Bet She'an: "If the Garden of Eden is in the Land of Israel, then its gate is Bet Shean" (Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 19a).

After the Arab conquest, in the first half of the 7th century, Bet She'an lost its position to Tiberias, and in 749 the city was completely destroyed by a powerful earthquake. Bet She'an became a rural settlement, and during the Crusader period a fortress was built there, to the east of the ruined amphitheater, making use of many of its building stones.

Geology

Bet She'an is at the meeting point of the Jordan Valley and Harod Valley, at the heart of the Syrian-African rift. The climate is hot, but abundant springs rise in the valley. The area is seismically active, and in the course of history there have been quite a number of earthquakes.

Harod Stream tunnels through the basalt rock in the area of the National Park. The many springs that flowed here in the past left the sediment of travertine blocks on the banks of the streams.

Hydrology

Harod Stream drains the northern valleys eastward from the national watershed. The stream starts out at the foot of Givat Hamoreh near Afula. It crosses the entire length of Harod Valley, passes through Bet She'an National Park, and continues on to the Jordan River. It is 32 km in length, and its drainage basin covers an area of 195 km².

On its way to the Jordan Harod Stream crosses the three terraces of Bet She'an Valley: the upper terrace, on which the town of Bet She'an is built, drops in a 40 m escarpment to the middle terrace, the Jordan plain (Kikar Hayarden). This terrace is made of Lissan marl, and is the infrastructure of the Jordan Valley, and through it the stream has cut a third terrace – Ge'on Hayarden, a few dozen meters lower than the plain.

Harod Stream passes through Bet She'an National Park in the section between the "bridge" to the west and Road 90 to the east, at the entrance to the basalt ravine.

Harod Stream sees powerful flooding in the winter, and in the summer continues flow thanks to waters from field drainage and treated effluent. In the past, raw sewage from the town of Bet She'an and the cow sheds of the kibbutzim was discharged into the stream, but this practice has been stopped.

Flora

In the section of Harod Stream in the national park water-loving vegetation such as the common reed (Phragmites australis) giant reed (Arundo donax) is to be found. Water flows in the stream all year round, but on the way it collects salts that affect the species of vegetation. Dominating the stream banks are plants that are resistant to salinity, such as hairy sea heath (Frankenia hirsute), shrubby saltbush (Atriplex halimus), Jordan tamarisk (Tamarix jordanis), and camelthorn (Alhagi maurorum). Also to be found in the stream is commicarpus (Commicarpus helenae) a Sudanese climber that is rare in Israel.

On the hillsides away from the influence of the water are jujube trees (Ziziphus spina-christi), and between them many species of annuals. On the stream banks there are also cultivated plants, among them cypress trees (Cupressus sempervirens), North Indian rosewoods (Dalbergia sissoo), casuarinas (Casuarina) and Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis).

Action has been taken against invasive species in the stream, mainly against the prickly thorn (Parkinsonia aculeate) and the golden wreath wattle (Acacia saligna).

Wildlife

Living on the open hillsides are rodents, such as the house mouse (Mus musculus), Cairo spiny mouse (Acomys cahirinus), black rat (Rattus rattus), and lesser white-toothed shrew (Crocidura suaveolens). Reptiles such as the Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca), star lizard (Stellagama stellio), ocellated skink (Chalcides ocellatus), and fan-fingered gecko (Ptyodactylus guttatus). Caspian turtles (Mauremys caspica) live in Harod Stream. Larger mammals also pass through the national park, such as the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), swamp cat (Felis chaus), golden jackal (Canis aureus), mongoose (Herpestes), and even the rare otter (Lutrina). Birds commonly found in the area of the national park include the white breasted kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis), great grey shrike (Lanius excubitor), bee eater (Meropidae), yellow vented  bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier), Eurasian blackbird (Turdus merula), and other species.

In 2003, the Nature and Parks Authority began setting up boxes for microbats (Microchiroptera). These boxes were populated by bats, apparently of the Kuhl's pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhlii) species. The microbat population in Israel has been considerably reduced because of damage to their habitats, and the boxes have set up in order to try and help this population recover.

How to get here: The national park is in the town of Bet She'an, and there are signs directing visitors to the site at the entrances to town.

Bus 412 from Jerusalem to Afula – details from Egged Information 

 

Length of visit:  2 – 4 hours

 

Best season: Spring, fall, winter

 

Don't miss:

 The view of the Roman city from the top of the Biblical tel

The "She'an Nights" audio-visual presentation – a magical nighttime experience 

 

Other attractions: Kiosk, souvenir shop, guided tour (by advance arrangement), partial access for people with disabilities,  including support vehicle 

 

Opening hours

Last entry to the park is one hour before closing time 

 

Summer:

Sunday - Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 5 pm

Fridays and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 4 pm

 

Winter:

Sunday - Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 4 pm

Fridays and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 3 pm

 

On the eve of New Year, the Day of Atonement, and Passover: 8 am – 1 pm

 

Magical nighttime experience

The "She'an Nights" presentation takes place Monday – Thursday from March 10 – end of October, every half hour from nightfall. Conditional on weather conditions and by advance arrangement.

 

On other days of the week, tours for groups can be reserved by advance arrangement.

Entrance fee

Adult – NIS 28

Child – NIS 14

Group (over 30):  Adult – NIS 23, child – NIS 13

 

Entrance fee for She'an Nights (including tour of site):

Adult:  NIS 55

Child:  NIS 45

Subscriber:  NIS 28

Student / regular soldier:  NIS 45

 

Contact us

Telephone: 04-6587189

*3639 She'an Nights – call between 8 am – 4 pm

Fax: 04-6581899

 

Entry for dogs

 Dogs may not be brought into the park 

 תיאור: pdf


    Content under construction, the information apears soon.

     In the Bet She'an National Park adaptations to make the site accessible to people with disabilities are being made. Adaptations currently in place include:

    •  Parking
    • entrance area including restroom
    • souvenir store and snack bar
    • The archaeological site is only partially accessible: A section of the Roman theater, including an audio station for the hearing impaired
    • the restored bathhouse and Roman streets
    • Accessible opening film to the She'an Nights sound and light show.


    32.500653,35.500324
    Bet Shean National Park