Sunday, June 19, 2011


Kiryat Tivon is a small beautiful town in the Lower Galilee, about 20 km east of Haifa. My husbands aunt lives there and from her house it is a ten minute walk down the hill to Beit Shearim,  בית שערים, the ancient Jewish town. Most of the ruins of the town itself are covered by the forests of the hill and still not excavated. But the towns burial place which is cut straight into the rock, is dug out and laid bare, and almost each time we visit that aunt we take a walk down the hill to stroll around.
During the period of the Second Temple Beit Shearim was one of many small settlements in the Galilee. After the occupation of Jerusalem by the Roman empire in the 2nd century CE  the center of Jewish life shifted from Judea to the Lower Galilee and the exiled Jews established in the already existing town of Beit Shearim their headquarter for the Sanhedrin, the ancient Jewish court system and highest legal and ecclesiastical authority. The rock-cut cemetery became sought out after Rabbi Juda HaNasi, the compiler of the Mishna and great leader at the Sanhedrin during that time, was laid to rest there. After his death the grave yard became famous and significant. Many more graves were hewn out of the stone for more than hundred years and Beit Shearim became a very important and expensive burial site and the largest and most prominent necropolis in the Levant, not for the common people, but for rich and influential Jewish families in Israel and the countries around it.

There are more than 30 catacombs with hundreds of stone coffins, not all are open to the public, but many are and there is a lot to see and to explore and it is all very interesting - and a bit chilly too.
The necropolis displays great splendor. Many of the sarcophagi are decorated with faces, flower motives, animal scenes and Jewish symbols, like the menorah, a rams horn (the shofar), a palm branch and the Ark of the Covenant.

Impressive facades in the style of classical architecture mark the entrances to the catacombs. Large stone doors on rotating axles lead to the underground caves.
Greek was the favored language at those times, the lingua franca, and often preferred to Hebrew and Aramaic. Many Jews had a Greek name in addition to their Hebrew one. Inscriptions in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek can be found on the sarcophagi, according to the origin, profession and family connection of the buried.
The town of Beit Shearim flourished till 352 CE when it was destroyed by fire. In Byzantine time it was rebuilt and inhabited and after that it was settled by Arabs. From medieval time on the place was rather deserted and erased from the memory of the Jews, till its rediscovery in modern times.
Today the catacombs are a national park with a small museum as well,  and an admission fee has to be paid to visit. The necropolis was recently recognized by the UNESCO as world heritage.
Photographed by my husband Uri Eshkar, and by my niece, Alina Boldt on an earlier visit to Israel.


Smilla said...

Whou das ist ja ein spannender Ausflug, den du uns da zeigst!! Ich liebe solchen Plätze und ganz speziell auch die Steinmetzkunststücke, die darin verborgen sind!!
Merci für den kleinen Ausflug♥
Wünsche dir eine fröhliche Woche
♥-lich Brigitte

Dawn of LaTouchables said...

Love reading about this place, as you have included so many interesting details, Yael.

zsazsazsu said...

you must be a terrific guide when visiting a place with you !

Eva said...

What a thrilling trip! I guess it is wonderful to live where the ancient remnants are most everywhere and greet the visitor with familiar symbols. It must be a "coming home" feeling for those who have cherished these symbols in exile.

These naive lion stone carvings are so charming.

2 B's World said...

Eine so interssante Führung gleich zu Wochenanfang. Das muß nun eine tolle Woche werden.
Immer wieder finde ich es erstaunlich, aus welchen Zeiten heute noch "Zeugen" zu finden sind. Wie gut, daß man dafür sorgt, daß diese wundervollen und besonderen Plätze weiterhin gut erhalten bleiben.

Liebe Grüße von Birgit

Chris Gray said...

Always so informative....and with beautiful photos.

Thanks for taking me out of Wales for a little while :-)

Clare said...

Dear Yael - what a fabulous tour of such an interesting site. I love ancient history, and feel sometimes like I have missed out as we don't have any such places to visit in SA. The history is fascinating and intriguing. The more I read your blog the more I'm beginning to think I'm going to have to visit Israel someday. Thank you for the lovely comments over at my blog and the Rilke poem, I can't believe that I only discovered the wonderful words of Rilke last year. How lucky you are to be able to read it in German.

Hilde said...

Thank you for showing us around Beit Shearim, Yael. I enjoyed reading and seeing the photos :) What an interesting ancient place.
So many fine carvings, ornaments, symbols and details on the stone coffins!

Bernstein said...

Halo Yael,
wie beeindrucken und interessant und wie ausdrucksstark doch diese Zeugen vergangener Zeiten sind.
Danke für diesen Ausflug und den Einblick in eine weitere für mich neue Welt.
GlG Inbar

Anonymous said...

I used to live in Kiryat Tivon, some twenty years ago. I lost all my photos of the place I lived and the places I visited in Israel. I remember the necropolis well. Lovely to see pictures of it again.