The UNESCO World Heritage Committee on Sunday named the caves of Beit Guvrin-Maresha, located in central Israel, a World Heritage Site. The caves are the eighth Israeli site to be named as such within the 1948 armistice lines.
Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park encompasses approximately 5,000 dunams (1,250 acres) of rolling hills in the area south of Beit Shemesh. The caves have been used for thousands of years as quarries, burial caves, storerooms, industrial facilities, hideouts and dovecotes. Hundreds of caves were dug at Bet Guvrin and its surroundings over thousands of years, creating subterranean networks of unparalleled complexity.
The city reached its height during the Hellenistic period (third-second centuries BCE), when Yonatan Hyrcanus, a Hasmonean king, conquered the city and forcibly converted its inhabitants to Judaism. During the Roman period the inhabitants of Maresha abandoned it, building the city of Bet Guvrin nearby and transforming the latter into the capital of the region of western Idumea. Bet Guvrin was an important city in the Crusader era as well.
Other World Heritage sites in Israel include Masada, the Old City of Akko, the “White City" Bauhaus buildings of old Tel-Aviv, the “Biblical Tels," including Megiddo, Hazor, and Beersheva, the Negev's “Spice Route,” the Baha'i Temple in Haifa, and the Nahal Me’arot caves on Mt. Carmel. The UNESCO World Heritage website lists two other sites in Judea and Samaria as World Heritage sites as well: Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, and the olive groves near Beitar Ilit.
Dr. Tzvika Tzuk, chief archaeologist of the Nature and Parks Authority, said that Israel was “happy to see that the caves of Maresha and Beit Guvrin have been declared a World Heritage site and adopted by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee."