Beit She’an

This post is part of my Israel travel series Scrolls from the Holy Land: Travel stories | Photo gallery

Main street of the ancient city of Beit She’an

Beit She’an (बेट श्यान, खरंच एखाद्या बेटासारखं ‘शानदार’ शहर आहे) is a city between Jerusalem and Tiberius, very close to Jordan. Historically, this location has been important due to its proximity to the Jordan river and the Jezreel valley. It acted as a gateway to the interior and the strategic location made it vulnerable to attacks.

History:
Beit Shean was first controlled by Pharaoh Tutmose III around 15th century BCE and it was a prominent Egyptian administrative center. Later, it was captured by the Canaanites who defended the place from attacks by Israelites. It was controlled by the Philistines around 11th century BCE. There was a tragic battle between Israelites and Philistines and the bodies of Israelite king Saul and his son were hung on the streets of Beit Shean. Later this city was held by king Solomon. Around 9th century BCE the city was ruled by Pharoah Shishaq.

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During Hellenistic period (4th century BCE – 1st century BCE) this city was ruled by the Greeks and called Scythopolis. Around 64 BCE the Romans took over and they undertook massive planned urban constructions. This was the most prosperous phase of the city and it became a prominent commercial and cultural centre. The Byzantines administered between near 4th century CE and 7th century CE. The city was predominantly Christian, but excavations of Jewish and Samaritan Synagogues might explain the presence of minorities. The Roman pagan temples were destroyed and replaced by new places of worship. In 634 CE, the city was captured by the Muslims, and renamed as Beisan. The Muslims preserved the city and people of various religions lived here until 8th century CE.

The city was razed during the earthquake of 749 CE.

Crusaders arrived in 11th century, later replaced by Mamluks and Ottomans. However, the significance of the city as a commercial center was totally lost.

Getting there:
Beit She’an is connected by few buses that ply between Jerusalem and Tiberias. However it is easily accessible by the Connex bus network from Tiberias.

Beit She’an National Park:
The National park looks quite overwhelming at first look. At the entrance is a gigantic Roman Theater.

The Roman theatre had a seating capacity of 7000-8000 people and a number of performances were conducted here. There are separate sections for common citizens and the VIP’s. I stood on the sage and looked at the galleries surrounding me. It must have been really beautiful during the time it was being used.

There are two bathhouses which served as recreational centres for the civilians and the elite. The bath houses have an elegant design and floors covered with mosaic tiles.

Next to the bath house, the Byzantines built a semi-circular market plaza. One of the rooms holds a grand mosaic of Tyche, the Roman goddess of good fortune. Her crown is a walled city (Scythopolis) and in her hand she holds the horn of plenty, full to the brim with riches.

The main city street is covered by basalt rock. It has a systematic drainage system and sidewalks on both sides. The street leads us to the bottom of a hill (called Tel तेल which served as the administration base (तळ) of the city.

A temple of Dionysos, the patron God of the city was located at the corner of the street. Stairs from here led to the peak of the hill that had a temple of Zeuss.

The view of the entire ancient city looks fantastic from the summit.

The whole place is still being dug and restored, I am sure the guys find something exciting every day.

I stood at the top of the hill. You can see Jordan to the east side and this grand city to the west. I closed my eyes and went back thousands of years into history trying to imagine how lovely it must have been here then.

This post is part of my Israel travel series Scrolls from the Holy Land: Travel stories | Photo gallery