Israel the Camel, the mascot of “IsraelandYou” recommends that you make time to visit the most spectacular, family friendly and accessible cave in Israel – in the Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park, The Most Spectacular Caves in Israel. In our opinion it is a national landmark.
Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park is located off the Bet Shemesh-Kiryat Gat road (no. 35) opposite Kibbutz Bet Guvrin. The tour takes between 1-5 hours. The park is open year-round, especially in spring for the wildflowers. Opening hours are April-September 8 A.M.-5 P.M; October-March 8 A.M- 4 P.M. Last entry one hour before above closing hour. Contact: 08-681-2957; 08-681-1020. For additional information on events and tours: *3639. Entrance Fee: Adult NIS 29; child NIS 15 Israeli senior citizen: 50% discount; Group (over 30 people): Adult: NIS 23: child NIS 14. Pets are forbidden. The trail and the picnic corner at the Bell Caves are wheelchair-accessible.
The Polish Cave
This cave was named “the Polish cave” after graffiti left by Polish soldiers from the Anders’ Army serving in Palestine who had carved in the word “Warsaw”and a Polish Eagle during World War II, in 1942/3. The graffiti is on the boulder where my friend Nadim is sitting. Behind you can see a columbarium – but not THE Columbarium.
The Columbarium Cave
Quarried caves used for the raising of doves and pigeons for food, fertilizer and perhaps for sacrifice, dated to the end of the 3rd century BC. Note that the doves have light and a water supply. The original owner/s used to provide grain to draw the doves to nest here.
The Most Beautiful Olive Oil Press in Israel
This is a Cave for oil-press olive-oil production. Although it is for seasonal the press is decorated, plastered. There is even a niche for a small olive oil alter for good luck. It is interesting the olive manufactured originally included oil from the crushed pits which added a certain taste to the oil . The Romans introduced a technolgy to produce the olive oil without crushing the pits which they considered sour. As you can see even the cisterns are a work of art.
Complex 61 Caves
This complex is a system of about 30 interconnected caves, originally quarries for building material. The walls of ancient Maresha were made of chalk stone, plastered-over to protect from the rain. Visitors to Complex 61 traverse the caves climbing underground up and down and around according to how people used to make use of such spaces in antiquity. The cave provides natural climate control. Surprisingly enough, the exit is only a few meters away from the entrance. You can see the small hole in the roof, where the excavation of each cave began, as well as ancient stairs, cisterns and columbaria (What else?).
Phoenician Burial Caves
These Phoenician or Sidonian Burial Caves are a series of highly decorated burial caves from the Hellenistic period (third-second centuries BCE). The frescos are copies. The paintings prove the presence of other cultures at Maresha. The subjects of the paintings are hunting scenes with wild and mythological creatures. My friend Arky volunteered to show how the deceased fitted in the grave in the wall. After a year the bones were collected and deposited in the room at the end of the cave.
This is the most amazing part of the caves: So BIG! So WHITE! So airy! So clean! There are 800 large bell caves at Maresha, between which the ancient inhabitants connected by passageways. The largest are 18 meters high. The bell caves were created by opening a hole in the hard surface rock (Caliche a sedimentary rock, a hardened natural cement of calcium carbonate) and then quarrying downward into the softer chalk limestone) below in the shape of a bell. The limestone was used for road paving. Arabic inscriptions and crosses are found on the walls which leads to believe that many of the caves were dug during the transfer from the Byzantine Period to the Early Arab period, in the seventh-tenth centuries CE.
If this is the only attraction you have time for in Beit Guvrin-Maresha, do it. Remember it is ACCESSIBLE!
For more extreme spelunking (caving) go here.