The ancient Jewish town of Beit She’arim, laden with tombs and sarcophagi, is joining the ranks of eight other Israeli World Heritage Sites of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization following World Heritage Committee approval on Sunday morning.
Beit She’arim, located in the Western Galilee about 20 km. southeast of Haifa, contains a necropolis filled with a series of catacombs built as early as the 2nd century CE. The site served as the primary burial place outside Jerusalem following the failed second Jewish revolt against the Romans and boasts “a treasury of artworks and inscriptions in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew,” the World Heritage Committee said.
“Beit She’arim bears unique testimony to ancient Judaism under the leadership of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, who is credited with Jewish renewal after 135 CE,” the committee added.
The park’s nomination to the list was filed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority through the Israel National Commission for UNESCO in partnership with the Education and Foreign ministries and with the support of the Tivon local council and the Jezreel Valley Regional Council.
Archeologist Dr. Zvika Gal wrote the nomination, while INPA chief archeologist Dr. Zvika Zuk managed the nomination process for the past four years.
“This is a moving testimony from our ancestors of which there is almost no other example in the world,” Zuk said.
“In a visit to the Beit She’arim necropolis, you can feel the beating heart of the Jewish people.”
Discoveries at Beit She’arim have provided tangible archeological information to complement written historical sources, Zuk explained. Among the findings within the catacombs include dozens of embossments of menorahs and other holy Jewish objects, he said.
“We are proud of the announcement and thank all the partners who paved the way toward this declaration,” Zuk added.
Beit She’arim was one of 19 cultural sites around the world that were added to the list at the World Heritage Committee’s 39th Session, held in Bonn, Germany. Other sites included the Bethany Beyond the Jordan (al-Maghtas) baptism site in Jordan, the areas of Maymand and Susa in Iran, Saudi Arabia’s Hail Region rock art and Turkey’s Diyarbakir Fortress, as well as sites in Italy, South Korea, France, Denmark, Mongolia, Norway, the United States, Singapore, Germany, the United Kingdom and China.
In addition to adding the cultural sites, the World Heritage Committee approved Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains as a “mixed” cultural and natural property and also extended the boundaries of two previously listed natural sites: South Africa’s Cape Floral Region and Vietnam’s Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park.
At the committee session, which included a delegation of 12 Israelis, INPA officials said that participants placed a great emphasis on the difficult situation facing Middle Eastern ancient sites due to deliberate destruction, particularly focusing on those in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
The inclusion of Beit She’arim on the list helps position Israel as a hub for both ancient civilizations and world heritage preservation, the INPA explained.
Beit She’arim is the ninth Israeli site to be inscribed on the World Heritage List, joining Masada; the Old City of Acre; the White City of Tel Aviv; the biblical tels of Megiddo, Hatzor, and Beersheba; the incense route of desert cities in the Negev; Baha’i holy places in Haifa and the Western Galilee; the Nahal Me’arot caves in the Carmel; and mostly recently Beit Guvrin National Park.
“Israel is a signatory to UNESCO’s World Heritage accreditation since 1999,” said Dr. Dalit Atrakchi, secretary-general of the Israel National Commission for UNESCO. “Since then, eight sites in Israel have been declared World Heritage Sites.”
“The Education Ministry and the Israeli government see a great importance in the establishment and preservation of World Heritage Sites in Israel, and we are pleased that our success in listing new sites has been very quick and efficient,” she added.