The ‘Bell Caves’ at Beit Guvrin.
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Joining the ranks of 1,006 other sites of outstanding natural and cultural importance around the globe, Israel’s Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park earned its certification as a UNESCO World Heritage site on Tuesday.
Calling Beit Guvrin a “microcosm of the land of the caves,” the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization selected the site to the World Heritage List during its 38th session in Doha, Qatar, in June 2014.
The caves, located in the Judean lowlands south of Beit Shemesh and east of Kiryat Gat, contain a “city under a city” characterized by man-made caves, according to the World Heritage Committee statement at the time.
On Tuesday, representatives from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, UNESCO, and the surrounding regional councils gathered to celebrate Beit Guvrin’s recognition at a special declaration ceremony.
Beit Guvrin is Israel’s eighth site to join the UNESCO World Heritage List. Prior to Beit Guvrin, the most recent Israeli addition to the list were the Nahal Me’arot caves in the Carmel in June 2012.
The other Israeli sites on the list include 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; and Baha’i holy places in Haifa and the Western Galilee.
Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park was nominated by the INPA to the Education Ministry’s Israel National Commission for UNESCO and the Foreign Ministry. It was joined in its nomination by the Yoav and Lachish regional councils, the Government Tourism Corporation, Bar-Ilan University archeological institutions, the Archaeological Seminars Institute, the Antiquities Authority, and the Hebrew University’s Cave Research Unit.
The national park – which is part of “the land of a thousand caves” – is a 5-sq.km. area within a 100-sq.km. lowland region, containing many different types of caves, according to the INPA .
Within the area, there are about 500 caves, most of them contained in systems with dozens of rooms.
While the caves had many purposes, they were not used for residences due to health reasons, the INPA said.