UNESCO may place caves at Beit Guvrin and Maresha on World Heritage List

Organization also weighing registering the ancient terraces of Battir to ‘Palestine’.

February 17, 2014 01:08
2 minute read.
The caves of Beit Guvrin

The caves of Beit Guvrin. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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OVAH LAZAROFF Israel’s ancient caves of Beit Guvrin and Maresha are among 41 worldwide sites that could be placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in June.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has yet to publicize on its website which sites are under consideration by its World Heritage Committee, when they meet in Doha in Qatar from June 15 to 25.

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But in response to a query by The Jerusalem Post, it said the Beit Guvrin site was a candidate for its list.

Located south of Beit Shemesh, the site hosts the remains of two ancient cities, Maresha and Beit Guvrin, as well as a series of man-made caves in the underground limestone. Some of them have painted murals from over 2,000 years ago; others were carved in the shape of a bell.

From the time of Joshua, regional and Jewish history was played out at the site, which has remains from the Edomites, Greeks, Romans, Jews, Muslims, early Christians and Crusaders.

In its application to UNESCO, Israel said of Beit Guvrin that “the city boasted an amphitheater and public buildings.

“Bet Guvrin was mentioned in the Talmud and midrashim and by its Sages. From the Roman and Byzantine periods, a large Jewish cemetery and architectural remains were discovered, as was a synagogue inscription.

“During the Byzantine period, Bet Guvrin was an important center of Christianity with a number of churches.

Most of the bell caves were dug during the Early Muslim period, and finds from the Crusader period indicate that it was a small fortified city, at the hub of which was a church dedicated in 1136.”

UNESCO is also weighing registering to “Palestine” the ancient terraces of the West Bank village of Battir, located southwest of Jerusalem.

It would be the second site registered to “Palestine” since it was accepted as a member state to UNESCO in 2011. The following year, UNESCO registered the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to “Palestine.”

At that time, in 2012, it also accepted an Israeli site near Haifa, caves near Mount Carmel that date back 500,000 years and which according to UNESCO were key for the “chronostratigraphic framework for human evolution.”

Since Israel became party to the World Heritage Convention in 1999, UNESCO has placed seven sites, including the Mount Carmel caves, on its World Heritage List.

The first, in 2001, was the ancient fortress of Masada, built by King Herod as a palace and then used by Jewish patriots as their last stand against the Roman Empire in 73 CE.

The Old City of Acre was also inscribed in 2001, for its Ottoman fortifications from the 18th and 19th centuries and the remains of a Crusader town below, dated from 1104 to 1291.

The “White City of Tel-Aviv” was inscribed in 2003, for its urban plan by Sir Patrick Geddes for buildings constructed from the 1930s to the 1950s.

The archeological sites of ancient Megiddo, Hazor and Beersheba were inscribed in 2005. The ruins of these cities, with underground water-collection systems, date back to the Bible and the Iron Age.

The “Incense Route – Desert Cities in the Negev” also inscribed in 2005, are four Nabatean towns, which linked the Mediterranean end of the incense and spice route from the third century BCE until the end of the second century CE.

“Baha’i Holy Places in Haifa and the Western Galilee” were inscribed in 2008, including the two holiest places in the Baha’i

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