A quick trip to Rome

Beit She’an National Park boasts an ancient theater and a modern sound-and-light show

Beit She’an National Park521 (photo credit: Hadar Yahav)
Beit She’an National Park521
(photo credit: Hadar Yahav)
Just behind Mount Gilboa lies Beit She’an National Park, an archeological gem filled with ancient Roman ruins.
Beit She’an, located south of the Harod River and east of the Jezreel Valley, is one of Israel’s most ancient cities. According to historians, people first settled there more than 7,000 years ago. Its strategic location on the Via Maris (from Mesopotamia to Egypt), combined with the various water sources in the area, turned it into an important transit station.
In the Canaanite period, the pharaohs used it as a regional center.
According to the Bible, the tribes of Israel tried to conquer Beit She’an, and it only came under Jewish rule in the time of King David and King Solomon.
Alexander the Great established a Hellenistic city there and called it Scythopolis (city of the Scythians).
According to Greek mythology, Beit She’an is connected to the god of wine, Dionysus, and in excavations that were carried out at the site, remains were discovered that prove that Dionysian-type cult worship was customary at that time.
During a later period, the city was conquered by the Hasmoneans, who changed the city’s name back to Beit She’an. And then once again the city fell, this time to the Romans, and became an important center of northern Israel. The Romans ruled the city for hundreds of years and left behind impressive streets, a theater, a bathhouse and a host of magnificent artifacts.
Along with many other cities in Israel, Beit She’an was destroyed by an earthquake in the eighth century CE, and evidence of the earthquake still exists in areas that are under excavation. The city then fell into decline, and the Arabs who lived there until the War of Independence called it Beisan, after the original Hebrew name.
Beit She’an National Park is appropriate for all ages and is easily accessible. It is also open after sunset, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority conducts guided night tours. The site offers a sound and light show called She’an Nights, a virtual tour of the city’s history, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. Tickets must be purchased in advance from the information center at *3639.
The most important structure on the site is the basilica, which was used for large gatherings and ritual ceremonies. A section of the northern wall is still adorned with marble tiles. Nearby stands the 150- meter-long Cardo, which is lined with decorated columns that led up to the city’s gate. There are openings along the side that lead to stores and inner rooms. Only a portion of the columns have survived, and in spaces where the missing columns used to stand are now rows of palm trees. On the other side of the basilica lies a pool with a fountain, in which there are lion sculptures with water spouting from their mouths.
Another magnificent colonnaded structure stands in the city center, south of which is the entrance to the Roman bath, which has niches where statues once stood, a pool and marble floors. One of the most impressive finds at the site is the Roman theater, which has been extremely well preserved. It originally included 7,000 seats, and even though only a few rows remain intact, it is worthwhile spending a few minutes sitting in front of the impressive stage.
The best way to end the tour is by climbing to the Biblical Mound in the national park, which provides a panoramic view of the area. Another interesting site, located just outside the national park, is the city’s famous Roman amphitheater. In addition, there is a plethora of natural water springs in the area, such as Sachne, Ein Moda and Ein Shokek. Combining a visit to Beit She’an National Park with a dip in water or a picnic makes the trip complete.
The visit is appropriate for the whole family.
Length of visit: 2 hours Recommended season: All year, but best during days that are not overly hot.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.