November 1st 2013
Located in Northern Israel where the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley meet, Beit She’an is one of Israel’s most ancient cities – no small feat in a nation known for its antiquities. Scholars believe that the history of Beit She’an goes back 5,000 years. After many centuries of conquest, earthquakes and rebuilding, today, Beit She’an has 18,000 residents.
At Beit She’an National Park, located just north of the modern city of Beit She’an, tour participants can explore some of the most impressive archeological ruins in Israel. Walk back through time as you encounter an ancient theater that is still in use today, the largest public bath house ever excavated in Israel, two streets whose colonnades are still visible, the ruins of a temple, a large Roman-era public building in the center of the city and many other ancient sites.
Over time, many nations held dominion over Beit She’an. During the Hellenist, Roman and Byzantine periods, it was named Scythipolis. Perhaps 3,500 years ago, it was held by the Egyptians. After a few hundred years, it was conquered by the Philistines. In the Book of Samuel, a key passage describes the battle on Mount Gilboa and how the Philistines impaled the body of King Saul onto the wall of Beit She’an. Later, Beit She’an became incorporated into the kingdoms of King David and his son, King Solomon. Many other conquering nations held Beit She’an over the millennia and left their mark on the city. At its peak in the 5th century, the city was home to 30,000 to 40,000 residents.
Beit She’an is also well known for housing the Medallion of Tyche, a reconstructed mosaic of the Roman Goddess of Good Fortune, pictured here holding a cornucopia. She is also known as Fortuna. This iconic image was originally discovered in a church dedicated to Saint Bacchus and was excavated in the 1990s.
Outside the park but still within the city of Beit She’an are yet more ruins, including a 7,000 seat amphitheater that was used for gladiator battles in the Roman period, ruins of a private home from the Byzantine period, remains of a Crusader fortress, a former government building from the Turkish period, and much more.