May 20th 2015
The largely residential city of Beit Shemesh is situated about 20 miles west of Jerusalem, but Israel tour participants are likely to be particularly drawn towards the many natural and historical sites just outside of Beit Shemesh. Here are some highlights worth checking out in the Ella Valley and the southern Judean Hills.
Where Nature and History Dwell Together
In Israel, nearly every site of natural loveliness is also a site of historic significance. The Eshtaol Forest, for example, sports several recreational areas, a panoramic lookout, hiking paths, bike trails, and playground equipment for children. It is also includes Hill 314, a significant site in Israel’s War of Independence which also served as an IDF lookout when a ceasefire was established with Jordan. Other parks combine lush, green spots for hiking and picnics with Roman and Crusader fortresses (Ein Hemed National Park and Castel National Park), and the Martyrs Forest, where six million trees were planted in 1951 to memorialize those lost in the Holocaust, also houses several
monuments and spots for contemplation.
The greater Beit Shemesh area also includes several caves of note, including the Twin Caves, the Bar Kochba Caves, the Luzit Caves, and the Bat Caves (not to be confused with the Bat Cave in Gotham City). The prehistoric Stalactite Cave, on the slopes of the Judean Hills, is not to be missed. Known as the Avshalom Cave or as the Soreq Cave, it was discovered in 1968, when dynamite was used in developing the area. The beautifully lit stalactites and stalagmites inside are truly a sight to behold – some having grown together to form centuries-old pillars.
The Breadth of History
Even before the Bible, the Beit Shemesh area was significant – and it’s no less so today. The archaeological excavations of Tel Beit Shemesh take us back to the Canaanite era, Samson’s Tomb hearkens to the conflict between Samson and his nemeses the Philistines, and Tel Azekah includes hidden tunnels from the Bar Kochba revolt. More recently, the Burma Road was critical in the War of Independence, and the thriving Moshav Nes Harim combines all of the above, with guest houses, hiking trails, archaeological excavations, and the Katlav winery.
Spend a day or two exploring the areas surrounding Beit Shemesh while you’re based in Jerusalem. There’s a lot to see and do here.