Under the peaceful hills of Beit Guvrin, the remains of an entire underground city were revealed. Hundreds of complex and terrifically impressive caves that connect to a giant maze of halls and spaces, cisterns and workshops.
We will start our track from the Polish cave parking lot. We’ll climb with the signposted path and after about one hundred meters, we’ll be at the opening of the two caves – the Polish cave and the Columbarium cave. We’ll go in the Columbarium cave, the more beautiful of the two caves, and descend with the stairs to it’s the dark depths. In the cave walls that were built as a double cross, are hewn hundreds of small niches that were used for raising pigeons. We’ll proceed with the arrows and get out to the west from another entry after a series of additional steps. We will continue with the path to the south and looking down on the hills of the Shfela, mainly built of chalk, a soft rock which enabled quarrying caves in ancient times for various uses. The soft layer of chalk is usually covered with a harder crust called nari, therefore small openings were made in the hard nari layer to expand the caves with the chalk layer underneath it. We’ll see on the surface rounded hills, lush green in the winter and flowering at spring, when under the surface there is a world unto itself.
About three hundred meters after the Columbarium cave we reach the cave of the Olive press. This cave was a complete workshop for the production of olive oil. The amount of olive presses revealed here indicates the area was a large and important center for olive growing and oil production. The construction of underground olive presses enabled workers to work in any weather, in the fickle autumn. All the facilities of the olive press remained intact for more than two thousand years and only the press (the timber) was restored.
Three meters away we get to a typical Maresha residential from the Hellenistic time. The rooms on top, arranged around a courtyard, were used for residence and in the underground cisterns and warehouses were found. In excavations under the floor of the house a treasure of 25 coins was discovered, the latest was coined in 113 BC and the house is estimated to have been destroyed at around the same year, while the Hellenistic city was conquered by John Hyrcanus the Hasmonean who acted for the forced conversion of the residents of Maresha. In the Roman period the residents abandoned it and established the Beit Guvrin next to it.
We continue up the hill and after about four hundred meters from the right, we’ll go into a small opening to “System 61”. This complex has 30 caves connected to one another. For a while we’ll wander the halls, cisterns, storerooms and the olive press.
From here we’ll proceed three meters down the slope toward the cave Sidon. This burial cave belonged to the family of Afolofans Ben Sasmaios, the head of the Sidonians community in Maresha. The writings and magnificent frescoes here were deliberately destroyed and restored. Among other things, this romantic inscription was restored in the cave: “There is nothing left I can do for you and do nothing to give you pleasure. Lying I’m with another, but I love you, my most precious possession.”
From here, we return to where we came from to the parking lot of Polish cave and by vehicle we’ll drive with the signs to get to the Bell caves. This complex has 80 large caves, with transitions in between them. Caves that reach the height of 15 meters were cut from the top, through a narrow opening which increased with the construction and gave the caves a bell shape. These caves were used mainly for quarry of building blocks. Arabic inscriptions and crosses on the walls show that many of the caves were carved in the ancient Arab time, and were used for the extraction of raw materials to establish the ancient Arab town of Ramle in the Shfela.