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Caves of Maresha and Bet-Guvrin in the Judean Lowlands as a Microcosm of the Land of the Caves

Caves of Maresha and Bet-Guvrin in the Judean Lowlands as a Microcosm of the Land of the Caves

The archaeological site contains some 3,500 underground chambers distributed among distinct complexes carved in the thick and homogenous soft chalk of Lower Judea under the former towns of Maresha and Bet Guvrin. Situated on the crossroads of trade routes to Mesopotamia and Egypt, the site bears witness to the region’s tapestry of cultures and their evolution over more than 2,000 years from the 8th century BCE—when Maresha, the older of the two towns was built—to the time of the Crusaders. These quarried caves served as cisterns, oil presses, baths, columbaria (dovecotes), stables, places of religious worship, hideaways and, on the outskirts of the towns, burial areas. Some of the larger chambers feature vaulted arches and supporting pillars.

Les grottes de Maresha et de Bet-Guvrin en basse Judée, un microcosme du pays des grottes

Le site archéologique comprend quelque 3500 chambres souterraines réparties en districts distincts creusés dans un sous-sol de calcaire crayeux épais et homogène en Basse Judée, sous les anciennes villes de Maresha et Bet Guvrin. Situé au carrefour des routes de commerce de Mésopotamie et d’Egypte, le site témoigne de la mosaïque de cultures de la région et de leur évolution sur plus de 2000 ans, du 8è siècle av. J.C., lorsque Maresha – la plus ancienne des deux villes – fut construite, jusqu’à l’époque des Croisés. Ces caves servaient de citernes, de moulin à huile, de bains, de colombiers, d’étable, de lieux de culte, d’abris pour les périodes de troubles et, à la périphérie des villes, de zones funéraires. Certaines des chambres les plus vastes présentent des voutes en arche et leur piliers de soutènement.

Grotten van Maresha en Bet Guvrin in het Judese Laagland als microkosmos van het Land van de Grotten

De grotten van Maresha en Bet Guvrin vormen een “stad onder een stad”. Het is een selectie kunstmatige grotten, opgegraven uit de dikke homogene laag van zacht krijt in het Judese laagland. Onder de oude zustersteden van Maresha en Bet Guvrin bevinden zich kamers en netwerken met verschillende vormen en functies. Ze getuigen van een grote verscheidenheid aan ondergrondse bouwmethoden en van opeenvolgende periodes van opgravingen en gebruik, gedurende meer dan 2000 jaar, vanaf de IJzertijd tot de tijd van de Kruistochten. De ondergrondse ruimtes functioneerden eerst als steengroeven, maar deze werden omgebouwd voor diverse landbouw- en ambachtsdoeleinden zoals oliepersen, columbaria (duiventillen), stallen, ondergrondse reservoirs en kanalen, baden, grafcomplexen en aanbiddingsplaatsen. Tijdens moeilijke tijden werden de grotruimtes als schuilplaatsen gebruikt.

Source: unesco.nl

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Caves of Maresha and Bet-Guvrin in the Judean Lowlands as a Microcosm of the Land of the Caves © Tsvika Tsuk
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The presence in the Judean Lowlands of thick and homogeneous chalk sub-strata enabled numerous caves to be excavated and managed by Man. The property includes a very complete selection of chambers and man-made subterranean networks, of different forms and for different activities. They are situated underneath the ancient twin cities of Maresha and Bet Guvrin, and in the surrounding areas, constituting a “city under a city”. They bear witness to a succession of historic periods of excavation and use, over a period of 2,000 years. Initially the excavations were quarries, but they were later converted for various agricultural and local craft industry purposes, including oil presses, columbaria, stables, underground cisterns and channels, baths, tombs and places of worship, and hiding places during troubled times, etc. With their density, diversified activities, use over two millennia and the quality of their state of preservation, the complexes attain an Outstanding Universal Value. 

Criterion (v): The underground archaeological site of Maresha–Bet Guvrin is an eminent example of traditional use of chalk subsurface strata, with the development of man-made caves and networks conducive to multiple economic, social and symbolic purposes, from the Iron Age to the Crusades. 

Integrity

The integrity of the property is expressed in the first place by the diversity of the excavations and their arrangements, intended for a variety of economic, social, funerary and symbolic purposes. It is also expressed by the exceptional density of the subterranean structures which are found beneath the ancient twin cities of Maresha and Bet Guvrin.  The integrity of the property also concerns its relations with the outside and the preservation of a landscape of ancient ruins in a well-preserved environment of Mediterranean vegetation. 

Authenticity

The underground structures of Maresha–Bet Guvrin are authentic. They have been well-preserved, firstly because of the quality of their architectural design at the time of their excavation, then by their maintenance over a long period of use, and finally by a prolonged period of abandonment, filling up naturally over time, which has contributed to their preservation. This authenticity is however relatively fragile, with the risk of infiltrations of water leading to possible collapse of the vaults. It will furthermore be necessary to pursue a policy of low-key restoration, avoiding possible over-interpretation with reconstruction, and ensuring that the necessary technical consolidations are carried out in a way which respects the authenticity perceived by the visitor. 

Protection and management requirements

The management system of the Maresha-Bet Guvrin National Archaeological Park has been in place now for many years and functions efficiently. It is supervised by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) and benefits from the Authority’s system of protection, which also covers most of the buffer zone. The regulations concerning this zone are completed by a National Forestry Plan and directives on the limitation of size and height of possible surrounding constructions. The conservation of cultural elements is guaranteed by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and benefits from specialist assistance for highly technical issues such as the monitoring of the rocks forming the walls and vaults of the threatened caves. The tourism development project is based on a long-standing tradition and is well managed.