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Bet She'an

Date of Submission: 30/06/2000
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(v)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Delegation Permanente d'Israel aupres de l'UNESCO
Coordinates: Lat. 32°30' N / Long. 35°32' E
Ref.: 1479

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Bet She'an, the only one of the ten cities of the Decapolis west of Jordan, is one of the oldest cities of the Ancient Near East and a crossroads to the Fertile Crescent. The remains of some twenty layers of settlement, going back to the fifth millennium BCE have been discovered at the tel on the banks of the Harod River. The unique importance of Bet She'an since ancient times is a result of a combination of factors, including its position at a major crossroads, the fertile land surrounding it , and the abundance of water found nearby. Important finds dating to the period of Egyptian rule over Canaan during the 16th to 12th centuries BCE were made in the excavations carried out at the tel during the 1920's and 1930's. The Philistine rulers of Bet She'an displayed the bodies of Saul and his sons upon its walls after they had been killed in the Battle of Mount Gilboa. King David conquered the city, which later became one of the administrative centers of Solomon's Kingdom. Ongoing archaeological excavations at the tel are uncovering more remains from its Canaanite and Israelite period (Bronze and Iron Age) occupations. The city's population during the Roman period consisted of pagans and large communities of Jews and Samaritans. The majority of Bet She'an's population during the Byzantine period was Christian. The city became the provincial capital of the province called second Palestine at the end of the fourth century CE. The city passed to the hands of the Muslims during the first half of the seventh century CE and was destroyed by a severe earthquake in the year 749 CE. Ancient Bet She'an, once a Roman city, has been extensively excavated to reveal public streets, bath houses, and theaters. Archaeologists claim that when excavations are completed, it will be one of the most impressive uncovered Roman cities in the Middle East. Major continuing excavations which began in 1986, are managed in a joint effort between the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Hebrew University, and have yielded only one tenth of the area of the city of Bet She'an with careful attention to reconstructing architectural detail of buildings, baths, amphitheaters, temples, and streets.