Archeological sites in Israel
Archeology lovers can find ruins to their heart's content, from crusader castles to Roman arenas, and all within an easy drive from one site to another. Because the country is a roadmap to the Bible and home to the three great monotheistic religions, archeology is serious business in Israel.
Archeological investigation in Israel began in the middle of the 19th century when biblical scholars searched for places mentioned in the Bible. Toward the end of the 19th century, but mainly since the beginning of the 20th century, many mounds composed of the remains of ancient settlements have been excavated.
In Biblical times, the land was the bridge between the prosperous cultures of the Fertile Crescent: Mesopotamia and Egypt. Since its occupation by Alexander the Great, Israel has served as a geographic and cultural link between east and west. Archeological research in Israel reveals the historical link between the Jewish people, the Bible and the Land of Israel.
It also shows the artifacts and remains of many cultures that have left their imprint on the land. Starting in the north in the Golan Heights with the Nimrod Fortress, you can visit these ancient monuments and cities with an easy drive since many are about half an hour to an hour's drive from one another.
Gracing the slopes of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, above the Banias spring, the Nimrod Fortress is impressive, if not majestic, with stunning view to the surrounding mountains. The Moslem Ayyubi governor built it in 1228 in a strategic attempt to halt the progress of the crusader army of Frederick II that was heading from Acre on its way to Damascus.
Just a year ago the entire site was given a new look with dramatic lighting that makes a nighttime visit a fascinating experience. (It can get chilly at night, even in the summer.) At the end of the 13th century, following the Muslim conquest of the port city of Acre and the end of the crusader rule in the Holy Land, the Nimrod fortress lost its strategic value and fell into disrepair. An 18th century earthquake also took its toll.
Tel Hatzor-Regards from King Solomon
On the main road leading to the northernmost town of Metulla, there are several archeological pearls just waiting to be discovered. Hatzor, which was approximately 10 times the size of Jerusalem in the days of Kings David and Solomon, is one of them. In more recent years it has been an archeologist's dreams with 21 distinct archeological layers from the early bronze period to the Hellenistic.
Today Hatzor is one of Israel's national parks where you can see remains of the city walls, gates, palaces, temples, water works and homes. It is the largest biblical-era site in Israel, covering some 200 acres. The population of Hat
zor in the second millennium BCE is estimated to have been about 20,000, making it the largest and most important city in the entire region. Its size and strategic location on the route connecting Egypt and Babylon made it "the head of all those kingdoms" (Joshua 11:10). The city was rebuilt and fortified by King Solomon (1 Kings 9:15) and prospered until its final destruction by the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:29) in 732 BCE.
A short drive from Tel Hatzor lie the ruins of Zippori, known for its collection of beautiful mosaics and the famous "Mona Lisa of the Galilee," a mosaic portrait of a woman with gold earrings and a wreath and a lovely face. The Romans never destroyed Zippori so it gives one of the best impressions of Roman and Jewish life in Israel in the first few centuries.
It is said that mighty nations don't have to conquer weaker countries. It is enough to inundate them with their dominant culture. The Romans were masters and evidence of their success can be found in the villas of wealthy Jews who lived more than two thousand years ago.
To decorate their homes they hired artists to create Roman-style mosaic floors. In one villa, in which the floor has survived intact, there are a million and a half mosaic pieces, forming geometric patters, animals, plants and hunting scenes.
Zippori has Roman streets and buildings. In fact, a whole antique city is dug up. The city was named after the Hebrew word for bird, 'zippor', because it seems to soar from its position on top of a hill. King Herod liked its strategic position and made it his capital, when he was governor of Galilee in the beginning of his career.
Beit She'areem-City of the Dead
A half hour drive from Zippori is the archeological site of a Jewish town and necropolis known as Beit She'areem, today a national park. The site consists of courtyards, corridors and staircases that lead to the catacombs with their burial chambers and stone sarcophagi decorated with bas-reliefs, epitaphs, and frescoes.
The mouths of some of the caves were closed with hewn stone doors, shaped to resemble wooden doors. The bas-reliefs and drawings are representative of Roman-period Jewish folk art. The artwork in all the caves contains Jewish elements, such as the seven-branched candelabrum, the Holy Ark and a ram's horn (shofar). Some secular themes, including boats, animals, human figures, and geometrical designs, also appear.
Although most of the epitaphs are in Greek, the lingua franca of Israel at the time, there are some in Hebrew and Aramaic. Usually the epitaph states the name and occupation of the deceased and on occasion his or her place of origin as well.
Armageddon is not just a movie staring Bruce willis, but also the ancient name of Har Megiddo that appears in the New Testament as the battleground between good and evil in the end of days (Revelation 16:14-21). It's been more than 100 years since archeologists began digging up the secrets of Megiddo and so far they have found some 30 layers of settlement.
You can see the remains of the city's fortifications, palaces, temples, cemeteries and even stables. It is recommended to visit the local museum where a model of the complex archeological structure of the site is on display. Make sure to catch the majestic view of the Jezre'el Valley, the Nazareth Mountains and Mount Gilboa.
Bet She'an-Bread and Circus
This is one of the most interesting archeological sites in Israel, an entire Roman-style city with a high -level of urban planning. Here you can see a wonderfully preserved Roman theater, a hippodrome, roman streets and baths. The city was born long before Roman architects arrived to plan the streets and buildings.
Due to its strategic location and plentiful water it has been inhabited since time immemorial. According to Greek mythology, it was Dionysus who founded the city, and his nursemaid, Nysa, is buried here. Beit She'an is mentioned in 3rd-2nd centuries BCE written sources. In 64 BCE it was taken by the Romans, rebuilt, and made the capital of the Decapolis, the "Ten Cities" that were centers of Greco-Roman culture. At night there is an impressive "light and sound" show that brings the history of Bet She'an to life.
MASSADA--Shall Not Fall Again.
The piece of paper detailing the salary of Gaius Masuis, a soldier in the Roman 10th legion, tells much about his life. He was veteran, earned a nice salary and purchased tunics made from high quality linen. The papyrus paycheck buried for generations in the Massada area until archeologists uncovered it, is on display in the new museum in Massada, alongside many other artifacts that tell us much about daily life in this fascinating part of history.
You can see weapons, coins, cooking vessels, remnants of clothing and more. Massada, perched on top of an isolated rock plateau on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea, is one of the most fascinating archeological sites in Israel. After the first Jewish-Roman war, also known as the Great Jewish Revolt, a long siege of the fortress by Roman troops led to the mass suicide of the Jewish rebels, who preferred death to surrender.