One of the oldest cities in Israel, Beit She’an played a vitally important historic role in biblical times. Located in the Galilee region of northern Israel where the Harod Valley and Jordan Valley meet, many tourists tend to overlook Beit She’an. However, it is one of the largest and strategically significant archaeological sites in Israel. But one look at this city’s centuries-old history of wars and earthquakes and it makes you question the Hebrew meaning of its name, “house of rest.”
Since its settlement about 6,000 years ago, Beit She’an has seen centuries of occupation. Extensive excavations of a large tel (mound) revealed over 20 layers of remains from ancient civilizations, particularly the Canaanites and the Egyptians, followed by Israelite and Philistine rule.
Beit She’an is perhaps best known as the site where King Saul and his sons were hung from the city walls after his defeat by the Philistine army (1 Samuel 31:10). Later burnt to the ground by King David and rebuilt by his son, Solomon, Beit She’an became an administrative center for the people of Israel (1 Kings 4:7-12). It remained a significant metropolis until its destruction by the Assyrians in 732 BC. During the Hellenistic period, the city was rebuilt and renamed Scythopolis.
In the 1st century AD, Beit She’an was a flourishing multi-cultural Roman city and one of the ten cities in the Decapolis. Following an earthquake in 749 AD the city never truly regained its former glory. Since then, the Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, British, and finally Israelis, have each settled in Beit She’an.
Housing a multitude of artifacts excavated from each historical period mentioned above, Beit She’an’s main attraction, the archaeological national park, welcomes tourists eager to step back in time and witness a vivid picture of Beit She’an’s dynamic thousands-year-old history.
The remains of the Canaanite and Egyptian cities are on the elevated mound, and at the foot of the mound are the extensive remains of the Roman city. The excavation and reconstruction offers a clear picture of the city during each era. Covering approximately 370 acres, Beit She’an’s former existence as a Roman metropolis was once home to 30,000 to 40,000 citizens!
Park visitors can see public baths, a Roman temple, stores, artisan workshops and other well-preserved structures. The Roman-built central Palladius street extends from the theater to the foothills of the tel and is lined by colonnades. There are also rare mosaics and a Roman amphitheater which is still in use today.
An evening at Beit She’an is capped by a spectacular multimedia light show, bringing its multi-layered, colorful, and sometimes grim, history to life by projecting images of horse drawn carriages, Romans, and buildings onto the stones, along the central street and onto the stage.
Without a doubt, Beit She’an offers some of the best-preserved ruins in the Middle East, which makes it a must-see site when visiting Israel.