This morning, we headed south from Tiberias toward the Dead Sea, Masada, and Jerusalem. These first 3 views from the bus were caught along the way. As the first picture of the day, this strange building is either pictoresque or grotesque, depending on how you look at it.
On the side of this colorful big rig (in giant green Hebrew letters) is “Emek HaYarden” which means “Jordan Valley.” Emek HaYarden is a regional council providing services to 16 Kibbutzim and 6 other communities in the Jordan Valley.
A pipeline – I think. I don’t know — I just like the picture.
Beit Shean is almost unbelievably old, first inhabited by cave dwellers around 5,000 BCE. A few thousands of years later, it became a center of Egyptian rule under Pharoah Thutmose III. The Canaanites took it over by about 1130 BCE, and later held it against the newly arrived Israelites. King Saul was defeated by the Philistines in 1004 BCE; his three sons were killed, and he himself fell on his sword. Gruesomely, their bodies were displayed by the Philistines on the walls of Beit Shean. In the 10th century BCE, King David burnt the city down, and then King Solomon rebuilt it as an important administration city. Captured again by the Egyptians in 924 BCE, it was totally destroyed by the Assyrians in 732 BCE.
During the 3rd century BCE, Beit Shean was rebuilt (again) by the Greeks and renamed Scythopolis. It was an important Greek city until the Hasmonaens destroyed it again about 100 BCE.
The Romans built a new Roman-style city there beginning in the 1st century, BCE, with wide colonnaded paved streets, shopping centers, residential areas, theaters, etc. It was the most important of the Decapolis (Ten Cities) of the Romans. Although damaged by an earthquake in 363 CE, it was reconstructed.
The Umayyads of Arabia took it over in 635 CE, renaming it Beisan, but they allowed the local Christians to continue to practice their religion.
About 100 years later, in 749 CE, the city was completely destroyed by an earthquake, and remained in ruins until this century. During the Crusades, a small fortress was built there, and the fortress was later converted to a sugar factory, and then later to a school during the Ottoman period.
Below is part of the theater from the Roman era. Performances were presented in the daytime, and the seats face north so that the 7,000 spectators had their backs to the sun to better see the stage. Below is a drawing of what the theater had looked like.
Below is part of the large bath and gym complex. Hot air was pumped under the floor which was suspended over the cones below. There were three kinds of steam bath rooms – one was hot, one was tepid, and one was cold. They even had public toilets (in a row) with running water underneath.
Below is another picture of the main street. Notice the “tel” in the background – that is the ancient hill where thousands of ancient artifacts going all the way back to the caveman era are still waiting to be found.
Below are remains of some of the numerous shops. Many had mosaic floors The mosaic of the person in a circle in this mosaic floor was likely a kind of advertisement for the kind of product sold there. You can enlarge the picture for a better look by clicking on it.
Below are some more of the floor mosaics we saw at Beit Shean. We actually walked on them. What strikes me is that many of them were obviously intended to look like rugs. Some were even quite small — in front of a doorway, for example — and outlined as a rectangle; again, appearing to be a rug. Others had originally taken up an entire floor and had borders – again, appearing like a rug.
This floor was decorated with a mosaic featuring swastikas, which gave us pause. Our guide, Natalie, explained that the swastika is an ancient symbol of good luck and well-being. It’s just too bad that one of the world’s most evil of men took it as his symbol.
A few more mosaics. Many of the designs are as modern as any we see today, so it’s hard to remember these were created more than 2000 years ago and pieced together stone by stone such that in spite of centuries of neglect and even earthquakes, we can still walk on them today.
The one on the left is a small mosaic in a doorway — rather like an area rug.
In the large mosaic above, note the circle with the zodiac (see more detail below, too). The astrological significance of the zodiac were given new symbolism as representatives of the annual cycle of seasons which depend on celestial bodies. These circles or “wheels” of the zodiac representing the cycle of life are found in a number of other ancient synagogues as well.
Below is a model of Beit Shean as it appeared in the Roman and Byzantine periods, based on archeological data. Click to see more detail. Notice the theater and also the nearby amphitheater. The theater could hole 7,000 guests, while the amphitheater held 6,000 – mostly the soldiers garrisoned there who wanted to see gladiators fighting.
And, of course . . .
we visited the Gift Shop before continuing on toward Jerusalem.