Beit She’an National Park
Today’s adventures began at Beit She’an National Park where we toured around the ancient city of Scythopolis. This city was first inhabited in the Bronze Age and remained a cultural center until 749 when it was covered in an earthquake.
When archeologists began to uncover the city, they found that most of it was still largely preserved. It was in this city that King Saul from the bible went to war with the Philistines and later taken over by the Romans in 63 BCE. It was amazing to me how well preserved the theater was, all with the original seating and many of the original columns.
We also saw the Roman Bath Houses where a floor was set upon the small stone columns and someone would pump hot air underneath and another would splash water on the floor to create steam. The bath house was where they whole city would go to talk business, to visit with friends, and to relax from the day.
At the back of the bath house is what would have been one of the first baptismal fonts using the warmth from the bath house to heat the water to make it more inviting for those converted.
Along the long row of columns would be the market center for the town and still today you can see some of the incredible mosaics along the marketplace floor.
The Dead Sea
We ventured south after this, driving through the West Bank towards the Dead Sea. It was an a rare clear day, enough so that we could see the far side of the Dead Sea and the view was so lovely.
Masada National Park
We next stopped at Masada National Park. This fortress on the mountain overlooking the Dead Sea was built in 31 BCE. According to a lot of Israelis, this is where you come to really understand the cultural aspect of the state. Not the religious aspect, but the cultural aspect that really speaks of the soul of the people.
The Romans where on the march, trying to take over the area but the Jewish people kept resisting and kept resisting, always fighting for their freedom. The Romans had tried and been resisted by the Jewish people over and over again. Finally at the end of first Jewish-Roman War, when the Jews knew they would be defeated at last by the Romans, they ended the war with a mass suicide declaring that they would die free before becoming slaves to the Romans. While not a happy tale, this determination to hold their place and stand against bondage is a powerful ethos of the people and that is why this place is considered such an important part of their country.
Cable cars take visitors to the top where the the Jewish stronghold was. There are also some hiking trails that you can take to the top, but if it is too hot outside like when we visited they will not allow hiking. It was a town atop of the hill and because of the geographic advantage that it had, it allowed the Jews an advance warning on incoming Romans and also enabled them to defend their ground from onslaught. They would continue to resist and fight back over and over again until at last they were defeated.
Masada National Park is the second most visited site in the country, even more visited than any religious site in Jerusalem. Strangely enough the top spot for most visited site in the country is the Israel Biblical Zoo.
After Masada we got back into the van and started making our way towards the city of Jerusalem where we will spend the remainder of our visit. We took a short walk around Jerusalem before the sun went down and it just makes me so excited for the next few days and everything that this city has in store for us. I have loved visiting so many national parks of Israel and learning why these places are so important to the Jewish people.