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. 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.
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.
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 to 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, 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. Masada National Park is the second most visited site in the country, even more visited than any religious site in Jerusalem.
After Masada we got back into the van and started making our way towards the city of Jerusalem where we will spend the next few days. I have loved visiting so many national parks of Israel and learning why these places are so important to the Jewish people.