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Located in the Judean southern lowlands (the Shephelah), Maresha was a thriving city in Biblical times and the Hellenistic period. It is primarily known for its maze of caves from the Hellenistic period, which are popular among youth groups.

History and Archaeology of Maresha

Maresha is 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem, in a fertile region, and close to a significant road system. According to the book of Joshua, Maresha was in the lot of Judah’s tribe (Joshua 15:44). The book of Chronicles indicates Maresha was fortified by Rehoboam in the 9th century BCE (1 Chronicles 11:8), and later, it was the site of a critical battle in which Assa King of Judah held against an African Assault (2 Chronicles 14:8-10). Maresha may have also been the hometown of Prophet Micha (Micha 1:1).

During the Persian Period a combined group of Edomites and Phoenicians settled in the city. They carved hundreds of caves through its soft chalk limestone, creating a maze of cavities used in various ways – quarries, dwellings, storerooms, water cisterns, tombs, and mostly – Dovecots.

Marsha’s Doves Industry

maresha-columbarium-caveOver 85 caves in Maresha were used as dovecots (columbariae). The doves were exploited for their meat and eggs as food and their droppings as fertilizer. Doves were also commonly used in ancient rituals. Both Jews, Pagans, and Samaritans sacrificed pigeons in their temples.

Excavations in Maresha

In the early 20th century a british archaeological expedition excavated most of Maresha’s acropolis, but they later covered all the finds. Later, Israeli archaeologists dug more parts of the acropolis, and several caves. To this day an Israeli expedition lead an excavation at the site which tourists can participate in  (“Dig for a Day“).

Touring Maresha

Combined with adjacent Beit Guvrin, Maresha is a 1,250-acre national park and a World Heritage site by UNESCO. A marked trail leads through points of interest in the site. Most notable are –

The “Polish Cave” – A bell-shaped cave hewn in the Hellenistic period and used as a dovecot (Columbarium). During the Second World War, Polish soldiers from General Andrer’s army stationed in Palestine for a while visited the cave. They carved on its central pillar “Warsaw, Poland,” the year“1943”, and an eagle, the symbol of the Polish army.

The Industrial Dovecot Cave – Opposite the Polish Cave, another cavity was used for raising doves, yet it was relatively larger. Over 2,000 niches were carved in this double cruciform-shaped cave, demonstrating the scale of this industry in the Hellenistic period.

The Olive Press Cave – Over 22 underground Olive presses were documented in Maresha, all dating to the Hellenistic period.  Olive oil was used in baths, cooking, and, most commonly – for operating oil lamps.

The Underground Maze – In two areas north of Maresha’s acropolis, a connected complex of caves demonstrates the use of underground halls under dwellings well. One complex, under a villa of 150 sq. meters, comprises several bell-shaped caves with several functions. Another complex, further north, is known as “the maze” as it has so many spaces and entries you feel you could get lost in it.

The Painted Burial Caves

maresha 800 600Next to the northern parking lot are two burial caves richly adorned. They provide the best-detailed insight into Marsha’s dwellers in the Hellenistic period. One inscription mentions the burial of the “head of the Sidonians community in Maresha.” Other inscriptions indicate many of the deceased were of Edomite descent, although some adopted Greek names. The walls of one of the caves are decorated with a fantastic scene of a procession. Most of the figures are of exotic African animals such as a lion, giraffe, rhinoceros, and more.  There are also some legendary animals like the Gryphon and the Cerberus. The innermost hall is decorated with thymes from classical Greek art and architecture.

A tour of Maresha can be combined with a guided day tour in the Judean Foothills (the Shephelah).

Contact us to inquire more about a private tour to Maresha:

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