Beit She’an has long played an important historical role. Its location at the junction of the Jordan River and Jezreel Valley meant that it controlled access from the interior of the country to the coast. Today it acts as the regional center for the many towns and villages situated in the surrounding area. The ancient city ruins located here are protected as part of a national park, the Beit She’an National Park. Excavations over the years have revealed the existence of at least 18 successive ancient towns, making the site one of the most impressive Roman and Byzantine sites in Israel, and an obvious focus of Israeli tourism.
Ancient archeological settlements
Evidence of settlements at Beit She’an date back as far as the sixth century BC, with pottery finds from the Early Bronze Age discovered here. A large cemetery dating back to this era, as well as Canaanite graves have also been found on the site.
In around 1100 BC the city was captured by Philistines and later came under rule by the Biblical kings David and Solomon. Then during the Hellenistic period Beit She’an saw the construction of a large temple, a temple inscribed with hieroglyphs that continued to be used by the Romans.
The Romans carried out extensive construction too, and the remains of a well preserved theater, hippodrome and baths can be seen here today. The Byzantine period saw the construction of many buildings excavated during the first part of the 20th century, including a rotunda church and a city wall. A cemetery with tombs containing a great many artifacts including terracotta figurines, lamps, mirrors, glass beads, bone hairpins, knives, rings and other items is another site of note.
Later the city came under Crusader and Ottoman control, then under the control of the British Mandate before being absolved into the new Jewish state of Israel, a continuing source of contention in Arab-Israeli relations.