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Beit She'an National Park
Beit She'an National Park Review
At the intersection of the Jordan and Jezreel valleys, this town has one spectacular site, Beit She'an National Park. A Roman theater was excavated in the 1960s, but the rest of Scythopolis, as this great Late Roman and Byzantine (2nd–6th centuries AD) city was known, came to light only in more recent excavations. The enormous haul of marble statuary and friezes says much about the opulence of Scythopolis in its heyday—especially when you remember that there are no marble quarries in Israel, and all that stone was imported from what is today Turkey, Greece, or even Italy.
A free site map available at the visitor center gives a good layout. In summer, it's best to arrive early in the morning, as the heat quickly becomes insufferable. Better yet, consider returning in the evening for the engaging sound-and-light spectacle, presented Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 7 pm to 9:30 pm and Saturday from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm. Tickets cost NIS 40; reserve in advance and check times. Scythopolis's downtown area, now exposed, has masterfully engineered, colonnaded main streets converging on a central plaza that once boasted a pagan temple, a decorative fountain, and a monument. An elaborate Byzantine bathhouse covered more than 1¼ acres. On the main thoroughfare are the remains of Scythopolis's amphitheater, where gladiatorial combats were once the order of the day.
The high tell dominating the site to the north was the location of Old Testament Canaanite/Israelite Beit She'an 2,500 to 3,500 years ago. Don't climb to the top for the meager archaeological remains, but rather for the fine panoramic view of the surrounding valleys and the superb bird's-eye view of the main excavations.
The semicircular Roman theater was built of contrasting black basalt and white limestone blocks around AD 200, when Scythopolis was at its height. Although the upper cavea, or tier, has not survived, the theater is the largest and best preserved in Israel, with an estimated original capacity of seven to ten thousand people. The large stage and part of the scaena frons (backdrop) behind it have been restored, and Beit She'an hosts autumn performances as in days of yore.
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