1 Best Sight in Beit She'an, Lower Galilee

Beit She'an National Park

Fodor's choice

The extensive remains of lavish ancient structures at this archaeological treasure trove make it one of Israel's most notable sites. A Roman theater was excavated in the 1960s, but the rest of Scythopolis, as this 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 in its heyday—especially when you remember that there are no marble quarries in Israel, and all stone was imported from what is today Turkey, Greece, or 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 through Thursday at sundown. Reserve tickets 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, decorative fountain, and 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. Climb to the top 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 7,000 to 10,000 people. The large stage and part of the scaena frons (backdrop) behind it have been restored, allowing outdoor sound-and-light performances March to November.