Caves in Israel's Judean Hills Join World Heritage List

Caves of Maresha and Beit Guvrin, dubbed 'a microcosm of the land of the caves,' bring Israel's total number of UNESCO heritage sites to seven.

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The Maze Cave of Beit Guvrin-Maresha, June 24, 2014.
The Maze Cave of Beit Guvrin-Maresha, June 24, 2014.Credit: AP

The caves of Maresha and Beit Guvrin, located in Israel's Judean lowlands, have been added to UNESCO's World Heritage List, the international body announced Sunday.

The committee in charge of selecting the sites is meeting in Doha, Qatar, under the chair of Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani.

"This 'city under a city' is characterized by a selection of man-made caves, excavated from the thick and homogenous layer of soft chalk in Lower Judea," announced UNESCO, which referred to the site as "a microcosm of the land of the caves," on its website. "It includes chambers and networks with varied forms and functions, situated below the ancient twin towns of Maresha and Bet Guvrin, that bear witness to a succession of historical periods of excavation and usage stretching over 2,000 years, from the Iron Age to the Crusades, as well as a great variety of subterranean construction methods."

UNESCO noted that the original excavations were quarries that were "converted for various agricultural and local craft industry purposes, including oil presses, columbaria (dovecotes), stables, underground cisterns and channels, baths, tomb complexes and places of worship, and hiding places during troubled times."

The site was part of a group of nine, including Botswana's Okavango Delta, Italy's vineyard landscape of Piedmont and the monumental earthworks of Poverty Point in the Lower Mississippi Valley in the United States, bringing the overall total to 1001. UNESCO named another nine sites, located mainly in Europe and Asia, on Monday.

The caves of Maresha and Beit Guvrin join seven other sites in Israel on the World Heritage List: Masada, the Old City of Acre, the White City of Tel Aviv, the Incense Route (the desert cities of the Negev), the Biblical tels (Megiddo, Hazor and Be'er Sheva) the Bahai shrines in Haifa and Acre and, most recently, the Carmel's Nahal Me'arot/Wadi El-Mughara caves.

The Palestinian village of Battir and the landscape around it south of Jerusalem joined UNESCO's world heritage sites list on Friday after an emergency nomination meant to try to block Israel from building a barrier across its ancient farmland. The committee added the farmed valleys at the village feature picturesque stone terraces that risk "irreversible damage" were the barrier to be constructed, according to a Reuters report.

The Maze Cave of Beit Guvrin-Maresha, June 24, 2014. Photo by AP
The entrance to the Apollophanes cave in Beit Guvrin-Maresha, June 24, 2014. Photo by AP
The Bell Caves of Beit Guvrin-Maresha, June 24, 2014. Photo by AP

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