A 2000 year-old underground settlement


We entered a system of underground caves built during the Hellenistic period.

In the entire area of ​​the city, about one hundred and sixty very complex underground systems were carved. Entering the caves was from the residences in the city.

“Underground system” means you can crawl and move from room to room without going outside and they sometimes include 60 or 70 rooms of various sizes. In the underground systems, different means of production of the residents of Maresha were discovered, including about 200 water cisterns, 85 columbaria installations, 22 oil mills, 4 stables, and dozens of warehouses and quarries – spaces from which stone was cut for use of building houses on the surface.

Regarding the variety of caves in Maresha, they can be divided into five groups according to their shapes and functions:

(1) The first group – bell shape caves, which are famous for their shape. Their diameter is wide at the bottom and narrow at the top. Bell caves were excavated either under houses which in this case they were used mainly for water storage, or in open areas where in this case they were mainly used as quarries of soft chalk rock which was used for the cement industry and for creating stones or in some cases water cisterns. The depth of Bell Caves ranges from several meters to 25 meters. The caves are from the Hellenistic period to the Byzantine period.

(2) The second group – cisterns. They are similar to the bell caves, and since the chalk rock is relatively impermeable to water, there was usually no need to coat the cisterns with plaster. The cisterns received their water from the rain that fell on the hills around the city and drainage systems that carried every drop of rain that fell on the roofs. The cisterns are characterized by the staircases left by the hewers along its sides and by the stone railings.

(3) The third group includes caves of various shapes that were used as craft and agricultural facilities such as oil mills, wine cellars and stables.

(4) The fourth group includes burial caves

(5) The fifth group are the Columbarium caves

Working underground had several advantages. Maresha is characterized by cold weather in the winter and high heat in the summer. The temperature inside the cave hardly changed during the year, so in winter the cave was warm, and in summer there was almost a feeling of natural air conditioning.

I’d like to emphasize again the importance of quarrying the caves in Maresha, especially regarding water storage. Unlike the Judean Mountains where many natural caves can be found, in the Judean Lowlands all the caves are artificial. In the Judean Mountains, the hard limestone allows water to seep through. There, the water penetrates the thick soil, creates a chemical reaction with the limestone rocks, dissolves them, & creates cavities and stalactite caves. The water continues and penetrates until it encounters an impermeable layer, where it stops as a layer of groundwater, which is sometimes revealed when it erupts as springs. The situation in the Judean Lowlands is completely different. Here the soil consists mainly of chalk rock. The soft rocks consist of fine grains, similar in nature to grains of flour. When they come in contact with water, they absorb the moisture, swell, and form an airtight layer, which does not allow water to seep in. This is why the Judean Lowlands has no groundwater, no springs and no natural caves. We reached the end, and as usual, a question for you – who was the Hasmonean king who conquered Maresha at the end of the second century BC. The answer will appear at the end of the video.

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Information Sources

  1. Book: Every Place and Site: A Guide to Every Place and Site in the Land of Israel, Publisher: Ministry of Defense
  2. Biblical encyclopedia, Publisher: Bialik Institute-Jerusalem
  3. Qadmoniot: Magazine for the Antiquities of Eretz-Israel and Bible Lands No. 23/24 & 95/96, Publisher: Israel Exploration Society Jerusalem

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