Ancient Jewish necropolis named World Heritage Site
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Ancient Jewish necropolis named World Heritage Site

UNESCO adds Beit She'arim's Roman-era catacombs, where author of Mishnah is buried, to list of protected locales

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An emblem of a menorah carved in the stone, inside a structure at Beit She'arim National Park, an archaeological site in the Lower Galilee. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)
An emblem of a menorah carved in the stone, inside a structure at Beit She'arim National Park, an archaeological site in the Lower Galilee. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)

A top UN cultural organization on Sunday declared a 2nd century CE Jewish burial complex at Beit She’arim in northern Israel a World Heritage Site.

A United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization committee met in Bonn, Germany, and voted on including the Beit She’arim tombs in its list of sites notable for cultural heritage. The proposal passed with 17 votes in favor and four against.

Lebanon, Qatar, Algeria, and Malaysia opposed the motion.

The World Heritage List enshrined Beit She’arim because its catacombs contain a “treasury of artworks and inscriptions in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew” and bear “a unique testimony to ancient Judaism under the leadership of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, who is credited with Jewish renewal after 135 CE.”

Zvika Zuk, the chief archaeologist of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which manages the park where the necropolis is located, welcomed the decision.

Underground tombs of the Beit She'arim Necropolis, inside a structure at Beit She'arim National Park on September 20, 2009. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)
Underground tombs of the Beit She’arim Necropolis, inside a structure at Beit She’arim National Park. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)

“Beit She’arim is a moving testimony to our ancestors, of which there is hardly any other example anywhere in the world,” he told the Hebrew language Ynet news site. “During a visit to the necropolis of Beit She’arim, you feel the beating heart of the Jewish people.”

Beit She’arim reached its apogee as a Jewish burial site in the 3rd and 4th centuries of the common era, after two Jewish revolts against Rome. The adjacent town became a major center of Jewish culture after Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, the redactor of the Jewish legal text known as the Mishnah, moved there. He was among the many prominent Jews buried in the tombs.

The site, east of Haifa, was first proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002 and in 2012 was put on the tentative list. Once a heritage site is declared, host countries must preserve the location and prevent development in the area that would change its appearance and setting.

With Sunday’s vote, Beit She’arim became the ninth site in Israel to be declared a World Heritage Site.

Among the other Israeli sites already on the list are the caves of Maresha Beit-Guvrin national park, the prehistoric remains at Nahal Me’arot, the Bahai temple in Haifa, the remains of Nabatean towns in the Negev built along the spice route, Tel Aviv’s collection of Bauhaus or International Style buildings known as the White City, the ancient fortress of Masada, and the Old City of Acre.

The first Israeli site to make the list was Jerusalem’s Old City and its walls, which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1981.

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