The striking mound of Maresha (Hellenistic-era Marisa), and its surroundings, is one of the richest sites in Israel and a very popular stop for visitors. The area features not one but two ancient cities: Maresha of the Biblical (Iron Age), Persian and Hellenistic eras, and the adjacent city of Beit Guvrin, which was founded after the city on the mound was destroyed in the first century B.C.E. and which contains remains from the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods. Many of the remains are below ground, making Maresha and Beit Guvrin an underground metropolis.

Visitors can enjoy the tomb paintings described by David Jacobson in the accompanying article; the paintings were restored in 1993, based on the at-times imaginative colored lithographs published a century ago. But there is much else to see besides: a Roman amphitheater, the Crusader-era St. Anne’s Church, an extensive network of water cisterns, 22 olive-oil factories and a series of 85 underground installations known as the Bell Caves. With ceilings 50 feet high in places, these caves are narrow in the hard rock near their tops and wider in the softer chalk lower down, giving them the shape that prompted their name. The Bell Caves feature 50,000 niches carved into their walls, which are believed to have served as dovecotes.

If you cannot visit Maresha, you can enjoy it vicariously through books. Amos Kloner, who has led the excavations at Maresha over the past two decades, has just published Maresha Excavations Final Report I (available in this country through Eisenbrauns, Inc.; call 574-269-2011 or go to

Later this year, the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) will publish The Hellenistic Paintings of Marisa, David M. Jacobson’s study of the tomb wall paintings. Contact the PEF at 2 Hinde Mews, Marylebone Lane, London, W1U 2AA or on the Web at