Nighttime sound-and-light experience "She'an Nights": on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, by reservation
Bet She'an, in the northern Jordan Valley was first settled in the fifth millennium NCE on a mound south of the Harod Stream, in the heart of a region of great fertility and abundant water, and at what became a major crossroads.
During the Late Bronze Age (16th-12th centuries BCE), the Egyptians made Bet She’an the center of their rule over Canaan. According to the Bible, the Israelite tribes were unable to capture Canaanite Bet She’an. After a battle at nearby Mount Gilboa, the Philistines hung the bodies of King Saul and his sons on the city’s ramparts.
King David conquered Bet She’an together with Megiddo and Ta'anach, and in King Solomon's day it became part of an administrative region encompassing the country's northern valleys. In 731 BCE, the city was destroyed by the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III.
In the second half of the fourth century BCE, at the time of Alexander the Great, Bet She’an was reestablished as a Greek polis, with all the trappings of Greek culture in the East: colonnaded streets, temples, theaters, markets, fountains and bathhouses.
Later in the Hellenistic period, the city was named Nisa Scythopolis. The name derived from Greek mythology according to which Dionysus, the god of wine, interred his nurse, Nisa, in the city, and settled it with Scythians, tribesmen from what is now southern Russia, who were his personal guards.
In 107 BCE, the Hasmoneans conquered Scythopolis. The pagan inhabitants, who were given the choice or converting or leaving, chose exile, and Jews resettled there, restoring the old biblical name Bet She’an. In 63 CE, the Romans took the city transforming it into an important member of the alliance of cities called the Decapolis.
During the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans (66 CE), the Jews of Bet She’an were murdered by their pagan neighbors, who took over the city and gave it back its pagan name. It developed greatly during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE) and Marcus Aurelius (161-180), and during the Late Roman period, Jews, pagans and Samaritans lived together there. Grand public buildings were built, adorned with inscriptions and statues.
In the fourth century, when Christianity became the religion of the empire, the city's life-style changed again. The amphitheater where gladiators had fought was neglected, although the theater and the bathhouses continued in operation. Churches were built, but the center of town retained its pagan character for a long while.
In 409 CE, Bet She’an became the capital of the administrative region known as Palaestina Secunda. The city extended to 1,300 dunams (325 acres) and prospered, mainly thanks to the linen industry, and its population reached an unprecedented 40,000-50,000.
After the Arab conquest in the first half of the seventh century, the city gradually declined, losing its hegemony to Tiberias. Then, in 749 CE, an earthquake rocked the region and devastated Bet She’an--its evidence was prominent everywhere in the excavations. The name Scythopolis was eventually forgotten and the place became known as Beisan, recalling the ancient biblical name.
The Abbasid period saw a village established here. In the Middle Ages, settlement focused mainly on the rise to the south of the old city center, and the Crusaders built a fortress east of the destroyed amphitheater.
After the founding of the State of Israel, Bet She’an was reestablished and began to grow. The ruins, which are the pride of the city, have undergone major restoration and reconstruction, allowing special events and performances to take place in the ancient streets and theater.
The biblical mound, rising 50 meters above its surroundings, has a spectacular view of the great city at its foot and of the Bet She'an Valley. Additional attractions include the magnificent 7,000-seat Roman theater, the amphitheater where gladiators once fought, the Byzantine bathhouse, and the main, colonnaded Paladius Street. A vehicle is available to take visitors around the perimeter, stopping at the main sites.