The 1,250-acre Beit Govrin National Park lies in the Judean plain, an area with rolling hills rising some 400 meters above sea level. Most of the ground here is chalky and this soft but relatively erosion-resistant stone is ideal for caves. Very early, people began to dig caves in the Beit Govrin area, which they used as quarries and burial grounds, storerooms and workshops, hiding places and spaces for raising doves. The soft chalk is generally covered by a layer of harder nari, which can be up to two meters thick. In general, the caves have a narrow opening in the nari and get wider and wider in the chalk.
Hundreds of caves were dug in the area, some of which form a huge, astonishingly complex underground maze.
Tel Maresha (Marissa) stands in the highest part of the national park. This was the site of the city in Judea fortified by King Rehoboam after the campaign of Egyptian pharaoh Shishak: "And Rehoboam dwelt in Jerusalem, and built cities for defense in Judah and Gath, and Mareshah, and Ziph" (Second Chronicles 11:5, 8).
The city came into its own during the Hellenistic period (third to second centuries B.C.E.). During the Hasmonean period, John Hyrcanus captured the city and forced its residents to convert to Judaism. In Roman times, the residents abandoned Tel Maresha and established the nearby city of Beit Govrin, which became the capital of western Idumea.
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