Israel has been home to many different groups of people and societies. Sometimes I feel that everywhere you go in Israel as an active archaeological excavation…and that wouldn’t be so far from the truth. About 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem is a very large and active archaeological excavation, called Tel Maresh, located within Beit Guvrin National Park. It is a popular place for tour groups to visit because they allow visitors to take part in the archaeological process by sifting through dirt for pieces of pottery and clay.
At first glance this looks incredibly inaccessible for people with physical impairments, and the archaeological dig area is. In order to access the caves and dig sights you must cross an incredible rocky terrain and then ascend steep stairs. We attempted to join our group to at least see some of the active sights, but the terrain was too rocky for either the scooter or the manual wheelchair. We headed back to the van.
We then headed over to a section called the “Bell Caves.” These are huge caverns used as limestone quarries during the Byzantine and early Islamic periods. These have already been fully excavated and the Beit Guvrin Park has worked to make this area extremely accessible! There are concrete paths that go through the caves, connecting up to other caves. There are informative signs, describing the flora and fauna along the way (in both Hebrew and English). In addition to the accessible paths, excellent signage (see the top-right picture), there are also accommodations for visitors with visual impairments. There are copper replications of common birds found in the region (see the middle-right picture) for people who are blind or visually impaired. While walking through the caves, you can hear the birds chirping and echoing off the walls, those with visual impairments can get a sense of what these birds look like. So cool!!!
Since they have worked to make this place open to all, it can be rented by individuals or organizations. The Bell Caves have amazing acoustics and is therefore a great place for concerts and other functions.
While we were thoroughly impressed with the Bell Caves area of the Beit Guvrin Park, we were disappointed by one major area: the bathrooms. After finishing our tours of the area, we headed to the bathrooms where there were three signs: men, women, and handicap. However, the handicap bathrooms were locked! Often it’s easier to keep these bathrooms locked and not worry about cleaning them (since they get less use). While I’m sure it’s easier for the park to keep them locked, it does not create an accessible atmosphere.