Bell Caves

Bell caves are centuries-old artificial quarries discovered in the Judean Plain. The caves are named for their shape, reminiscent of a bell. So far, about 800 bell caves are known, concentrated in groups, the largest of which includes about 200 caves. Most of the bell caves were hewn in a soft rock called chalk, which is very common in the lowlands. The chalk tends to oxidize on contact with air and water, darkening and hardening. A relatively thin layer of oxidized chalk is called a patina, while a thick layer, which can reach up to three meters thick, is called a Nari. The chalk rock covering the lowlands was oxidized during the geological periods until the surface became a hard Nari layer about two meters thick, which hides the chalk beneath it.

The Reason For the Bell Caves Shape 

To the inhabitants of the lowlands sought to build their houses with the local material available to them – the stone. Also they preferred the soft and convenient chalk for quarrying. But in their way stood the hard Nari layer. So they circumvented the problem by making a relatively small hole in the Nari; sometimes for the passage of only one or two people. And performed the extensive quarrying work in the soft rock, which was removed from under the Nari ceiling. This ceiling usually lasted due to its strength and thanks to the arched bell shape, which evenly distributed the load on the sides. This structure faithfully served the quarrymen during the rainy and scorching days and helped maintain the moisture of the chalk that tended to dry out, crumble and harden in contact with air and water.

Most of the caves were hewn to a depth of a few meters. But there are extra-large caves that were hewn to a depth of 20 meters and more. Groups of hewers pierced the Nari at great distances from each other, but as the caves expanded, and the “bells” grew, there was often a fusion between two or more caves. This created very large spaces, with several Nari openings in the ceiling. In Beit Guvrin National Park – from its head and in Luzit caves, for example, there are huge spaces that sometimes consist of several dozen bell caves that have been connected.

The Quarrying of the Bell Caves

The quarrying of the chalk was done quite systematically: the quarrymen used iron chisels and deepened the pit each time in a uniform layer of about thirty centimeters. This fact emerges from the diagonal quarrying marks evident to this day on the walls of the caves, which are arranged at almost identical distances from each other. The quarry marks remained so clear that it could be seen whether the quarry was right or left. The material was removed through the opening in rectangular chunks, which were estimated to weigh five to seven kilograms.

The stones hewn from the bell caves were used for local construction and were even exported to the entire lowlands and the southern coastal plain. It is also possible that some of the material was used for lime, as evidenced by two lime kilns discovered in the area. Residents of the lowlands took advantage of the empty spaces left open near their homes for various purposes, mainly for storage, such as a columbarium, plastered water cisterns, and workshops. In cases where easy access to the cave was required, the original opening in the ceiling was blocked and replaced with a sloping entrance tunnel.

The Dating of the Bell Caves

It is customary to separate two types of bell caves: small quarry-caves for local use, dating to the days of the Second Temple; And large quarry-caves dating to the Byzantine period, which were used for industry and export. Industrial quarrying reached its peak in the early Arab period. Evidence of this can be found in the symbols of the crosses engraved in the upper parts of the caves, near the entrance, and in the Arabic inscriptions engraved in the lower parts. The tenth-century Muslim geographer Mukadasi wrote in his books that there are many marble quarries in the Beit Guvrin district, and since there are no marbles in the Land of Israel, it seems that his intention was for the bell quarries.

Hamam al-Basha

Hamam al-Basha

Hamam al-Basha was established in 1795 by the governor of the north of the country; Ahmad al-Jazar and is named after him. It is said to have been erected on the remains of a Crusader bathhouse; and its eastern and northern facades overlap with the ancient structure. Like other hammams throughout the Ottoman Empire, it also served as a social meeting place. Until the establishment of the state, the building functioned as a hammam, and from 1954 until the 1990s as a municipal museum.

More Information About Hamam al-Basha

So like I said Hamam al-Basha was built at the end of the 18th century by the Governor of Acre, Jazzar Pasha. But at first, it was called “Hama al-Jadid”. But its name was subsequently changed to Hamam al-Basha (the Pasha’s Hamam. In fact, the Turkish bath’s construction was part of the transformation of Acre during the Ottoman Period from a small fishing village into a teeming port city and a major construction and trade center. Also during his reign, el-Jazzar strove to further the city in many and varied ways. Among his accomplishments is the aqueduct which led freshwater to the city. Also he built the breakwater for safe docking at the port; and major buildings such as the Khan el-Umdan – Acre’s largest mosque – his luxurious palace and of course, the Turkish bath.

When I am touring Acre I like to take my guests to see the Hamam. I personally find it quite interesting and do illustrate how Turkish Hamams use to be in those days. I recommend combining it with a tour of Rosh Hanikra and the entire shoreline. Try to combine it with a visit to Caesarea National Park I think both would turn it into an amazing day! So if you have more questions feel free to get in touch!