Beer Sheba: Everything You Need to Know About this Historical City
Tourists to Israel often make cultural sites like Jerusalem and Haifa their first stops. However, there’s an alternative city that you might have overlooked: Beer Sheba.
If you haven’t heard of this city, you’re not alone. Even Israelis don’t visit this city much, which is a shame. This biblical and Ottoman city is a cultural destination in its own right, offering a unique cultural and historical charm.
To discover more about Beer Sheba, read on as we highlight why this city should be on your Israeli itinerary.
Where is Beersheba Located?
Beersheba is a desert city in the southern region of Israel. It’s located in the northern tip of the Negev desert, roughly 115 km from Tel Aviv. Due to its proximity to the desert, the climate is mostly hot and dry but does get colder in the winter. It can also be spelled or referred to as Beer Sheba or Beer Sheva depending on who you are talking to.
Beersheba, Israel is the 8th most populous metropolitan city in the country. It’s also the region’s biggest city and the gateway to the Negev area, which earned it the unofficial nickname of “Capital of the Negev.” An interesting fact to note is Beersheba in the Bible was known as “Tel Be’er Sheva.”
What is the Meaning of Beersheba?
The most accepted view is that Beersheba is named after the oath between Abraham and the Philistine king, Abimelech (“Well of the Oath”). Another is that it’s named for the seven wells dug by Abraham’s son, Isaac, of which four have been identified (hence, the “Well of the Seven”).
Understanding why “Well of the Seven” or “Well of the Oath” are two possible explanations has to do with the fact that there are several possible sources for the name. The two possible meanings are there because, in Hebrew, “sheva” can mean either “oath” or “seven.” The Arabic name can be translated roughly as “seven wells.””
Regardless of its true origin, the city’s citizens have dubbed the city “B7” in reference to the number seven in Beer Sheba. Residents have also lovingly used the number seven to name companies and enterprises in the city.
The History of Beer Sheva
The history of Beer Sheva, Israel has biblical significance. Beer Sheva in the Bible was the city Abraham and his son Isaac established after they made peace with the Philistine King Abimelech, over a dispute over a well of water.
From there, Beersheba was mentioned a few more times in the Bible. It was the southernmost city in the Jewish territories. As a result, it was often used to describe the size of the kingdom (“from Dan to Beersheba” according to a verse from Joshua 19:2). Beersheba also saw several key biblical figures pass through its territory, including Jacob and Elijah.
The city was subject to many foreign rulers, from the Persians to the Romans. But modern-day Beersheba was made possible by the Ottomans, who made the city an administrative center of the region.
Why You Should Visit Beer Sheva
Beersheba is often considered to be an off-the-beaten-path destination for tourists, even for Israelis. What might first seem like an unwelcome sight (thanks to run down buildings) will quickly become a stopover filled with cultural and historical significance.
Beer Sheva is the only city planned by the Ottomans, and the unique architecture of that period shows in the city’s many buildings, including the Turkish Railway Station and Old Turkish Town districts. It’s one of the few, if not the only, city in the country where you can experience Ottoman culture first hand.
The archaeological site of Tel Beer Sheba, or the biblical Beersheba, is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can get a glimpse of what an ancient Israeli walled city looked like, including relics and antiques from the Roman era.
Things to do in Beer Sheva
Any Beersheba map will always highlight the Old Turkish Town, also called the Old City. This district houses the city’s most famous attraction, Abraham’s Well. In contrast to the ancient well is the International Visitor’s Center, a facility that uses technology to tell the story of Abraham and the city.
Other historical sites worth visiting include the Old Turkish Railway Station Museum and the ancient city of Tel Beer Sheba. The city is full of museums, such as the Negev Museum of Art and the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures.
If you want a unique shopping experience, stop by the Bedouin Market. It’s a vibrant and colorful weekly market that’s been held since 1905. Shop here to peruse authentic wares, glassware, and traditional food from local Bedouins.
The city also serves as the jump-off point to the Negev Desert, where you can participate in a variety of outdoor activities.
Want to Visit Beer Sheba?
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