The Cardo in Beit She’an

Beit She’an lies at a strategic point at the entrance to the Jezreel Valley – the natural passageway from Transjordan to the Mediterranean Sea – and close to the major highway known as the Way of the Sea, which ran from south to north. The city is first mentioned in Egyptian documents 3,900 years ago. Until the thirteenth century BCE the city was called Scythopolis, in honor of the Scythian cavalrymen who served in the Ptolemaic army, and this name was preserved in the ensuing eras. Under Roman rule, Beit She’an became an independent city, part of an alliance of ten cities (the Decapolis).

View the main street (cardo) of Beit She’an as it was in the 4th century CE. The columned road linked the theater to the foot of the mound where the first city was raised.

Revolt against Rome in 66 CE – Jewish zealots attacked the city, but its Jewish inhabitants preferred to fight them alongside the gentiles. However, the non-Jewish citizens did not trust their neighbors, and cruelly slaughtered the Jews.

Beit She’an reached the heights of its development during the Byzantine period (fourth-seventh centuries CE) and most of the remains we see today are from this time. The city extended over a large area on both sides of the Harod River, and when Christianity became the state religion (fourth century) Beit She’an turned into an administrative and religious center. In opposing the Muslim conquest in the seventh century.

The Cardo (main street), seen in the picture above, led from the Roman theater to the central streets of Beit She’an. It was some 180 meters long, and was called the Palladius street, because of the inscription found there stating that the street’s portico was built by the bishop Palladius, apparently in the fourth century CE.

The portico underwent thorough renovations in the sixth century. The street is over 7 meters wide, with a deep drainage channel in its center. The vault above the channel is characterized by its unique paving pattern.

The installations, such as shops on each side of the street were raised very high – up to 280 cm – and were covered with mosaics. This installations were separated from the street by the portico, which supported the roof that stretched along the entire length of the street and protected the facades of the shops.

In the sixth century, changes were made in the street; some of the shops were knocked down to make room for the construction of a semicircular patio, surrounded by rooms with mosaic floors.

In one of the rooms, a mosaic was found describing Tyche, the goddess of the city. In the Muslim period, water cisterns and various structures were installed above the street. Only ten shops have been excavated so far. There has been widespread pillage of stones in the area, and few remnants are to be found along the street.