Be’er Sheva: From Ancient Well to Modern Capital
Be’er Sheva in southern Israel is a modern city full of life and character. It was here that the patriarch Abraham dug a well and then made a treaty with the local king, Abimelech. This treaty formed an alliance which in essence created Judaism’s first permanent home:
So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there… Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time. Genesis 21:31-34
Modern day Be’er Sheva was founded by the Ottomans at the beginning of the 20th century. The city grew from a sandy dune with a well to a small planned community. Many of the buildings in the Old City tell the story of Be’er Sheva under Turkish rule. After World War I, the period of the British Mandate saw Be’er Sheva become a major administrative center.
However, it wasn’t until after the establishment of the State of Israel did Be’er Sheva really come into its own. The Israeli city was established in 1949 and was hailed as the Capital of the Negev. Prime Minister Ben Gurion saw great potential in the Negev and believed it was Israel’s future. Be’er Sheva has become a teeming city of nearly 200,000 residents with a diversity of ethnicities and religions.
Be’er Sheva could possibility be the most progressive city in Israel. It is filled with culture including museums, a zoo, historical and archeological sites and outdoors recreational facilities. It also has one of Israel’s largest and finest universities, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, which gives the city an intellectual atmosphere. Additionally, Be’er Sheva is filled with funky cafes, upscale restaurants and pubs with an international flair.
When looking for outdoor activities Be’er Sheva has some of the best in Israel. The Jewish National Fund runs the innovative Be’er Sheva River Walk which includes hiking and biking trails, a botanical garden, sports arena, amphitheater, promenades and a boating lake filled with purified wastewater from the river. Walkers and cyclists can also take advantage of the urban Round Be’er Sheva Trail. Furthermore there is the Negev Brigade Monument, the Negev Zoo, the Be’er Sheva River, the Beit Eshel historical site, UNESCO World Heritage Site Tel Be’er Sheva National Park, as well as being the starting point for forays into the Negev Desert.
For those seeking cultural inspiration, Be’er Sheva will not disappoint. The Negev Museum of Art housed in the Ottoman era historic former governor’s home and city hall offers exhibition galleries and a performance space for classical concerts. For a different type of cultural experience there is the Bedouin Market. Since 1905 the market has been a weekly affair where Bedouis sell handcrafts such as woven rugs, glassware, jewelry and beads. Another important cultural experience in Be’er Sheva is the Center for Ethiopian Craftsmanship. This charming place features the wares of immigrant women who create in Ethiopian Jewry traditions including ceramics, baskets, mats and embroidery.
Be’er Sheva is a surprising experience of academics, culture, environment and history. It is a modern oasis in the desert and truly worthy of Ben Gurion’s vision.