The ancient city of Maresha is identified with Tell Sandahannah, situated in the Judean Foothills, about 40 km southwest of Jerusalem. During the Hellenistic period Maresha flourished and became an important city.
The archaeological site consists of a Tell – the Upper City (=UC), a Lower City (LC) and a Subterranean City (=SC). A vast necropolis forms a ring surrounding the LC and includes three main cemeteries (Northern, Eastern and South-Western). The exploration of the necropolis started in 1873 and has continued up until the present day.
The cemeteries consist of more than 40 rock-cut burial chambers or hypogea. A typical hypogeum includes an elongated rectangular hall into whose walls loculi (burial niches) featuring typical gabled openings; sometimes additional chambers were cut, forming a burial complex. The loculi were used for primary and secondary burials.
Two of the tombs [nos. 1 (551) and 2 (552)], discovered in 1902, had outstanding wall paintings dating from the 3rd century BCE. The paintings are characterized by a mixture of sepulchral motifs, mostly of Greek or Alexandrian origin. The animal frieze painted in Tomb 1 (551, The “Sidonian Community Tomb”) is a unique document of its kind in the Hellenistic world. Renewed explorations of Tomb 2 (552) exposed a neighboring burial chamber (560) hewn initially in the Hellenistic period and reused in the Roman period.
The Hellenistic period hypogea of Maresha were long-term family sepulchres – cut in the soft chalk for the burial of the city residents along several generations. The tombs served this purpose throughout the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, until the destruction of the city by the Hasmoneans, c. 111 BCE. Some of the tombs, located in the Northern and Eastern necropoleis were reused in the Roman period.
The architectural plans of the hypogea probably reached Maresha from elsewhere in the Hellenistic world. The hypogea resemble the architectural and artistic style of Ptolemaic period’s tombs (mostly from the 3rd century BCE) in the Shatbi necropolis of Alexandria in Egypt.
The epigraphic evidence reflects the multi-ethnic composition of the city, combining Idumaeans, Phoenicians, Greeks, some Egyptians and possibly a few Judeans. These ethnic elements produced the outstanding social and cultural fabric of the city during the Hellenistic period.
The planned lecture will present and discuss the architecture of the rock-cut burial chambers in light of similar hypogea known from the Hellenistic world, the spatial distribution of the tombs, the outstanding wall paintings and their parallels, some objects found in the tombs and some significant inscriptions.

Hypogea 2015

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