Be'er Sheva (also spelled Beersheba, Hebrew באר שבע) is a desert city of approximately 200,000 inhabitants in southern Israel. It is the sixth largest city in the country and is very much the gateway to the Negev region of Israel. The city is spread out by Israeli standards, as there is no shortage of land in the desert, and there isn't much of a downtown, except for a few streets in the old Turkish quarter. While Beer Sheva is mostly middle class, it does have three wealthy satellite suburbs with manicured landscapes, private villas and a Palm Springs feel to them: Omer, Metar and Lehavim. A few Bedouin villages surround the city as well. Some feature tribal attractions which are worth a visit, including Rahat, Tel Sheva, Hura and Laqiya. In Beer Sheva itself, some modern/experimental architecture was built in the 1960s. Today, this is found mostly in government and public buildings, including the Ben Gurion University and Soroka Hospital buildings.
Beer Sheva is at first sight highly disappointing for any visitor. As one enters the city, the oversized avenues and partially run down residential building blocks from the fifties and sixties make for an unwelcoming first impression. However, Beer Sheva can be of interest for any traveller who wishes to experience Israel off-the-beaten-track and there might be no better place to do this, since not even most Israelis are aware that Beer Sheva can be much more than only a stopover on the way to Eilat. The old Turkish town, as run down as it might be, has a very distinct feel and a is hugely underrated: it is the only planned Ottoman city in the entire region, erected in 1900 for strategic reasons in order to secure the Negev region and to control the restive Bedouin population. Today, the architectural and historical jewels, culinary highlights, highly welcoming people and the provincial atmosphere of Beer Sheva allow for the visitor to explore the "normal" and "unpretentious" Israel beyond Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. In addition to that, Beer Sheva offers a vibrant student community - based around the University - which has developed a great nightlife one would never expect at first sight.
Beer Sheva and its surroundings give a feel of Israel's strength. On the way down from the North, endless fields with agriculture have replaced desolate dessert; as Isaiah prophesied: "Thirsty deserts will be glad; barren lands will celebrate and blossom with flowers". Also, like Tel-Aviv, a modern skyskraper city has been created out of virtually nothing. Yet, an exciting feel of desert has remained, as Beer Sheva looks with one side right into the Negev desert.
Beer Sheva's importance is its function as a central place for the entire Negev. Historically it developed because of the many wells, the most famous of it being "Abraham's Well".
Biblically, the site of Beersheba is where Abraham and his son Isaac made oaths of non-aggression with the Philistines, represented by a king named Abimelech. Abraham lived in the city for 26 years and his son Isaac lived there for many years as well. It is from there that Jacob set out on his journey to "Haran" the birthplace of his mother, to flee from his brother Esau.
Beersheba is also mentioned in Joshua 19:2. It was the southernmost city of Israel in Biblical times - hence the expression "from Dan to Beersheba" was sometimes used to describe the whole kingdom.
Between the two Abimelech stories in Genesis, there are several different possible etymologies for Beersheba's name:
in memory of the oath of Abraham and Abimelech (well of the oath)
in memory of seven wells dug by Isaac (seven wells), though only three or four are identified
in memory of the oath of Isaac and Abimelech (well of the oath)
in memory of the seven ewes which stood witness to Abraham and Abimelech's oath (well of the seven).
In Hebrew, the word for oath, "shava" and seven, "sheva" are essentially the same, hence some scholars think that the name Be'er Sheva always referred to the original oath between Abraham and Abimelech and the seven ewes were simply a sign of peace as was customary in those times.
A very comfortable train ride links the city to Tel Aviv, Haifa, Netanya and Naharia with hourly departures. There are two train stations servicing the city: Beer Sheva North (tzafon) - right across from the university, and Beer Sheva Center (Merkaz) - at the main bus hub.
From Tel Aviv: Use Highway 20 (Ayalon) to connect to Highway 4 towards Ashdod, then turn to Highway 41 in order to connect to Highway 40 south. Straight to Be'er Sheva approximately 1 1/2 hrs.
From Jerusalem: Highway 1 towards Tel Aviv, Pick up route 3 at Latrun interchange, follow for 20 minutes to Route 40 at Re'em Junction. Straight ahead to Be'er Sheva. Total about 1:40.
The closest airport is Ben Gurion, located outside Tel Aviv.
From Tel Aviv: Take line 380 from Arlozorov Terminal, or line 370 from Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. The trip costs only 16.5 NIS. Both take about 1.5 hours.
From Jerusalem: From central bus station - line 470, 30 NIS, one and a half hours; line 446, 30 NIS, 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Beersheva is served by buses (NIS4.2). Most of these depart from behind the central bus station (on your right when getting off from an inter-city bus). If coming in by train, these will be on your left when coming out of the train station. Most taxi cabs in the city will take you anywhere else in the city for around 20 shekels.
Abraham's Well. Located at the edge of the Old Town and on the Wadi Beer Sheva, this small site contains the well where according to tradition Abraham made the oath with Abimeleh.
Israel Air Force Museum, ☎ +972-8-9906853 (fax: +972-8-9906314). Open every day except Saturday, 8.00 am to 5.00 pm (Fridays until 1.00 pm). Located next to Kibbutz Hatserim 5 km to the West of Beer Sheva. The museum displays historical airplanes of the Israeli Air Force.
Negev Brigade Memorial. Located on a hill to the west of the city, this large monument made out of concrete, commemorates symbolically the different aspects of the Negev Brigade which conquered the Negev region in Israel's War of Independence. There is a superb view on the city and its surroundings from this site.
Negev Museum. Located in the residence of the Turkish governor in the Old Town, this small museum contains an art collection and has changing exhibits.
Municipal Zoological Garden. Located at the North-Western entrance to the city, this Zoo displays many indigenous animals.
Old Turkish Town (Old City). The Old Town was planned by Turkish and German engineers at the end of the 19th century. Its streets form a grid (very uncommon in the region). Many buildings date from Turkish times and have secret gardens behind high walls. Rehabilitated Smilansky Street has the best preserved buildings. Additionally there is a wide array of cheap stores and excellent ethnic restaurants and bars.
British WWI Military Cemetery. Located just next the the Old Town, this cemetery is the resting place of British, Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) soldiers who fought against the Turks in the First World War.
Bedouin Market. Located just outside of the city on the Road to Eilat, this market takes place every Thursday morning. Bedouin merchandise can be found next to a wide array of other products.
Municipal Market. Located between the Old Town and the central bus station is a vibrant market for any kind of merchandize.
Tel Beer Sheva Archeological Park. Located outside the city to its east (next to Omer), this archeological park is a World Heritage Site and one of the top sites to explore how people have lived in Biblical times.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Located in the northern part of town on the road to Tel Aviv, this renowned university has a vibrant campus with many buildings designed by famous architects. There are two art galleries located in the Senate Building and in the Library, a small museum of medical history in the building of the Medical Faculty and many small exhibits in the buildings of the different faculties.
A few miles south is a modern desert spa facility, an oasis with natural hot mineral water springs "Neve Midbar". Hanging water pipes dump hot spring water on your back with such intensity, it's like shiatsu without the masseuse! Opens till late. 45 Shekels entrance .
Go clubbing at the Forum Club, Baraka Club or the גרDraft Dance Bar.
Play billiards at Interpol or go bowling next door to it.
drive road 40 to Eilat for about half an hour; turn left for lake Yeroham, a natural oasis. Very shallow water, but if you stay horizontal you may swim/wade around; water smelled OK. No entrance fee. From there drive through Yeroham to the 'large crater' and mount Arnon; it's just a few miles ahead, and has magnificent views.
Go back to road 40, drive a few minutes further south, and swim in deeper water in Golda Meir park, near Revivim. Also, no entrance fee and good-smelling water.
Visit the toilets at Be'er Sheva busterminals. Many armyboys need some servicing after the exercises in the desert.
The MAPMES (Master of Arts Program in Middle Eastern Studies) offers an English-language M.A. program to international students.
24 hour dining at Nafis located at the BIG mega shopping compound.
There are also Chinese, Italian, French, Ethiopian, Argentinean, Brazilian, Indian, Bulgarian, Moroccan, Yemenite, Russian, Japanese, Spanish and many Middle Eastern restaurants in town which are moderately pricy. Beer Sheva's culinary offer is spectacular and reflects the cultural backgrounds of the inhabitants of this multi-ethnic city. Locations do change frequently and the restaurants are sometimes located in residential neighborhoods, so advice from locals (and especially students) can be essential.
The major concentrations of restaurants are:
- in the Old Town either on the pedestrianized Keren-Kayemet Street (Bulgarian Restaurant) or Smilansky Street (Shabazi, Ahuzat Halperin, Bilbao, Beit haFul, Arabica, Mate Midbar)
- in the Civic Center (new city centre) close to the central train and bus stations (Arigato, Kapulski, Mor Noodle Bar, Saba Jebetto)
- at the BIG shopping compound (Nafis, Spagettim, Rigoletto, Shipudei haAvaz, and the highly recommended Pitput)
- around the main campus of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (mainly Dalet neighborhood) (Gatro, Small India, Ringelblum, Hummus Hamsa, and the highly recommended SUSHI Ishimoto at Derech Metsada street , and a Mehadrin Kosher shwarma place Falafel Liberty at 50 Merkaz Oren with very generous servings...)
Israeli fast food (falafel, shawarma, hummus) is readily available almost everywhere across town. Some places have gained fame for their quality (Hummus Hamsa, Universitat haShawarma, Falafel haKerem, Beit haFul).
K = Kosher
SD = Student Discount with ID
D = Delivery
S = Open on Shabbat
V = Vegetarian Options
Arabica - 12 Herzel St (08-627-7802)
Saba Gepetto - 109 Rager (08-627-2829)
Kifris - 1 Herzel St, old city
Matte Midbar - 22 Histadrut St, old city (08-623-3370)
Ta'amin - 101 Rasco Ct (08-627-0392)
China Town - Kenyon HaNegev (08-627-5489)
Jade Palace - Beer Sheva Theater (08-627-5375)
MOR Noodles Bar - 115 Rasco (077 766 5005)
Ahuzat Halperin - 23 Smilansky St, Old City (08-665-4854)
Hodu Ha-Ktana: Ringelblum St (08-648-9801) K,V,D
Balcona - 18 Herzel, Old City
Gatro - Sports Center, Ben Gurion Blvd
La Piazza - Kiriat HaMemshala
Spagettim - BIG Shopping Center (08-665-5122) SD,D,S
Pizza Hut - Kenyon HaNegev (1700 50 6070) K,D
Dominos - (1700 70 7070) D
Pizza Guta - D
Ishimoto - Derekh Metsada, (077 7551100) S,D,V
Street Food - Tiv Tam, BIG Shopping Centre (08-625-2000) SD
Amuna - 58 Keren Ka'emet St, Old City (08-627-8865)
Shipuday Sof HaDerekh - 111 HaPalmach St, Old City (08-628-9155)
Shipuday HaTikva - Kenyon Kiriat HaMemshelah, near Rasco City (08-665-5722)
Mifgash Shaul - BIG Shopping Center (08-623-0161)
Schnitzel and Grill - 8 Henrietta Szold, Rasco City (08-628-6619)
Chompy - 8 Henrietta Szold, Rasco City (08-645-0130)
Nafis - BIG Shopping Center (08-628-2855) S
Avazi - BIG Shopping Center (08-665-5274)
Meat me at Shiri - 5 Pinchas HaChotziv (08-623-4935)
Hmamsky's - Yosef ben Matiyahu (University Gate 90)
Yakuta - 18 Moredai Ha Geta'ot St, Old City (08-623-2689)
And then, go into the student pubs around the university during the semester in order to sense the country-wide famous student life of the city. The pubs around the university are: Publo, Rosa, Manga, Munchilla, Coca, Black & White and Einstein.
Irish pub Belfast'.
Leonardo Hotel, 4 Hennrieta st
Hotel Eshel, 56 Histadrut st double room may 2013 250 NIS quite a decent deal.
Hotel Hanegev, 26 Independence st
Beit Yatsiv Youth Hostel
The Desert Inn
Mashabim Holiday Village (Mashabim Holiday Village), D.N. Halutza 85510 on Route 40 (Beer Sheva-Mitzpe Ramon-Eilat), ☎ 972-8-6565134/6, . Mashabim is an excellent point of exit to a wide range of challenging, desert field trips.
Beer Sheva is a convenient departure point for excursions to Arad and elsewhere in the Negev.
Two good rental car agencies across from the train station (daily rate for automatic 200 Shekels - $45 on a walk in basis), but be careful: police inspectors are on the lookout for traffic and parking violations
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