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The Shephelah (Hebrew: הַשְּפֵלָה, "the lowland"; also שְׁפֵלַת יְהוּדָה, Shephelat Yehuda, "Judean lowland") is a designation usually applied to the region in south-central Israel of 10-15 km of low hills between the central Mount Hebron and the coastal plains of Philistia within the area of the Judea, at an altitude of 120-450 metres above sea level. The area is fertile, and a temperate Mediterranean to semi-arid climate prevails there. Shephelah was one of the regions allotted to the biblical Tribe of Judah.It is mentioned by name in Deuteronomy 1:7; Joshua 9:1; 10:40; 11:2, 16; 12:8; 15:33; Judges 1:9; 1 Kings 10:27; Jeremiah 17:26; 32:44; 33:13; Obadiah 1:19; Zechariah 7:7; 1 Chronicles 27:28; 2 Chronicles 1:15; 9:27;26:10; 28:18.
One of the major characteristics of the area are that its hills are formed of marl-covered soft chalk, as opposed to the Judean Hills which are made of hard chalk and dolomite. The valleys and lower areas contain soil with a high sand content, as well as large tracts of fertile areas. Seasonal swamps can develop during the rainy season. The southern part is made up of loess, while north of Ashkelon consists of clay.
Prominent cities developed in the ancient era in each of the Shephelah valleys, which appear several times in the Hebrew Bible. Ajalon, the northernmost valley, was guarded by Gezer. The Valley of Sorek and the Valley of Elah were guarded by Timnah, Beth Shemesh and Azekah, respectively. And to the south, the city of Lachish stood over the Lachish Valley, and later the ancient city of Maresha. These strategic cities were the location of many battles, and were especially active during the Bar Kokhba revolt, when many hollowed out hills were connected to form elaborate bunker systems for the combat with the Romans.
The Shephelah today is a largely rural area with many villages engaging in agriculture. The eastern hills are often calcareous, and occasionally the site of small settlement.
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