One of the four original holy cities of Judaism, Tiberias is renowned for its archaeological sites, hot springs, burial sites, and some of the best meat skewers in the Galilee. The city and its history reflect the different periods of habitation within the region and is tied to several prominent figures in Jewish history. Pilgrims from across the world belonging to all three Abrahamic religions journey to Tiberias to get closer to the physical representations of their faith and the respective histories. Expect your trip to this ancient city to be filled with surprises beyond your wildest imagination.
The History of Tiberias
Tiberias’ story begins in 18 AD with the Roman vassal and Tetrarch Herod Antipas, who constructed the city in honor of Emperor Tiberius. Throughout its illustrious and somewhat tumultuous history Tiberias has always hosted a Jewish population. In the days of Herod Antipas, Jews were in the majority with the community growing in numbers after the destruction of the Temple. Jews that remained in Judea fled from Jerusalem to the northern Galilee, making Tiberias the new Jerusalem. Throughout several millennia of conquests the city retained its Jewish community and even managed to turn out some of the most influential texts in Jewish liturgy. These include the editing of the Gemara and the compilation of the Mishnah in 200 AD. The city was overtaken in the Islamic conquest of 636 and since then has hosted a substantial Arab population.
Next came the Crusader period which was in turn ended by the Ottoman conquest of the city in 1187 with the Battle of Hattin. Remnants of all these historic periods can be seen within archaeological sites that even managed to survive a substantial earthquake in 1837. Even with the establishment of British Mandate Palestine in 1922 the city still had a strong Jewish population. When the State of Israel reached independence in 1948, Tiberias was once again a Jewish majority. Today, the city is remarkably similar to various renditions of its past, with archaeological remains scattered throughout the modern architecture. Tiberias is a testament to the art of memory and cultural preservation that has been perfected in Israel – the old married to the new.
Archeological Sites in Tiberias
There are several archaeology sites that you can visit and tour located near the city of Tiberias. Just a short twenty-minute drive around the Kinneret is the biblical village of Capernaum. Established in the Hellenistic period of Judean history in the 2nd century, it was the location for several of Jesus’ miracles in the New Testament including the synagogue he was rumored to attend. Today the synagogue is one of the more prominent sites to visit featuring a whole complex including a courtyard and adorned with Judean iconography. Bet Yerah about ten kilometers south of Tiberias is home to remains from a jumble of historic eras.
The most recognizable of which are a series of mosaic floors and a Roman fort dating to the 4th and 5th century. Bet Yerah also receives an anonymous mention in the Talmud as one of two cities in the Golan surrounded by high walls. The final archaeological site is Berko National Park. This park contains remains from the ancient site of Tiberias itself, a jewel and prime example of Herod Antipas affinity for opulent architecture. The city even includes an amphitheater which in its heyday could seat a crowd of 7000. Even in the modern era of Tiberias, there is a touch of the archaic.
The Tiberias hot springs, also known as the Hamat Tiberias National Park, are a series of hot springs all fed through channels that run underneath the city. The hot springs also encompass the remnants of an 18th century Turkish Hamam spa. One of the most breathtaking 3rd century mosaics which belonged to the local synagogue is preserved in the hot springs. The entire area is one deep dive in the relaxation practices of the ancient world. Tiberias is one of the main touchstones of Jewish cultural and religious innovation. It’s no wonder that some of Judaims’ most revered sages either lived or were buried in Tiberias. This includes the tomb of Rabbi Akiva of the 1st century Tannaim who was one of the original redactors of the Mishnah. Also the tomb of Rebbe Meir, another first century Tannaim, and even the tomb of the revered author of the Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides. Maimonides spent most of his time working and living in Alexandria and Fustat. However, legend holds that he was later reinterred in Tiberias.
Tiberias is one of the most well-preserved cities in Israel that captures the deep and distinct beauty of the region. It is a pilgrimage site for Jews the world over and carries with it the grandeur of some of the richest periods of Jewish and Christian history. From the gorgeous landscapes to the distinguished archaeology and everything in between Tiberias is a destination that will capture your awe and attention.