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A Brief History of Ancient Tiberias
Tiberias was founded during the end of the second decade of the first century by Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. After the death of Herod the Great, his kingdom was divided between three of his sons. Herod Antipas, one of the three, became ruler of the Galilee and the Jewish provinces in Trans-Jordan. He established the city of Tiberias, named after the Roman emperor Tiberius, by the shores of the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), in a place where no town had been built beforehand, turned it into his capital, and built a palace within it.

According to Flavius Josephus , the famous Jewish historian, the city was built in a place where there were many tombs. This deterred some of the Jewish population from settling there, because according to Jewish religious law, tombs are impure and a source of impurity (Antiquities 18, 36-38). According to the Jewish tradition, Tiberias was purified and the last of the tombs within it removed by Rabbi Shim'on Bar Yokhai during the second century. This purification may have enabled Tiberias to become the most important center of Jewish learning and leadership in the Land of Israel during the Byzantine and Early Islamic period.

After the Bar Kokhba revolt (131-135 C.E.), the majority of the Jewish population within the Land of Israel, and with it the Jewish leadership, migrated from Judea to the Galilee. Different towns were chosen as the seat of the Jewish leadership (referred to in some Jewish sources as the Sanhedrin, although this term may be anachronistic), the last of which was Tiberias. The "Jerusalem" Talmud was edited in Tiberias around the fourth century C.E.

During the Byzantine period, Tiberias was included within the province Palaestina Secunda, the capital of which was Beit She'an (Scythopolis). After the Muslim conquest of Palestine during the fourth decade of the seventh century, Tiberias was chosen as the capital of Jund al-Urdunn, the province which replaced the former Byzantine province. As a provincial capital, the city prospered during the Early Islamic period, and a large congregational mosque was built within it.

In the year 745 C.E., Tiberias, a city loyal to the Umayyad Caliphs, was attacked by rebelling tribes from the surrounding area. The city was also damaged by the earthquake of 749 C.E. After the Umayyad Caliphate was overthrown by the Abbasids , and the capital moved from Damascus to Bagdad, a substantial portion of the international trade which may have passed through Tiberias and its surroundings was diverted elsewhere. In 877 C.E., Ibn Tulun, the Abbasid governor of Egypt, after having established himself as an unofficially independent ruler, gained control over Palestine and Syria. A revival of international trade and an improvement in security conditions in Palestine followed, causing Tiberias to prosper.

During the Early Islamic period, Tiberias continued to be a center of Jewish scholarship and leadership. Although, following the Muslim conquest of Palestine, Jews were allowed to settle in Jerusalem, and the Yeshiva, the central institute of Jewish religious leadership in the Land of Israel, moved to Jerusalem, many leading Jewish scholars and religious leaders chose to reside in Tiberias. Religious songs (Piutim) were written there, and the system of vocalization of the Hebrew language still used today was devised in the city.

In the year 906 C.E., following a period of decline in Tulunid power, the Qarmatis , a Shi'ite sect, raided Tiberias, and were forced to retreat. Shortly after, the city moved to the direct control of the Abbasid Caliphate. In 935 C.E., for the duration of one year, and then again in 942 C.E., Tiberias was annexed to the territory controlled by Ibn Tughj, founder of the Ikhshidid dynasty, an additional Abbasid governor who became an independent ruler de facto. In the following years, Tiberias was subject to further raids by the Qarmatis. During the eighth decade of the tenth century, a series of battles caused the control of northern Palestine to shift a number of times between the Fatimids, based in Egypt, and different tribes and groups from Syria. In 978 C.E., Tiberias moved to the control of the Fatimids.

The Fatimid period was a period of relative peace and prosperity in Tiberias. In 1033, an earthquake struck Palestine and caused damage in many of the major towns. In 1071, the Seljuks, a Turkish tribe, invaded Syria. This initiated a period of interior turmoil within the Fatimid domain, in which Tiberias was conquered by a Turkoman warlord by the name of Atsiz. After a failed attempt to conquer Egypt, Atsiz fled to Syria, where he was executed by the Seljuks. Following this incident, the inland parts of Palestine, including Tiberias, moved to the control of the Seljuks, while the Fatimids retained control of the coastal cities.

In 1099 C.E., Tiberias surrendered to the Crusader army led by Tancred, who turned it into his capital, and claimed the title "Prince of the Galilee". During the Crusader period, Tiberias was rebuilt as a smaller, fortified town, where the modern city is located today.

Archaeological and Historical Sites in Tiberias and the Immediate Vicinity
The Excavation Site and its Surroundings
Our excavation site is located south of modern Tiberias, in the place where the city center of ancient Tiberias was situated, not far from the shore of the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), and at the foot of Mt. Berenice. As the center of the ancient city, the site and its surroundings boast an array of archaeological finds from almost every period from its foundation during the first century to the Crusader period.

The ancient structures in the site and its vicinity which can be seen today include a large basilical building from the Late Roman and Byzantine period. The archaeologist Yizhar Hirschfeld suggested that this structure may have been the seat of Jewish leadership in Tiberias. In addition, there are remains of a Late Roman – Byzantine bath-house, which remained in use during the Early Islamic period, a wall which was identified as part of the Hadrianaeum, a temple built in honor of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, remains of a Byzantine church, and, of course, the remains of the city's congregational mosque, which is the focus of the current excavations. Additional structures include the city's main street, a street with shops from the Early Islamic period, and evidence of a sugar industry which flourished here during the Crusader period, in the outskirts of the Crusader city.

Berko Park
Immediately south of our excavation site is Berko Park, a combination of an archaeological and recreational park. This park contains within it the southern part of ancient Tiberias. The archaeological remains include the city's southern gate from the Roman period, which continued to be used during the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods. South of the gate isa drainage system channeling the water from the winter floods into the Kinneret, and a bridge which enabled access to the gate.. During the Byzantine period, the gate was connected to a wall encompassing the city and the eastern slopes of Mt. Berenice.

The second monumental structure found within the park is the Roman theater, which is presently being uncovered and restored.

Hammat Tiberias
South of ancient Tiberias is a suburb by the name of Hammat ("Hot Springs" in Hebrew). Due to the hot springs within it, Hammat became a medicinal and recreational center during the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods, and is mentioned in many ancient texts that describe Tiberias and its surroundings.

Within the present-day Hammat Tiberias National Park are some of the remains of the ancient town of Hammat, including a synagogue from the Late Roman–Byzantine period, boasting a spectacular mosaic floor. In addition to the synagogue are the remains of an Ottoman Hammam (bathhouse complex) and the springs themselves. Today, their water is channeled to the modern spa on the other side of the road.

Opening hours and entrance fees to the national park appear in the Nature and Parks Authority website: www.parks.org.il

Mt. Berenice
Mt. Berenice, named after the famous Julia Berenice, sister of king Agrippa II, the last Herodian king, towers above ancient Tiberias. The Byzantine city wall encircles the summit, on which a Byzantine monastery and church were discovered. The summit, boasting a spectacular view of the Galilee, the Kinneret and the Golan Heights, can be accessed by car via a dirt road from modern Tiberias.

The Archaeological Park
A small, open-air archaeological park is situated in the city’s center, on HaBanim St., adjacent to the Leonardo hotels. Within it are the remains of a synagogue dated to the Byzantine period, foundedby a man by the name of Proclos, son of Krispos, as is attested in a Greek inscription embedded in its mosaic floor. In addition to the synagogue, the park includes a Crusader fortification , in which the city’s tourist information center is located, and architectural elements found in archaeological sites within Tiberias.

Ottoman Tiberias
Within the modern city center of Tiberias are many remains from the Ottoman period, including: the city walls, a fortress and a mosque (built by the Bedouin chieftain Daher el-Ummar, governer of the Galilee during the eighteenth century), typical Tiberian-style houses, the Scottish hotel which used to be a hospital, a Franciscan and Greek Orthodox church , a Synagogue which used to be at the heart of the city's Jewish quarter and more.

Tzadikim ("Righteous People's") Tombs
Many important Jewish religious leaders lived in Tiberias. Some of them, and others that did not reside in the city, were traditionally buried there. Among the more famous tombs, which today serve as places of pilgrimage, are the tomb of Rabbi Akiva, the tomb of his wife Rachel, the tomb of Rabbi Meir "Master of the Miracle" and the tomb of the Rambam (Maimonides) .

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