Tiberias

View of fortification of Tiberias

View of fortification of Tiberias

Tower of city wall

View of the tower of city wall

Interior of Greek Orthodox Church

Interior of Greek Orthodox Church

Tiberias (Rakkath)

(Joshua 19:35)

City on shore of Lake Kinneret which has played an important role in the history of the area and the Jewish people for over 2,000 years. One of 4 Jewish holy cities (together with Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed).

History: Founded between 17 and 22 CE by Herod Antipas on the ruins of Rakkath, a city in the Naphtali tribal allotment. Named after Roman emperor Tiberius and fortified in anticipation of the Jewish Revolt against Rome, but surrendered without a fight and was therefore spared.

It was an important spiritual center during the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods (Roman and Byzantine Periods). The Sanhedrin moved here from Zippori (Sepphoris) and it was the seat of a major academy of Jewish learning which contributed to the compilation of the Jerusalem Talmud. During this period it expanded southwards until it joined with the adjacent city of Hammath. In mid-4th century it was home to a Samaritan community and in 5th century its population was augmented by a number of Christians. During the Persian invasion (614) the Jews of Tiberias aided the Christian residents in their struggle against Byzantium. In 628 the Byzantines returned, conquered the country and slaughtered Jews, particularly those of Tiberias. Most important Christian center after Jerusalem on the eve of the Arab conquest. Capital of Galilee and important Jewish center after the Arab conquest (636). Between 8th and 11th century it was an Episcopal see for Greeks and Syrian Jacobites. Taken in 1099 by Crusaders and destroyed in 1187. Popular city for Christians during the Crusader Period since Christians believed Jesus lived here.

Tiberias remained desolate until 1560 when Sultan Suleiman I (the Magnificent)  granted Tiberias and its environs to Don Joseph Nasi who rebuilt it and planned it as an independent Jewish city. He was thwarted in his attempt by hostile Arabs and Turks. The Bedouin sheikh, Dahir el Amr, who conquered the Galilee in 1740, rebuilt Tiberias and the city walls and its Jewish community began to grow. In 1777 a group of Hasidic Jews from Europe settled here. It suffered a severe earthquake in 1837 and in 1934 it was struck by a heavy flood. In the War of Independence, Tiberias was the first mixed Jewish-Arab city to establish a Jewish local authority.

Sites of significance: Crusader church, tombs of famous sages, remains of ancient walls and structures. Hot springs famous in ancient times for their therapeutic properties and are still in use today.

Crusader church of St. Peter on Kinneret restored by Franciscans in the 19th and 20th centuries. The apse is shaped like the keel of a boat, perhaps intended to commemorate St. Peter who was a fisherman here when he met Jesus. Tomb of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes is a white-domed building. Every year on the 14th of  Iyar a popular festival is held here.

Tomb of Maimonides (Rambam). Near his tomb (in lower city) are supposed tombs of Rabbi Johanan b. Zakkai, Rabbi Eliezer b. Hyrcanus and other sages. Site of pilgrimages, festivities and a memorial. On a nearby hill slope is the supposed tomb of Rabbi Akiva.

Tel Raqqat is the site of Biblical Rakkath. Shards and other remains indicate occupation from Early Bronze Age until Persian Period and later in Roman, Byzantine and Arab Periods.

Other sites of interest: remains of a tower and the southern city gate, long aqueduct (Berenice’s canal), caves, quarries and other remains from Roman Period; Crusader towers and walls built by Tancred (1100) and repaired in 18th century by Dahir el Amr and later by Ibrahim Pasha. Digs in and around the city have uncovered an ancient cemetery, Roman bath, mosaic floor, remains of 5th century synagogue with central hall and side rooms, sarcophagi, inscriptions, etc.

 

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