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February 23, 2009February 23, 2009  0 comments  Geography

With spring in full bloom in Israel, a leisurely stroll through Tzippori, nicknamed by Josephus as "the ornament of the Galilee" is a must see visit for all travelers this time of year. Located in the heart of the Galilee, Tzippori is situated on a hill in the western part of the region, situated between the Tzippori stream to the south (Nahal Tzippori - also happens to be a wonderful place for a hike) and the Beit Netofa Valley to the north. The site is one of Israel's National Parks and is extremely well maintained. A modern visitor center sits at the entrance of the park and English speaking tour guides who work for the park service are available for hire in advance for approximately $150 for an hour and a half tour.


Tzippori received its name because of its location on the top of a mountain "like a bird" as written in the Talmud. Visiting today, one can view the remains of a magnificent city with streets, buildings, bathhouse, complete with very well preserved mosaic floors as well as an ancient synagague. A large theatre was also uncovered as well as an ancient water reservoir. For over two thousand years, Tzippori has enjoyed a very colorful history.


During the Crusader period, Tzippori was known as La Saphorie, and it also seems to have been populated during both the first and second temple periods. The city rose to prominence during the period of 47BCE, when Herod the Great was the governor of the Galilee. He captured the city from the governor of Syria by force and after Herod's death in 4 BCE, the Jews revolted against the Romans and captured Tzippori only to lose it to the Roman army which successfully countered the rebellion. Later in 66 CE, the revolt against the Jews began and the local population made an agreement with the Romans, successfully portecting their city from being destroyed. Later during the 3rd centurty, the city was very prominent and Rabbi Judah Hanasi moved to the city bringing with him the highest institution of Jewish law, known as the Sanhedrin. It was in Tzippori that Hanasi began working on the Mishnah.


A church was built in Tzippori during the Byzantine period and the Christian community grew, though the Jewish population remained a majority. The Arab period that followed the decline of the Byzantine period brought with it an Arab population which remained through 1948, when the local cvillage, known as Saffuriyyeh, that had been established in the 18th century, The current Moshav Tzippori was established just after the War of Independence, adjacent to the village of Saffuriyyeh.

March 11, 2009March 11, 2009  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology

An ancient Byzantine era church was discovered recently in the Jerusalem Hills at a construction site in Nes Harim, according to Ha'aretz Newspaper. Local residents unearthed the site which previously had been covered by pine trees and terraces.

The Israel Antiquities Authority exposed the excavated church, which  is paved with mosaics and decorated with an ancient inscription written in ancient Greek.
Dr. Leah Di Signi, a leading expert ifn ancient inscriptions at the  the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,  deciphered the inscription: "O Lord God of Saint Theodorus, protect Antonius and Theodosia the illustres [a title used to distinguish high nobility in the Byzantine period] - Theophylactus and John the priest [or priests]. [Remember o Lord] Mary and John who have offe[red - ] in the 6th indiction. Lord, have pity of Stephen."

As first reported in Ha'aretz,  the first excavation in the site in November 2008 revealed the church's narthex - the broad entrance at the front of the church's nave. A carpet of polychrome mosaics  adorned with geometric patterns of intertwined rhomboids separated by flower bud motifs was inside. Much of the mosaic was defaced and destroyed by vandalism.

The same excavation also revealed a complex wine press that was partly exposed consisting of at least two upper treading floors and and arched cells, likely designed to assist in the fermentation process.

According to archaeologist Daniel Ein Mor, "We know of other Byzantine churches and sites that are believed to be Byzantine monasteries, which are located in the surrounding region. The excavation at Nes Harim supplements our knowledge about the nature of the Christian-Byzantine settlement in the rural areas between the main cities in this part of the country during the Byzantine period, among them Bet Guvrin, Emmaus and Jerusalem."

May 2, 2012May 2, 2012  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology

Renovations in Israel are ever far from simple. No one figured that the Beersheva bus station redevelopment would uncover an ancient Byzantine city buried deep below.

Two well-preserved churches, a Roman camp and several other structures were exposed in the recent excavations and what was most surprising was that no signs of destruction were discovered. Rather, it seems that the ancient residents of the town appeared to have left on their own.

The city is extremely well preserved, and archaeologists attribute this to the fact that the area was abandoned in the seventh century. The site will be preserved by a conservation crew  after the public has an opportunity to view the site. The site will later be recovered adn protected while the artifacts will be put on display at the new bus station.

The redevelopment of the city's old bus station mandated that an archeological dig be performed in order to see what lay under the facility, passengers had an opportunity to see the uncovered remains with their own eyes. Just a foot or two below the surface archaeologicsts found remains of a bustling Byzantine city of Beersheba, thought to be home to several thousand people as well as a popular stopping place for Negev travelers.

Like today, Beersheva's Old City bus station was the city center of life for the ancient civilization residing there 1,500 years ago.

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post:

"For Byzantine Beersheba, this was it," says Dr. Daniel Varga, excavation director for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who conducted the dig. "This was the heart of the Byzantine city, right here. Two Byzantine churches were built within a radius of 300 meters from here, and right over there was the Roman military camp."

To read more about the Beersheva dig: read here.


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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.


January 22, 2014January 22, 2014  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology

A 1,500 year old major church with a magnificent mosaic and five inscriptions were uncovered during Israel Antiquities Authority salvage excavations. The excavations were directed by archaeologists Dr. Daniel Varga and Dr. Davida Dagan, and funded by the Israel Land Authority.

According to archaeologist Dr. Daniel Varga, directing the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "An impressive basilica building was discovered at the site, 22 meters long and 12 meters wide. The building consists of a central hall with two side aisles divided by marble pillars. At the front of the building is a wide open courtyard (atrium) paved with a white mosaic floor, and with a cistern. Leading off the courtyard is a rectangular transverse hall (narthex) with a fine mosaic floor decorated with colored geometric designs; at its center, opposite the entrance to the main hall, is a twelve-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names Mary and Jesus, and the name of the person who funded the mosaic's construction."

The main hall (the nave) has a colored mosaic floor adorned with vine tendrils to form forty medallions. The medallions contain depictions of different animals, including: zebra, leopard, turtle, wild boar, various winged birds and botanical and geometric designs. Three medallions contain dedicatory inscriptions in Greek commemorating senior church dignitaries: Demetrios and Herakles. The two were heads of the local regional church. On both sides of the central nave are two narrow halls (side aisles), which also have colored mosaic floors depicting botanical and geometric designs, as well as Christian symbols.

A pottery workshop, mainly for the production of jars, was also uncovered during the excavations and yielded numerous finds, including: amphorae, cooking pots, kraters, bowls and different kinds of oil lamps. Glass vessels typical of the Byzantine period were also discovered at the site. The finds indicate a rich and flourishing local culture.

This church is part of a large and important Byzantine settlement that existed in the region. The settlement was located next to the main road running between Ashkelon on the sea coast to the west, and Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem to the east.

A number of other communities from the same period were uncovered in the past and there is some thought that the recently uncovered church may have been a center of worship for residents in the area. Given the many wine presses and pottery workshops discovered in the region, it is clear that the local economy made their living from the production and exportation of wine via the coast to the entire Mediterranean region.

As for the future of the site, it has been decided to cover it over and preserve it for future generations. The magnificent mosaic that has come to light will be conserved, removed from the site and displayed to the public at a regional museum or visitors' center.

The site will be open to the public for two days, Thursday and Friday January 23 and 24, 2014.


Government Press Office

September 18, 2014September 18, 2014  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology

The Israel Antiquities Authority a Byzantine era compound in Ramat Bet Shemesh containing an oil press, wine press and mosaics.


Beit Shemesh dig site

Griffin Aerial Photography Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Irina Zilberbod, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, "This was very likely a monastery".

Remarkable finds, including blocked cisterns, a cave opening and the tops of several walls were visible on the surface during an archaeological survey conducted on foot along the hills south of Bet Shemesh. The archaeological dig that ensued underground exposed numerous articacts indicating a prosperous lifestyle dating to the Byzantine period which was previously unknown.

The Israel Antiquities Authority press release described the findings as a compound continaining two regions - an industrial area and an activity and residential area. Within the industrial area a large and impressive olive press was exposed and a large winepress was revealed outside the compount containing two treading floors where the grape juices likely flowed to a collecting vat. The findings indicate that wine and oil production were important industries for the communities living in this area.

The impressive construction which includes magnificent mosaic floors, window and roof tile artifacts are similar to those found in contemporary monasteries indicating that it was a likely home for monastic life.


Surrounding Ella valley area
Photographic credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Photograph of the mosaic. Photographic credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority


The Israel Antiquities Authority has undertaken measures to preserve and develop the site as a landmark.

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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah-Holy Land tours, the largest Christian travel network focused on Holy Land tours. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.


February 16, 2011February 16, 2011  0 comments  Historical Sites

A small Byzantine basilica that was in use between the 5th and 7th centuries c.e. was discovered southwest of Jerusalem last week. A beautifully preserved mosaic floor was uncovered at the site. According to the site leader the mosaic is very well preserved and is of a very high crafsmanship and depicts peacocks, lions, foxes, and fish.


Several months ago the IAA discovered that antiquity thieves were stealing from the ruins, known as Horbat Madras,  and in December the excavation began.  


Initially it was believed that the structure was  a synagogue but further excavation revealed stones carved with crosses. The church was constructed on top of another structure, some 500 years older. This structure is thought to be Jewish.


According to the Israel Antiquities Authorites press release "Hirbet Madras is known as the site of a large, important Jewish community from the Second Temple period until its destruction during the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 CE.
Among the remains at the site are buildings, caves, agricultural instillations and extensive underground hiding tunnels. The site was identified by a number of scholars as the location of a major community."


Funding for the site is being sought so that the church can be opened to the public.


For more information visit: Israel Antiquities Authority

January 11, 2012January 11, 2012  0 comments  Historical Sites

A small ceramic stamp used to mark bakery produce may not seem like a significant archeological find, but Israeli archeologists are rather excited by such a discovery made near the northern coastal town of Akko.


In previous eras, Akko was known as Acre, and was a major Christian stronghold in the Holy Land. That is why interest has been piqued by the small ceramic stamp bearing an image of the seven-branched Temple Menorah, which was found in a controlled archeological dig at Horbat Uza just outside Akko. The stamp dates back to the 6th century AD, a time when Akko was a Christian-dominated city under the Byzantine Empire. Gilad Jaffe and Dr. Danny Syon, who are directing the dig on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, were pleased to be able to do definitely date the artifact:


Excavation site near Acre

Excavation site near Acre; courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority


"This is the first time such a stamp is discovered in a controlled archaeological excavation, thus making it possible to determine its provenance and date of manufacture."


The existence of the stamp is evidence that despite Christian control of that part of the Holy Land at that time, a Jewish presence remained. And, that presence must have been somewhat significant if it required its own dedicated bakeries to produce certified kosher goods.


Bread stamp

Anient bread stamp with menorah caving Courtesy: Israel Antiquities Authority


"The stamp is important because it proves that a Jewish community existed in the settlement of Uza in the Christian-Byzantine period. The presence of a Jewish settlement so close to Akko - a region that was definitely Christian at this time - constitutes an innovation in archaeological research," stated Jaffe and Syon in an official press release. "Due to the geographical proximity of Horbat Uza to Akko, we can speculate that the settlement supplied kosher baked goods to the Jews of Akko in the Byzantine period."

The stamp itself is of similar design to other Jewish bread stamps found around the region, though which have not been as definitely dated as the Horbat Uza stamp. It is engraved on the flat end with a seven-branched menorah, "a Jewish symbol par excellence," noted Jaffe and Syon, which identified anything marked with the stamp as being undeniably of Jewish manufacture. Along the neck of the stamp's handle are carved Greek letters that experts believe spell out the name Launtius, a common Jewish name in Byzantine times.

This important discovery was only made because of plans to build a new railroad connecting Akko to the central Galilee town of Karmiel. So inundated is the Holy Land with historical remains that any simple construction project must be preceded by a painstaking archeological review and even a comprehensive dig to ensure that the past is not lost in making way for the future.


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Ryan Jones writes for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours, the leading Chrsitian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.


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