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Tiberias Background Information
Named after the Roman Caesar, Tiberius, the city of Tiberias was built by the son of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, who ruled from 4BC to 39AD. In ancient times, the city was considered one of Israel's main holy centers and along with Jerusalem, Safed, and Hebron. Tiberias is situated in the Galilee, where Christianity began and is located along the southwestern shores of the SEa of Galilee.. It was along the shores of the Sea of Galilee that the profound events surrounding the life and times of Jesus unfolded. The area is rich in holy sites both in and around the Tiberias area.
The most significant attractions include the following:
St. Peter's Monastery
Built in the second half of the 19th century over the remains of a Crusader castle, the apse projects like the bow of a ship--a reference to Peter's profession before his call to discipleship.
Built to display finds from excavations and as a base for educational field trips. The finds include a synagogue and mosaic pavements.
El Bahri Sea Mosque & Museum
Near the marina, just off the promenade, is this 19th century place of worship that now houses the Municipal Museum. It is called the sea mosque because it once served Tiberias' Muslim fishermen, and there was a special entrance from the water for worshipers arriving by boat. It is no longer on the water since the lakeshore was changed during construction of the promenade.
El Omri Mosque
In the heart of the city, the Great Mosque was built by the Bedouin Sheikh Daher El Omar in 1743 and is one of the few remaining buildings in the city from that period. It was the town's main focal point and is depicted in many 18th and 19th century prints. It is claimed that the mosque was modeled after the great Aya Sofia mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
Fifty years ago the buildings of Tiberias stood directly on the water's edge and the streets ran parallel to the shore. In 1934, a flood destroyed much of the Old City. Afterwards the shorefront buildings were emptied and the streets rebuilt, running perpendicular to the shoreline to provide drainage and prevent similar disasters. A new promenade was built running along the shore and here you can find many the marina, cruise boats, many restaurants and pubs and magnificent views of the Sea of Galilee.
Hammath-Tiberias National Park
About a mile south of the Tiberias city center is Hammath-Tiberias National Park. The park contains ruins of the Jewish town of Hammath* (or Hammat) that in ancient times was separate from Tiberias. It appears in Joshua 19:35 as one of the fortified cities in the territory allotted to the tribe of Naphtali at the time of the Hebrew conquest. It is located opposite today's Tiberias hot springs famous for their curative powers for 3,000 years. The name Hammath-Tiberias means "Hot Tiberias" and the ruins include several layers of ancient synagogues one above the other, the most impressive being the remains of a 4th century AD synagogue with a stunning mosaic floor featuring a circular area with a personification of the sun god Helios riding his chariot through the heavens, surrounded by the 12 signs of the zodiac. Other parts of the mosaic depict a Torah shrine flanked by Menorahs and various Jewish symbols: a shofar (ram's horn), a lulav (palm branch bound by myrtle and willow) and an etrog (citron). The Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority developed the site, and planted a garden in the surrounding area.
Just outside the city, there are a wealth of other attractions and holy sites which bring millions of tourists, pilgrims and vacationers to the region annually. The major sites in the region with particular importance to Christianity include:
Located approximately 9 kilometers north of Tiberias, Tabgha is the traditional site of the Miracle of the Loaves and fishes, where Jesus fed five thousand with only five loaves and two fishes. The miracle is depicted in a mosaic, now part of the Byzantine Church of the Multiplication. Tabgha is the site of numerous masses and prayer sessions are held at the waterfront altar. Capernaum appears in the biblical record only in the Gospels, and it is mentioned 16 times in connection with Jesus' Galilean ministry. It is not a place where "tradition" says a significant event related to the life of Jesus occurred. It was his adopted home (Mark 2:1) during his three-year ministry. He lived, slept and ate here. Here, too, he called his first disciples, taught in the town's synagogue and performed many miracles.
On the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, about one mile east of the Mount of the Beatitudes and 2-1/2 miles west of the Jordan River inlet, is the site of Capernaum - (Kfar Nachum). Today, Capernaum is a small archaeological site on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, about 10 kilometers north of Tiberias. The town holds significant importance to Christians and was never fortified. Though traces of occupation were discovered dating to the 13th century BC, the history of the town begins in the 2nd century BC. Upon the death of Herod the Great, his kingdom was divided among his three sons, and Capernaum fell to the lot of Herod Antipas.
Capernaum is the site of a magnificent limestone synagogue, St. Peter's house and an archaeological museum entrusted with many excavated treasures from the area. Capernaum was Jesus' adopted home in the Galilee and several of his miracles happened here. Capernaum appears in the biblical record only in the Gospels, and it is mentioned 16 times in connection with Jesus' Galilean ministry. It is not a place where "tradition" says a significant event related to the life of Jesus occurred. It was his adopted home (Mark 2:1) during his three-year ministry. He lived, slept and ate here. Here, too, he called his first disciples, taught in the town's synagogue and performed many miracles.
Two miles north of Tiberias, along the lakeshore, was the city of Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene. In the same manner as Jesus was identified as a Nazarene (from the town of Nazareth), Mary Magdalene came from Magdala. As described in the New Testament, Jesus met Mary and healed her of evil spirits. Although it is barely mentioned in the Bible, Magdala was among the larger of the cities around the Sea of Galilee at the time of Jesus. According to Jewish historian Josephus Flavius it had a population of 40,000 at the time of the first Jewish revolt (66-70 AD). The Talmud uses the longer name Magdal Nunaiya, or "fish tower." In Greek it was call Tarichea, roughly meaning "the place where fish was salted," because the town was a center for processing fish, which was sold in the markets of Jerusalem and exported as far as Rome. Magdala was also renowned as a center for flax weaving and dyeing, and the robes worn by Jesus at the time of his crucifixion are said to have been made there.
From the early days of Christianity many pilgrims came to Magdala to honor Mary Magdalene, and a church was built on the traditional site of her home. It was destroyed in the 7th century AD and rebuilt in the Crusader period, but the site has been in ruins since the 13th century AD. Today, the Magdala townsite is marked by a sign beside the Tiberias-Migdal road. But, early in the Christian era, its exact location was lost. It was known to be just west and south of Capernaum, but parts of the site were submerged in the 1920's when a dam raised the level of the Sea of Galilee. Not until the 1960's did an American underwater archaeological expedition find its ancient harbor. Beginning in 1973, Franciscan monks working farther inland uncovered the remains of a Roman town of the 1st century AD with two main streets running at right angles, houses, a synagogue and a villa with a swimming pool. On the hill just south of the site, along the far side of the modern highway, you can still see stone coffins (sarcophagi) carved out of the rocks in what was the city cemetery. A monastery and a small white-domed shrine beside the road commemorate the meeting of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and a natural spring by the lakeshore is said to be where Jesus quenched his thirst.
Mount of Beatitudes
On a high hill across the road from Tabgha is the place where tradition says Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, which includes the eight "Beatitudes" recorded in Matthew 5:3-11: It is maintained by the Franciscans, the Mount of Beatitudes is home to the Church of the Beatitudes built in 1937 by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi on a hill, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
It is believed Jesus made a third appearance here following his crucifixion and resurrection. In John 21 (1-19), Peter and six other disciples were on the lake fishing all night, but with no luck. Jesus appeared on the lakeshore and told them to cast their nets again. They did, and had trouble hauling in their nets because they were so full of fish. Afterward, as the disciples breakfasted on the miraculous catch, Jesus commanded Peter three times to "Feed my sheep," thus, in the Roman Catholic tradition, establishing the "primacy" of Peter as the first of the Papal line. The floor of the black-basalt church is dominated by a rock called the "Mensa Christi" ("Christ's Table") which tradition says served as a table for the meal.
Kana of Galilee
Located approximately 20 minutes away from Tiberias is the place where Jesus performed the first miracle-changing water into wine at the wedding feast.
The ancient town of Nazareth is in the lower Galilee at about 1250 feet above sea-level. It lies roughly halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea and is approximately 30 minutes west of Tiberias. Nazareth is the largest city in the Galilee and was the childhood home of Jesus. Numerous holy sites are located there including the Basilica of the Annunciation, Joseph's Workshop, the House of Mary & Joseph, Mary's Well, Mount of Precipitation recalling the incident in Luke 4:29, in which the townspeople tried to throw Jesus off a hill for supposed blasphemy, Cave of the Annunciation and the church of St. Josephs, among others.
Approximately 30 minutes from Tiberias, the mountain peak is the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
The ancient city of Beit She'an is located 20 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, and has an enviable location. Situated in the lush area where the Jezreel Valley meets the Jordan Valley, it was built between two streams, Nahal Harod and Nahal Asi. The rich soil and fresh water made the area one of the most fertile in Israel, and a natural choice for early settlement. When Egypt and Assyria fought over Canaan, the land bridge between them, Beit She'an's location, had additional significance. It stood on the strategic highway linking the northern coast of Israel and the Transjordan to the east; crossing it was another trade route running north-south through the Jordan River valley. Beit She'an is a major archaeological site with an immense tel (Tel el-Husn, "fortress mound") rising 160 feet above the Jordan valley and 370 feet below sea level. (A "tel" is an accumulation of layers of rubble spanning thousands of years--the remains of settlements built on the site and destroyed or abandoned over the course of time.) Tel el-Husn contains some twenty layers of settlement dating back over 9000 years!
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