Located on the western shore of the sea of Galilee, this city is one of the Holiest Jewish cities for almost 2000 years.
Tiberias is one of the four Jewish Holy cities, and the capital of the Galilee. It has a long history since it was established in the early Roman period. It was a religious, administrative and culture center of the Jewish nation after the loss of Jerusalem for 500 years until the Persian and Arab conquest. Many of the most important post-bible books (Mishna, Talmud) have been composed in the city which was the home of many Jewish scholars.
This page introduces the city and links to additional web pages that detail the special ancient sites in the area of Tiberias.
The city is located at the west side of the lake of sea of Galilee. The old city is situated on its shore, at -200M (below sea level). The new city, with a population of 40,000, has spread out around the old section – to the sides and to the top of the hills around.
The city was first established on the southern side, and continuously expanded to the north over the 2 Millenniums of its history. Therefore, there are 4 major zones starting from the oldest in the south-
- South: the hot springs of Tiberias, and the old city of Hammat (now in ruins)
- Center: The Roman city (now in ruins), with the Bereniki hill on the west side
- North-Center : the walled Ottoman city, with the new high rising hotels
- North and up the hill – the modern Israeli city.
An aerial photo is shown below, indicating the major points of interest.
- Early history
Tiberias at the biblical times was located first in Tel Rakkath (Raqqat), 2KM north of the Roman Tiberias. Another village was located in Hammat, the hot springs town which today is in the south of the city.
Foundation of the Roman city
Tiberias was founded in 18 AD by Herod Antipas, son of Herod the great and Jewish ruler of the Galilee (4 BC-39 AD). He was appointed by Augustus Caesar as the ruler of Galilee and Peraea, the east bank of Jordan. He made the new city his capital, and named the city after the Roman emperor, Tiberius Caesar (see statue on the right).
Later (54AD), the emperor Claudius added his name to the city – Tiberias Claudiupolis.
Bust of Tiberias Caesar
Herod also minted coins in the city, with its name on it, thus showing its important role. He also used the coins as a means of propaganda, to encourage Jews to settle in the new city, since they refused to settle here (it was found that the city was built over an old cemetery). It took the city more than 110 years to find a religious way to overcome this problem, move the graves out and “Kosher” the city.
The first coin was minted by Herod Antipas at Tiberias in 20/21 AD. The coin, seen here below, shows an upright reed surrounded by Greek letters that read ‘of Herod Tetrarch’. Also it bears a date equivalent to 20/21 AD. It is made of bronze and is only 16 mms in diameter. Presumably the reed on the coin was intended to indicate the location of the city, as reeds grew on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. (Thanks to Peter Lewis for this entry)
Coin of Herod Antipas
During the Jewish revolt against the Romans, Josefus Flavius fortified it. However, when the Romans finally came, the city opened its gates to Vespasian – and was thus spared destruction.
After the revolt, at the end of the 1st century AD, the center of the Jewish population moved to the Galilee. The religious and administrative leadership, the “Sanhendrin“, moved to this city. It was its forth and last Galilee location (after Usha, Shefaram and Beit-Shearim), and marked the rising of the city’s importance in the post temple years.
The city expanded during the good Roman and Byzantine years, and became one of the major cities in the Holy Land.
The Peutinger map (Peutingeriana tabula), based on a 4th century map of Imperial Roman roads, shows the major roads from Tiberias (shown as “Tyberias”):
south-eastern road through the south of Sea of Galilee (“Lac Tyberias”), across the Jordan to Gader (“Gabara”);
- The north road from Tiberias to Banias and the east road through Capernaum to the east are not shown on the map.
David Roberts painted this picture of Tiberias in 1839:
Photos of the Library of Congress
to be continued…
(a) General view of the city
This is a view from the hill above the city. The new city buildings are seen in the foreground, and behind them is the Sea of Galilee. In the background are the Golan heights. Along the shore are the high rising hotels (4 are seen in the right bottom corner), which is where the location of the old city.
Click on the photo to view it in higher resolution…
The photo below shows a view from along the old city walls – towards the west hills above the city. These hills are actually at sea level, while Tiberias is 200M below, due to the great depression of the Jordan river valley.
Note the round hill that towers over the old city: its name is Berniki (see below). This is the Roman Tiberias.
(b) Greek Orthodox Church
At the east side of the old city, on the shores of the sea, is the old Greek orthodox church. It is located at the south-east part of the Ottoman city, which was built to the north of the Roman city.
The walls are from the 18th century AD, during the Ottoman period, built by a Bedouin called Daher El-Omar at 1740 (See also Shefaram which was his first base). This site is also a beach.
Another view of the southern side of the Ottoman wall.
(c) Open Museum
Near the high rising hotels there is an open museum and a tourist center that shows some of the antiquities.
(d) Hotels and Tourism
The new and the old: in the foreground – the Ottoman walls; in the background – one of the high rising hotels. The hotels and tourism are the city’s main income.
Tiberias is located on the shores of the sea of Galilee, where there is a lot of sportive activities. The hot and dry weather, the sweet water, and the calming atmosphere of the lake – makes it a favorite vacation-land.
(e) Driving North:
(f) Roman Tiberias
The hill that towers over the old city is called Berniki, 190M above the old city. The hill is named after the sister of King Agrippa II. As can be seen in the foreground of the photo below, it is in ruins and yet waiting to be excavated. On the top and slopes of this hill King Herod Antipas built his fort, palaces and government buildings. From the hill was the source of the water for the city, which was served by an aqueduct.
photo by Gal Shain
On the south-eastern foothills of Berniki hill, is the location of the southern walls and gate of the Roman and Byzantine city. The 1st century Roman gate complex and a Roman bridge were recently excavated and reconstructed, as part of the new archaeological park.
For more information on the south gate – see its separate web page.
To the north of the south gate are the ruins of the Roman Theater, seen in the photo below. Constructed in the 1st century AD, enlarged in the 2nd century, it had seating capacity of 7,000 people. It is also recently excavated and reconstructed, as part of the new archaeological park.
For more information on the Theater – see its separate web page.
Old Testament References:
(a) Joshua 19:32,33,36
The city preceding Tiberias is Rakkath (Raqqat), which is one of the cities that were within the territory of the tribe of Naphtali. Note that Hammat is the city of the hot springs of Tiberias, which is also listed here.
“The sixth lot came out for the children of Naphtali, even for the children of Naphtali according to their families.
And their border was… “
New Testament References:
There are few references of Tiberias of Jesus visiting or acting in the city , which is initially surprising (the city was the capital of the area). This is due to the fact that there was a small Jewish presence in the city at its beginning.
The city is referred in the context of the “sea of Tiberias”, another name for the sea of Galilee after the city gained it fame and importance.
(a) John 6:1, 23
“After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias…. Howbeit there came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks”.
(b) John 21:1
“After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself”.
(a) Josephus Flavius (Antiquities, Book 18 Chapter 2:3)
Josephus, the commander turned historian, tells about the foundation of the city, and that Jews refused to settle there since it was previously a cemetery.
“And now Herod the tetrarch, who was in great favor with Tiberius, built a city of the same name with him, and called it Tiberias. He built it in the best part of Galilee, at the lake of Gennesareth. There are warm baths at a little distance from it, in a village named Emmaus. Strangers came and inhabited this city; a great number of the inhabitants were Galileans also; and many were necessitated by Herod to come thither out of the country belonging to him, and were by force compelled to be its inhabitants; some of them were persons of condition. He also admitted poor people, such as those that were collected from all parts, to dwell in it. Nay, some of them were not quite free-men, and these he was benefactor to, and made them free in great numbers; but obliged them not to forsake the city, by building them very good houses at his own expenses, and by giving them land also; for he was sensible, that to make this place a habitation was to transgress the Jewish ancient laws, because many sepulchers were to be here taken away, in order to make room for the city Tiberias whereas our laws pronounce that such inhabitants are unclean for seven days”
(b) Josephus Flavius (Wars- Book II, 20, 6)
Josephus fortified Tiberias:
“Josephus … knew the Romans would fall upon Galilee, he built walls in proper places … and Tiberias.”
(c) Josephus Flavius (Wars- Book III, 9, 8)
The citizens opened the gates and the Romans spared the city:
“The next day Vespasian sent Trajan before with some horsemen to the citadel, to make trial of the multitude, whether they were all disposed for peace; and as soon as he knew that the people were of the same mind with the petitioner, he took his army, and went to the city; upon which the citizens opened to him their gates, and met him with acclamations of joy, and called him their savior and benefactor. But as the army was a great while in getting in at the gates, they were so narrow, Vespasian commanded the south wall to be broken down, and so made a broad passage for their entrance. However, he charged them to abstain from rapine and injustice, in order to gratify the king; and on his account spared the rest of the wall, while the king undertook for them that they should continue [faithful to the Romans] for the time to come. And thus did he restore this city to a quiet state, after it had been grievously afflicted by the sedition”.
Etymology (behind the name):
Tiberias – city dedicated to the Emperor Tiberius
Tveria – name of the city in Hebrew (טבריה)
Hammat/Khamat – from the Hebrew root word “Kham” – which means hot, due to the hot springs.
* Tiberias sites in BibleWalks:
* Other internal links:
BibleWalks.com – walk with us through the sites of the Holy Land
This page was last updated on Jan 12, 2016 (Added Robert’s painting)