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Tiberias (pronounced /taɪˈbɪəri.əs/; Hebrew: טְבֶרְיָה‎, Tverya About this sound (audio) ; Arabic: طبرية‎, Ṭabariyyah) is a city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, Lower Galilee, Israel. Established in 20 CE, it was named in honour of the emperor Tiberius.[1] Since the sixteenth century, Tiberias has been considered one of Judaism's Four Holy Cities, along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed.[2] In the 2nd-10th centuries, Tiberias was the largest Jewish city in the Galilee, and the political and religious hub of the Jews of Palestine. According to Christian tradition, Jesus performed several miracles in the Tiberias district, making it an important pilgrimage site for devout Christians.[3] Tiberias has historically been known for its hot springs, believed to cure skin and other ailments, for thousands of years (This southern part of today's Tiberias was probably the site of the Bilbical village of Chammath (Joshua 19:35)).[3]



Tiberias was founded as a Jewish city sometime around 20 CE by Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, who made it the capital of his realm in Galilee. It was named in honor of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. There is a legend that Tiberias was built on the site of the biblical village of Rakkat, mentioned in the Book of Joshua (Joshua 19:35).[4] A discussion of Tiberias as Rakkat appears in the Talmud.[5] In The Antiquities of the Jews, the Roman Jewish historian Josephus states that Tiberias was near Emmaus.[1] This location is repeated in The Wars of the Jews.[6]

Under the Roman Empire, the city was known by its Greek name Τιβεριάς (Tiberiás, Modern Greek Τιβεριάδα Tiveriáda), an adaptation of the taw-suffixed Semitic form that preserved its feminine grammatical gender.

In the days of Antipas, the Jews refused to settle there; the presence of a cemetery rendered the site ritually unclean. Antipas settled predominantly non-Jews there from rural Galilee and other parts of his domains in order to populate his new capital, and Antipas furthermore built a palace on the acropolis.[7] The prestige of Tiberias was so great that the sea of Galilee soon came to be called the sea of Tiberias.[7] The city was governed by a city council of 600 with a committee of 10 until 44 CE when a Roman Procurator was set over the city after the death of Agrippa I.[7] In 61 CE Agrippa II annexed the city to his kingdom whose capital was Caesarea Phillippi.[8] During the First Jewish–Roman War Josephus Flavius took control of the city and destroyed Herod's palace but was able to stop the city being pillaged by his Jewish army.[7][9] Where most other cities in Palestine were razed, Tiberias was spared because its inhabitants remained loyal to Rome after Josephus Flavius had surrendered the city to the Roman emperor Vespasian.[7][10] It became a mixed city after the fall of Jerusalem; with Judea subdued, the southern Jewish population migrated to Galilee.[11][12]

In 145 CE, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai "cleansed the city of ritual impurity allowing Jews to settle in the city in numbers."[8] The Sanhedrin, the Jewish court, also fled from Jerusalem during the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire, and after several moves eventually settled in Tiberias in about 150 CE.[7][12] It was to be its final meeting place before disbanding in the early Byzantine period. Following the expulsion of all Jews from Jerusalem after 135, Tiberias and its neighbor Sepphoris became the major Jewish centres. From the time when Yochanan bar Nafcha (d. 279) settled in Tiberias, the city became the focus of Jewish religious scholarship in the land. The Mishnah along with the Jerusalem Talmud, (the written discussions of generations of rabbis in the Land of Israel – primarily in the academies of Tiberias and Caesarea), was probably compiled in Tiberias by Rabbi Judah haNasi in around 200 CE.[12] The 13 synagogues served the spiritual needs of a growing Jewish population.[7]

In the sixth century Tiberias was still the seat of Jewish religious learning. In light of this, Bishop Simeon of Beth Arsham urged the Christians of Palestine to seize the leaders of Judaism in Tiberias, to put them to the rack, and to compel them to command the Jewish king, Dhu Nuwas, to desist from persecuting the Christians in Najran.[13]

In 614, Tiberias was the site where during the final Jewish revolt against the Byzantine Empire, the Jewish population supported the Persian invaders; the Christians were massacred and the churches destroyed. In 628 the Byzantium army retook Tiberias and the slaughter of the Christians was reciprocated with a slaughter of the Jews.

Middle Ages

In 636 CE Tiberias was the regional capital until Bet Shean took its place following the Rashidun conquest. The Caliphate allowed 70 Jewish families from Tiberias to form the core of a renewed Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the importance of Tiberias to Jewish life declined.[8] The caliphs of the Umayyad Dynasty built one of its square-plan palaces on the waterfront to the north of Tiberias, at Khirbet al-Minya. Tiberias was revitalised in 749 after Bet Shean was destroyed in an earthquake.[8] Jewish scholarship flourished from the beginning of the 8th century to the end of the 10th., when the oral traditions of ancient Hebrew, still in use today, were codified. One of the leading members of the Tiberian masoretic community was Aaron ben Moses ben Asher, who refined the oral tradition now known as Tiberian Hebrew. Ben Asher is also credited with putting the finishing touches on the Aleppo Codex, the oldest existing manuscript of the Hebrew scriptures.

The Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi writing in 985, describes Tiberias as "the capital of Jordan Province, and a city in the Valley of Canaan...The town is narrow, hot in summer and unhealthy...There are here eight natural hot baths, where no fuel need be used, and numberless basins besides of boiling water. The mosque is large and fine, and stands in the market-place. Its floor is laid in pebbles, set on stone drums, placed close one to another." According to Muqaddesi those who suffered from scab, or ulcers, and other such diseases came to Tiberias to bath in the hot springs for three days. "Afterwards they dip in another spring which is cold, whereupon...they become cured."[14]

In 1033 Tiberias was again destroyed by an earthquake.[8]

Nasir-i Khusrou visited in 1047, and describes a city with a "strong wall" which begin at the border of the lake and goes all around the town except on the water-side. Furthermore, he describes

"numberless buildings erected in the very water, for the bed of the lake in this part is rock; and they have built pleasure houses that are supported on columns of marble, rising up out of the water. The lake is very full of fish. [] The Friday Mosque is in the midst of the town. At the gate of the mosque is a spring, over which they have built a hot bath. [] On the western side of the town is a mosque known as the Jasmine Mosque (Masjid-i-Yasmin). It is a fine building and in the middle part rises a great platform (dukkan), where they have their Mihrabs (or prayer-niches). All round those they have set jasmine-shrubs, from which the mosque derives its name."[15]

During the First Crusade it was occupied by the Franks, soon after the capture of Jerusalem and it was given in fief to Tancred, who made it his capital of the Principality of Galilee in the Kingdom of Jerusalem; the region was sometimes called the Principality of Tiberias, or the Tiberiad.[16] In 1099 the original site of the city was abandoned, and settlement shifted north to the present location.[8] St. Peter's Church, originally built by the Crusaders, is still standing today, although the building has been altered and reconstructed over the years.

In 1187 Saladin ordered his son al-Afdal to send an envoy to Count Raymond of Tripoli requesting safe passage through his fiefdom of Galilee and Tiberias. Raymond was obliged to grant the request under the terms of his treaty with Saladin. Saladin's force left Caesarea Philippi to engage the fighting force of the Knights Templar. The Templar force was destroyed in the encounter. Saladin then besieged Tiberias, after 6 days the town fell. On 4 July 1187 Saladin defeated the crusaders coming to relieve Tiberias at the Battle of Hattin 10 km outside the city.[17]

At the beginning of the twelfth century the Jewish community numbered about fifty families; and at that time the best manuscripts of the Torah were said to be found there.[13] Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, (Maimonides), a leading Jewish legal scholar, philosopher and physician of his period, died in 1204 and was buried in Tiberias, now one of the city's important pilgrimage sites.

Yakut, writing in the 1220s, described Tiberias as a small town, long and narrow. He also describes the "hot salt springs, over which they have built Hammams which use no fuel. Tabariyyah was first conquered by (the Arab commander) Shurahbil in the year 13 (634 AD) by capitulation; one half of the houses and churches were to belong to the Muslims, the other half to the Christians."[18]

In 1265 the Crusaders were driven from the city by the Mamluks, who ruled Tiberias until the Ottoman conquest in 1516.[8]

Ottoman era

A map of the Tiberias region in the 1870s by the Palestine Exploration Fund

As the Ottoman Empire expanded along the southern Mediterranean coast under sultan Selim I, the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs) began establishing Inquisition commissions. Many Conversos, (Marranos and Moriscos) and Sephardi Jews fled in fear to the Ottoman provinces, settling at first in Constantinople, Salonika, Sarajevo, Sofia and Anatolia. The Sultan encouraged them to settle in Palestine.[8][19][20] In 1558, a Portuguese-born marrano, Doña Gracia, was granted tax collecting rights in Tiberias and its surrounding villages by Suleiman the Magnificent. She envisaged the town becoming a refuge for Jews and obtained a permit to establish Jewish autonomy there.[21] In 1561 her nephew Joseph Nasi, Lord of Tiberias,[22] encouraged Jews to settle in Tiberias.[23] Securing a firman from the Sultan, he and Joseph ben Adruth rebuilt the city walls and lay the groundwork for a textile (silk) industry, planting mulberry trees and urging craftsmen to move there.[23] Plans were made for Jews to move from the Papal States, but when the Ottomans and the Republic of Venice went to war, the plan was abandoned.[23] No Christians or Jews were mentioned in the Ottoman registers of 1525, 1533, 1548, 1553 and 1572.[24] The registers in 1596 recorded the population to consist of 50 Muslim families and 4 bachelors.[25]

In 1624, when the Sultan recognized Fakhr-al-Din II as Lord of Arabistan (from Aleppo to the borders of Egypt),[26] the Druze leader made Tiberias his capital.[8]

In the 1720s, Dhaher al-Omar a Bedouin, fortified the town and signed an agreement with the neighboring Bedouin tribes to prevent looting. Accounts from that time tell of the great admiration people had for Dhaher, especially his war against bandits on the roads. Richard Pococke, who visited Tiberias in 1727, witnessed the building of a fort to the north of the city, and the strengthening of the old walls, attributing it to a dispute with the pasha (ruler) of Damascus.[27] In the 1740, Tiberias was under the autonomous rule of Dhaher. Under Dhaher's patronage, Jewish families were encouraged to settle in Tiberias.[28] He invited Chaim Abulafia of Smyrna to rebuild the Jewish community.[29] The synagogue he built still stands.[30][31] That year, the Pasha of Damascus launched a raid against Tiberias. The siege lasted 85 days, ending in the capture of the city.[8]

View of Tiberas, 1862

In 1775, Ahmed el-Jezzar "the Butcher", brought peace to the region with an iron fist.[8]

In 1780, many Polish Jews settled in the town.[29] It was during the 18th and 19th centuries that the town received an influx of rabbis who established the city as a center for Jewish learning.

Six hundred people, including nearly 500 Jews,[29] died in 1837 when the town was devastated by the Galilee earthquake.[8] An American expedition found Tiberias still in a state of disrepair in 1847/1848.[32]

In 1850 Tiberias contained three synagogues which served the Sephardi community, which consisted of 80 families, and the Ashkenazim, all Poles and Russians, numbering about 100 families. It was reported that the Jewish inhabitants of Tiberias enjoyed more peace and security than those of Safed.[29]

In 1863 it is recorded that the Christian and Muslim elements made up three-quarters of the population (2,000 to 4,000).[33] In 1901, the Jews of Tiberias numbered about 2,000 in a total population of 3,600.[13] By 1912 the population reached 6,500. This included 4,500 Jews, 1,600 Muslims and the rest Christians.[34]

British Mandate

Initially the relationship between Arabs and Jews in Tiberias was good, with few incidents occurring in the Nebi Musa riots and the disturbances throughout Palestine in 1929.[8]

The landscape of the modern town was shaped by the great flood of Nov. 11, 1934. Deforestation on the slopes above the town combined with the fact that the city had been built as a series of closely-packed houses and buildings - usually sharing walls - built in narrow roads paralleling and closely hugging the shore of the lake. Flood waters carrying mud, stones, and boulders rushed down the slopes and filled the streets and buildings with water so rapidly that many people did not have time to escape, The loss of life and property was great. The city rebuilt on the slopes and the British Mandatory government planted the Scottish Forest on the slopes above the town to hold the soil and prevent similar disasters from recurring. A new seawall was constructed, moving the shoreline several yards out form the former shore.[35][36]

In October 1938 Arab militants murdered 20 Jews in Tiberias during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine.[37]

The population of Tiberias was recorded by the British authorities as follows:

  • 1922: 4427 Jews, 2096 Muslims, 422 Christians, 5 others [38]
  • 1931: 5381 Jews, 2645 Muslims, 565 Christians, 10 others [39]
  • 1945 : 6000 Jews, 4540 Muslims, 760 Christians, 10 others [40]

1948 Arab-Israeli War

Between the April 8–9, 1948, sporadic shooting broke out between the Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods of Tiberias. On April 10, the Haganah launched a mortar barrage, killing some Arab residents.[41] The local National Committee refused the offer of the Arab Liberation Army to take over defense of the city, but a small contingent of outside irregulars moved in.[41] During April 10–17, the Haganah attacked the city and refused to negotiate a truce, while the British refused to intervene.[41] The Arab population (6,000 residents or 47.5% of the population) was evacuated under British military protection on 18 April 1948.[41][42] No order to expel the population had been given to the Jewish forces and the evacuation seems to have surprised them.[41] Widespread looting of the Arab areas by the Jewish population had to be suppressed by force by the Haganah and Jewish police, who killed or injured several looters.[41]

Urban renewal and preservation

Ancient and medieval Tiberias was destroyed by a series of devastating earthquakes, and much of what was built after the major earthquake of 1837 was destroyed or badly damaged in the great flood of 1934. Houses in the newer parts of town, uphill from the waterfront, survived. During 1949, 606 houses, comprising almost all of the built-up area of the old quarter other than religious buildings, was demolished over the objections of local Jews who owned about half the houses.[43] This was an initiative of the Israeli government with the support of some local Jewish leaders who saw the Arab exodus as an opportunity to eradicate an urban area they considered as obsolete and a hindrance to modern redevelopment.[43] Redevelopment of the area began slowly and was only mature by the end of the 1960s.[43] In place of the old quarter now stand a waterfront promenade, open parkland, shopping streets, restaurants, and modern hotels. Carefully preserved were several churches, including one with foundations dating from the Crusader period, the city's two Ottoman-era mosques, and the several Ancient synagogues of Tiberias. All of the town's characteristic old houses, masonry-built of the local black basalt with white limestone windows and trim, are officially protected from demolition. They stand on the rising ground uphill from the flat land of the old center city on the waterfront. Also preserved are parts of the ancient wall, the Ottoman-era citadel, and several nineteenth century hotels, and Christian pilgrim hostels, convents, and schools.

The town retains two historic mosques, one on the waterfront promenade, and another larger one that is now boarded up. The masonry of both minarets has been carefully restored. In retaliation for the Arab attack on the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus, a group of Israeli right-wing extremists attempted to torch one of the old mosques.[44][45]


Tiberias has been severely damaged by earthquakes since antiquity. Earthquakes are known to have occurred in 30, 33, 115, 306, 363, 419, 447, 631-2 (aftershocks continued for a month) 1033, 1182, 1202, 1546, 1759, 1837, 1927 and 1943.[46] See Galilee earthquake of 1837, Galilee earthquake of 363, and Near East earthquake of 1759.


A 2,000 year-old Roman theatre was discovered 15 meters below ground near Mount Bernike in the Tiberias hills. It seated over 7,000 people.[47] Excavations on the shore unearthed a rare coin with the image of Jesus on one side and the Greek words "Jesus the Messiah King of Kings" on the other. It belongs to a series of coins issued in Constantinople to commemorate the First Millennium of Jesus' birth. Such coins have surfaced in neighboring countries, such as Turkey, but this is the first one found in Israel. It is believed to have been brought to Tiberias by Christian pilgrims.[48]


Hapoel Tiberias represented the city in the top division of football for several seasons in the 1960s and 1980s, but eventually dropped into the regional leagues and folded due to financial difficulties. Following Hapoel's demise, a new club, Ironi Tiberias, was established, which currently plays in Liga Alef. 6 Nations Championship and Heineken Cup winner Jamie Heaslip was born in Tiberias.

Twin cities

See also

  • Balady citron
  • Caesarea


  1. 1.0 1.1 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.2.3
  2. Jewish Encyclopedia: Tiberias
  3. 3.0 3.1 Israel Travel: Tiberias, Ha'aretz
  4. Jewish Encyclopedia
  5. Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megillah 5b
  6. Josephus, Flavius The Jewish Wars Translator William Whiston, Book 4 chapter 1 para 3
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Mercer Dictionary of the Bible Edited by Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard, Mercer University Press, (1998) ISBN 0865543739 p 917
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 8.12 Winter, Dave (1999) Israel Handbook: With the Palestinian Authority Areas Footprint Travel Guides, ISBN 1900949482, pp 660-661
  9. Crossan, John Dominic (1999) Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Christ Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN 0567086682 p 232
  10. The Land and the Book: Or, Biblical Illustrations Drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery, of the Holy Land By William McClure Thomson Published by Harper & brothers, (1860) p 72
  11. Safrai Zeev (1994) The Economy of Roman Palestine Routledge, ISBN 041510243X p 199
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petraea: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1838 By Edward Robinson, Eli Smith Published by Crocker & Brewster, 1841 p 269
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Jewish Encyclopedia: Tiberias
  14. Muk. p.161 and 185, quoted in Le Strange, Guy: Palestine under the Moslems. London, 1890, p. 334-7
  15. Le Strange, Guy: Palestine under the Moslems. London, 1890. p. 336-7
  16. Richard, Jean (1999) The Crusades c. 1071-c 1291, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-62369-3 p 71
  17. Wilson, John Francis. (2004) Caesarea Philippi: Banias, the Lost City of Pan I.B.Tauris, ISBN 1850434409 p 148
  18. Le Strange, Guy: Palestine under the Moslems. London, 1890. p. 340
  19. Toby Green (2007) Inquisition; The Reign of Fear Macmillan Press ISBN 978-1-4050-8873-2 pp xv-xix
  20. Sephardic Contributions to the Development of the State of Israel, Shelomo Alfassá
  21. Schaick, Tzvi. Who is Dona Gracia?, The House of Dona Gracia Museum.
  22. Naomi E. Pasachoff, Robert J. Littman, A Concise History of the Jewish People, Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield, 2005 , p.163
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Benjamin Lee Gordon, New Judea: Jewish Life in Modern Palestine and Egypt, Manchester, New Hampshire, Ayer Publishing, 1977, p.209
  24. Lewis, Bernard (1954), Studies in the Ottoman archives--I, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 16, pp 469-501.
  25. Hütteroth, Wolf-Dieter and Kamal Abdulfattah (1977), Historical Geography of Palestine, Transjordan and Southern Syria in the Late 16th Century. Erlanger Geographische Arbeiten, Sonderband 5. Erlangen, Germany: Vorstand der Fränkischen Geographischen Gesellschaft. p. 188.
  26. The Druze of the Levant
  27. Richard Pococke: A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World: Many of which are Now First Translated Into English ; Digested on a New Plan By John Pinkerton by Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1811A Description of the East and Some other Countries, p. 460
  28. Moammar, Tawfiq (1990), Zahir Al Omar, Al Hakim Printing Press, Nazareth, page 70
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 Joseph Schwarz. Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine, 1850
  30. The Jews in Palestine in the eighteenth century: under the patronage of the Istanbul Committee of Officials for Palestine, Y. Barnay, translated by Naomi Goldblum, University of Alabama Press, 1992, p. 15, 16
  31. The Jews: their history, culture, and religion, Louis Finkelstein, Edition: 3 Harper, New York, 1960, p. 659
  32. Narrative of the United States' Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea By William Francis Lynch, Lee and Blanchard, (1850) p. 154
  33. Smith, William (1863) A Dictionary of the Bible: Comprising Its Antiquities, Biography, and Natural History Little, Brown, p 149
  34. Catholic Encyclopedia: Tiberias
  35. Mandated landscape: British imperial rule in Palestine, 1929-1948, Roza El-Eini, Routledge, 2006p. 250
  36. The Changing Land: Between the Jordan and the Sea: Aerial Photographs from 1917 to the Present, Benjamin Z. Kedar, Wayne State University Press, 2000, p. 198
  37. "United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine" (.JPG). United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  38. 1922 census
  39. 1931 census
  40. Village Statistics, 1945
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 41.3 41.4 41.5 Benny Morris (2004) p183-185
  42. Harry Levin, 'Jerusalem Embattled - A diary of a city under siege.' Cassel, 1997. ISBN 0 304 33765 X. Page 81: ' Extraordinary news from Tiberias. The whole Arab population has fled. Last night the Haganah blew up the Arab bands' headquarters there; this morning the Jews woke up to see a panic flight in progress. By tonight not one of the 6,000 Arabs remained.' (19 April).
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 Arnon Golan, The Politics of Wartime Demolition and Human Landscape Transformation, War in History, vol 9 (2002), pp431–445.
  44. "Middle East Report 217: Anatomy of Another Rebellion, by Rema Hammami and Salim Tamari". Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  45. "In Nablus, the Tomb of Joseph was ransacked and set on fire (...) , and in retaliation a lone group twice attempted to torch an old, nonfunctioning mosque in the center of Tiberias" - from "H. CON. RES. 150, Expressing the sense of Congress regarding the protection of religious sites and the freedom of access and worship", adopted by the United States House of Representatives, April 10, 2003, resolution submitted by Mr. Wilson of South Carolina for himself and many others [1]
  46. A crack in the earth: a journey up Israel's Rift Valley By Haim Watzman, Macmillan, 2007, p. 161
  47. 2,000 year-old amphitheater
  48. Jesus coins
  49. Choose your family, Haaretz

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Tiberias. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.