In the year 67, Tzipori watched in somber silence from across the valley as
the town of Yodfat went up in smoke. Yodfat, the first Galilean city to
seriously resist the Romans during the Great Revolt, had been soundly
trounced. Tzipori, on the other hand, had stubbornly refused to participate.
Her attitude was understandable, perhaps, for 63 years earlier when Tzipori
residents had tried rebelling against Roman rule, their lovely city had been
Following that early Tzipori revolt, King Herod’s son Antipas had restored
the city to its former beauty. And, while he was at it, Antipas added a
small amphitheater and an intricate underground water system. Now, blessed
with plenty of water, fertile fields flowing with milk and honey and lovely
homes, Tzipori hoped to remain at peace with the Romans. Or, perhaps, it was
afraid to risk everything it had by joining the revolt. And, whatever the
reason, Tzipori remained untouched.
Tzipori sat on a hill 292 meters above sea level, towering over the Beit
Netufa Valley below. Its climate was perfect, for even in summer the city
remained cool as sweet breezes blew softly through the trees. Its name
reflected its situation: the Babylonian Talmud notes that it ’sat at the top
of the hill like a bird’ (tzipor).
The most famous of Tzipori’s residents was Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, tall,
handsome, and extremely well-connected. One of the greatest Jewish sages of
all time, it is said that he was born on the day that Rabbi Akiva was
flogged to death by the Romans for his part in the Bar Kochba Revolt (’the
sun rises and the sun sets and hurries back to where it rises,’ Jewish
sources quoting Ecclesiastes 1:5).
Yehuda Hanasi, known simply as ’Rebbi,’ lived in Beit She’arim and reigned
as president of the Sanhedrin (Jewish courts). When his health began to
fail, the Roman Emperor Antoninus granted him land in Tzipori. Taking with
him his fellow sages, Rebbi set up house in Tzipori, a lovely city where
Jews and pagans lived together in peace.
It was in Tzipori, at the end of the third century, that the eminent rabbi
edited a compilation of Jewish traditional literature and Oral Law known as
the Mishna. Considered the second most important book in Judaism (after the
Torah), the Mishna shaped, and continues to shape, all aspects of Jewish
No wonder, then, that on the day that Rebbi breathed his last people
thronged to the city to mourn him and follow him to his grave. The Talmud
tells us that many miracles occurred on that fateful day, a Shabbat eve. It
seems that the sun stood still until every mourner returned home. And only
after each one had cooked his fish, filled a jar with water and lit his lamp
did the sun sink in the Heavens and Shabbat commence.
Despite its indisputable importance, there was little to see at the site of
ancient Tzipori until the early 1980s. Although small-scale excavations were
carried out during the British Mandate, and remains of a Roman theater were
discovered, no effort was made to find the rest of the famous Jewish city.
Indeed, the hill on which it stood was completely covered with dirt, brush,
and fruit trees left from the hostile Arab village that stood nearby until
When serious digs finally began, archeologists could hardly believe the
result: not only did the ancient city sport a theater, but one that was
well-preserved. Unique mosaics were uncovered in several parts of the site
along with entire neighborhoods, a market street and the marvelous
underground water system.
Today ancient Tzipori is one of the most exciting national parks in the
country. When you visit, you follow a wide Roman Cardo to marvelous
extensive fifth-century mosaics illustrating the Nile River Festival and
Amazon warriors. If you look down at your feet you will see crevices made by
chariot wheels and, carved into the stones, a menora and games played by
children long ago.
Here at Tzipori you will walk atop the very stones which emperors used to
tread on their way to the theater, and sit in the seats from which they
watched their performances. Then head for a little lane that led to a
neighborhood high upon the hill. Possibly, considering the unusual
concentration of ritual baths (mikvaot) discovered here, these would be the
homes of very Orthodox residents — perhaps even the High Priests who left
Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple and moved to Tzipori.
An (air-conditioned) Crusader citadel restored by Daher el-Omer, who ruled
Israel in the 18th century, features an exquisite museum of Tzipori
artifacts. Then climb up to the rooftop for a fabulous view of the region.
Back on the ground, you will enter an exclusive villa featuring the
breathtakingly beautiful mosaic dubbed the Mona Lisa of the Galilee. That
portrait is part of an enormous mosaic floor in what could very well have
been Rebbi’s home. It certainly belonged to someone very important: a rare
find was the ancient toilet outside of the salon!
After the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, synagogues became the center
of Jewish life — as they are today. During the period in which Rebbi resided
in Tzipori there were 18 (!) synagogues in the city, none of which has yet
The fifth-century synagogue that you can visit almost makes up for this,
however, for the mosaic floor is absolutely magnificent. Be sure to read the
Finally, move out of the main area and walk out of the city itself to wander
through tunnels in the city’s ancient water system.
Shabbat and Shavuot hours: 8-5; eves of Shabbat and Shavuot: 8-4. Tel.: (04)
Many thanks to Yehuda Zusman from nearby Mitzpe Hoshaya for his fascinating
guided tour of Tzipori.
Kitron & Kfar Kedem
I was delighted with an invitation to stay overnight at a brand new guest
resort located inside the religious community of Mitzpe Hoshaya. The resort
is called Kitron — one of several ancient names for Tzipori — and is
conveniently located only minutes from the national park.
It isn’t easy to describe what makes beautiful Kitron different from other
guest houses where I have spent the night. In my rush to visit nearby sites
I didn’t have much time for relaxing in the gorgeous lobby, sitting on the
lawn across from the view, or dining on the homemade cakes and ice-cream
that we understand guests are offered on a complimentary, nonstop basis
during their stay. I did thoroughly enjoy refreshing fresh fruit shakes that
seemed to appear from nowhere as I worked on my laptop (Internet is free).
But what impressed me the most — aside from the 21 well-appointed grand
suites, family suites, almost-completed spa chalets and the
free-during-the-week all-terrain vehicles — was the atmosphere. By no
stretch of the imagination could anyone call me religious, but every time I
stepped outdoors, especially sitting on the porch facing Tzipori and a
biblical, Galilean landscape, I definitely felt a mystical pull. Part of it
was the accepting attitude of the staff, delighted to host a mixture of
observant and non-observant guests. But there is also something incredibly
spiritual in the air itself.
What undoubtedly added to this unusually strong Jewish feeling over my
24-hour visit, was the time I spent at adjacent Kfar Kedem. Located right
next to Kitron, Kfar Kedem is an attempt to take visitors of all ages and
religious persuasions back to the time of the Mishna. You can pick the
activities you prefer: the group I joined — Jewish day-schoolers from
England and a smattering of Israeli children — began with a lively dialogue
about the Mishna.
Afterwards, dressed in garments from the time of the Mishna, we watched as
Amir Cohen humorously demonstrated how the ancients got their bread and we
all baked our own on an ancient saj. Best of all, even for me, was a donkey
ride along a beautiful little trail facing Tzipori.
To join a group or book a session at Kfar Kedem call (04) 656-5511.
To reserve at Kitron, call (04) 646-6666. A weekday overnight stay at Kitron
starts at NIS 590 per couple. Weekends are full board only and cost NIS
1,500 per couple.