Historical Tours: A journey through time

Remnants of third-century buildings can still be seen at the Tzipori National Park.

Mona Lisa of the Galilee 521 (photo credit: Hadar Yahav)
Mona Lisa of the Galilee 521
(photo credit: Hadar Yahav)
According to historians, the city of Tzipori fell to Herod with no resistance due to a huge snowstorm. It no longer snows in that region, but the historic upheaval can still be felt in every corner of this beautiful national park that stretches over 16 square kilometers northwest of Nazareth.
Archeological digs at the site (that continue to this day) show that the area was first settled in the Iron Age and culturally peaked during the Hasmonean and Second Temple periods.
In 4 CE, following Herod’s death, Tzipori residents rebelled against Roman rule, resulting in the city’s being razed.
Tzipori was subsequently rebuilt but was once again badly damaged by the Romans in 363 CE. Jews and Christians returned to live in the city in the fifth century, and during the Crusader period Christians built a church commemorating St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus who, according to Christians, lived in Tzipori (Sepphoris). Remains of the church can still be seen today.
If you want to truly experience the history of Tzipori, walk up the stairs to the square and take a look at the detailed map. Then continue along the wide path to the right that leads to the Roman amphitheater, which holds more than 4,000 seats that were carved into stone on the steep slope, some of which have been restored.
The path continues up to a spot from which you can view the beautiful green Lower Galilee all the way to Eshkol National Park and Beit Netofa. You can also see the Monastery of the Sisters of St. Anne next to Eshkol, which houses a girls’ school. On the left, you will see the roof of the Church of St. Anne.
In addition to its Christian heritage, Tzipori also comprises a stone building that is divided into burial chambers believed to belong to Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, who moved the Sanhedrin from Beit She’arim to Tzipori, where the Mishna was redacted.
Next, go up the path to the highest point of Tzipori, where you can view ruins from a Crusader fortress. Parts of the structure were added during a later period by Dahar al-Amar, the ruler of the Galilee in the 18th century. An Arab village called Saffuriya (named after Tzipori) was founded at the site.
History and archeology buffs can watch a short multimedia presentation about Tzipori’s history, from its age of splendor through to its destruction.
From the fortress, walk down toward the Dionysus house, which was built in the third century CE. Its floors are covered with mosaics honoring the god of wine, Dionysus. Another mosaic, called the Mona Lisa of the Galilee, depicts a local woman who has become the symbol of Tzipori.
From there, move on to see the cardo, which used to be the main thoroughfare, on either side of which stand the ruins of the pillars lining the road. At the end of the street, you can see the Nile Festival House, an impressive building from the fifth century CE that is bordered by a mosaic depicting the celebrations of Nile floods.
At this point you will have reached the end of the circular path. To visit the ancient water reservoir and aqueducts, you will need to go by car to the beginning of a two-hour hike. If you prefer, you can skip the hike and visit the underwater reservoir at the edge of the parking area. This reservoir is 250 meters long, and you can go down the steps into the three-story underwater structure. This was the water source utilized by the people living in Tzipori throughout the ages.
If you prefer the longer hike, which is certainly worth the effort, drive along the dirt road to the Gan Elisheva parking area. From there, the road goes eastward toward Mash’had pool. The road is unmarked but is extremely easy to follow. This is the source from which water was brought to the hills of Nazareth. The continuation of the hike is marked in blue.
You will pass through an iron gate into the parking area where the underwater reservoir is located. This is the end of the hike.If you go How to get there: Drive along Road 79 (Hamovil Junction / Nazareth) between kilometer markers 22 and 23.Length of hike: About an hour. If you continue on to the aqueducts, it’s two hours.
Level of difficulty: Easy. And easy access to start of hike.Recommended seasons: All year long.Translated by Hannah Hochner