New Integrated Knowledge based approachs to the protection of cultural heritage from Earthquake-induced Risk

The Roman-Byzantine City
An initiator’s file and planning a program for the site
OrdererThe City of Tiberias, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Antiquities Authority
DurationDecember 2003-January 2004
Implemented by: Arch. Shachar Puni
Arch. Vardit Shotten-Hallel

This work consists of a proposal of principals we compiled for the development of an archaeological park in the area of Roman-Byzantine Tiberias.

The objectives of the project are:
1. To expose, preserve and exhibit Tiberias’ past, in all its glory.
2. To create a regional drawing point based on local and sectorial tourism.
3. To highlight the heritage values: nature and landscape, culture, history and archaeology.
4. To realize the educational potential of the place.

The Current Environmental Context:
The remains of the Old City of Tiberias, from its founding in 20 CE until the latter part of the Early Islamic period, are located inside of what is today Ottoman Tiberias, in an area between the Holiday Inn Hotel (the northern part of the city of Hammat) and the Jordan River Hotel. This is mostly an open area, with the exception of the northern part of the Old City where buildings were constructed in later periods. Several uses for the land have been defined in the area of the city: the city’s business and tourism center (inside the Ottoman city), Housing Estate A and an industrial zone, a large landscape park west of the Old City, a holiday and religious area in Hammat to the south, the southern approach road to the city, the Sea of Galilee and eastern hotel region and the northeastern cemetery.
The area within the Old City was partly excavated and is currently a kind of “back alley” where there are archaeological remains in an advanced state of deterioration, the sewage purification plant for Tiberias and the surrounding areas, and a large rubbish dump.

Description of the History and Archaeology
Tiberias was founded as a Jewish city in the year 20 CE. It was built in the format of a Roman city, including city walls, entrance gates, public buildings, residential buildings and a road network.
The following archaeologists conducted excavations at the site: Bezalel Rabani, Moshe Dothan, Gideon Foerster, Yizhar Hirschfeld and Joseph Stepansky.

The Finds that were Excavated:
A Southern Entrance Gate: a monumental gate flanked by two round towers. The gate is currently covered by alluvium and is all but invisible.
The Cardo:  a section of the central colonnaded street. It is presumed to have been 12 m wide, with stoae built on both sides of it. Shops that opened onto the street were built along side the stoae. The remains are neglected and overgrown with vegetation.
The City Wall: the wall was erected by the emperor Justinian in the sixth century CE. Extensive segments of this wall were uncovered in archaeological excavations.
Public Building: a basilica hall. According to tradition, the Sanhedrin went into exile “from the cell of Gazith …and from Sepphoris to Tiberias” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashana 31). This structure probably served as the seat of the Sanhedrin. The building is partly excavated and neglected.
Bathhouse: this is probably the city’s main bathhouse that is occasionally mentioned in the literature of the sages. The bathhouse included baths, dressing rooms and meeting halls. Fragments of a polychrome mosaic were exposed on its floor. The remains are in an advanced state of deterioration.
Market: a colonnaded structure that extended across an area of c. 800 sq. m.
Theater: it was built c. 130 m from the bathhouse and is mostly covered by alluvium and refuse.
Another Public Building (a beit midrash? - house of study): remains of a large public building inside of which is a mosaic floor decorated with geometric motifs. At the time of the excavation it was suggested that the building housed the large beit midrash where most of the Jerusalem Talmud was compiled. The remains are situated in the area where the sewage purification plant is currently located.
Remains of a Large Church: a church that was erected by Justinian in the sixth century CE.

Evaluation of the Physical Condition:
The exposed remains are neglected, disintegrating and in a general state of ruin. Most of them were only partially excavated, and some are covered with alluvium and for all intents and purposes cannot be seen. Moreover, eyesores have been built in the area of the Old City: e.g. a sewage purification plant and rubbish dump.

The Tourism Potential:
We identified three levels of potential tourism:
1. The area that is Jewish in character: the seat of the Sanhedrin, the place where the Talmud was completed, a hiding refuge (?), and also ancient tombs and synagogues south and north of the park.
2. The area of interest to Christian pilgrims: traditions related to Jesus, an impressive church, the wall built by Justinian, and Christian sites north and south of the city, as well as a “pilgrims’ route” from Mount Tabor to Tiberias.
3. An area of architectural/historic value: the Roman theater, market, bathhouse, cardo.

Basic Recommendations:
The plan we proposed includes several phases:
1. Removing the eyesores from the area of the planned park.
2. Preservation of the building remains that were previously excavated: the basilica structure, market, bathhouse, “beit midrash” and the cardo.
3. Resuming the archaeological excavation of the basilica structure, the theater and a broad strip along the cardo.
4. Conservation after the excavation.
5. Opening the site after making preliminary arrangements for an entrance gate, visitor paths and the development of an area for didactic presentation.
6. Opening the site completely after it is linked to visitor’s centers, the municipal museum and the Swiss Forest.
7. Integrating it with other tourist attractions such as: a cable car, interactive museum, etc.

The project was presented at a conference on “The Roman-Byzantine City of Tiberias” that was held at the Gay Beach Hotel, on February 17, 2004, in the presence of the mayor of Tiberias, Mr. Zohar Oved and other policy makers, where it was enthusiastically received.

During the course of the archaeological excavations that were recently carried out at the site under the direction of Professor Yizhar Hirschfeld, other impressive remains of the Roman-Byzantine city were revealed. The conservation of the remains, development of the site and their presentation to the general public represent an important economic potential for the city and its residents.

To view the figures, click on the figure caption
Artist’s concept of Tiberias in the Roman period.(Courtesy of Professor Yizhar Hirschfeld).

Remains of the beit midrash, 2004.

The southern gate as it appeared at the conclusion of the excavation. (Courtesy of Professor Yizhar Hirschfeld).

Schematic plan of the proposed park.

site built by tetitu