Tzipori National Park – גן לאומי ציפורי
On the hill of Tzipori (Sepphoris), which is located in the Lower Galilee region just across the valley from my home in Hoshaya, are found the remains of a magnificent city which include an intricate set of streets, public structures, 4,500-seat theater, residential buildings, synagogues, a wide Roman Cardo and churches, most of which are from the Roman and Byzantine periods. Its citizens could afford to indulge, because their city’s fate was very different from other Galilee towns in Roman times –during the Great Revolt (66–73 CE) it surrendered to the Romans without a fight. It was thus saved from destruction and went on to prosper.
The Roman Theater
Today, the site of Tzipori (Sepphoris) is a National Park which preserves structures, such as: the huge Roman Theater which was built on the slope from where are seen the views of the Beit Netofa Valley and the mountains of the Upper Galilee region.
The Residential Area
A residential area from the Jewish Mishnah and Talmud period (1st-6th centuries CE).
The Crusader Fortress
The impressive Crusader fortress situated at the top of the hill. Look at the walls and you try to identify the various kinds of stone used in the building, many taken from earlier building for secondary usage, such as several sarcophagi. A once air-conditioned Crusader citadel restored by Daher el-Omer, who ruled Israel in the 18th century, used to feature an exquisite museum of Tzipori artifacts, many of which have been stolen. The museum has been closed. However you still can climb up to the rooftop for a fabulous view of the region, one of the few places where tourists can see the entire breadth of Israel from the Mediterranean to the Golan.
The Ancient Synagogue
In the revealed structures of Tzipori (Sepphoris), there is an ancient synagogue. Visitors feel close to Jewish history and practice in Tzipori’s synagogue, with its magnificent fifth-century mosaic whose motifs symbolize longed-for redemption.
The Nile Festival Building
There are magnificent colorful mosaic floors illustrating the Nile River Festival and Amazon warriors in the Nile Festival Building. Archaeologists turned up so many beautiful mosaics in Tzipori that people used to say it might have been a regional catalogue store for those the ornate floors the Romans loved! You can stroll down main street to the Nile House, where another gorgeous mosaic depicts the Nile River festival, starring gods, goddesses and a menagerie of African animals. Visitors also love exploring the gigantic water tunnel that brought water to the city for hundreds of years from a nearby spring.
The Roman Urban Villa
The Roman Urban Villa which was built at the beginning of the 3rd century CE and contains mosaic illustrations devoted to Dionysus, the god of wine; and a vast underground water system which was built in the 1st century CE. A highlight is the “Mona Lisa of Galilee” in Tzipori’s restored villa. With her enigmatic smile, created by with hundreds of small stones in dozens of natural shades, she peers out from the past, surrounded by scenes of the cavorting wine god, Dionysus and his minions.
The Home of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi
Archaeologists have not yet decided whether the Roman Urban Villa was the home of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. In Jewish tradition, it is best known as the hometown of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi (after moving from Bet Shearim) who codified the Mishnah (the first book of the Talmud) here in the late second century CE. As head of the Jewish community (Nasi or President) in Eretz Yisrael after the failed Bar Kochba Revolt 132-136 CE, Rabbi Yehuda made two strategic decisions. One was to move the seat of Jewish Government to the city of Zippori which was the Roman headquarters in the Galilee. The second was to codify Jewish law after losing during the revolution so many of the Rabbis who knew the oral traditions. He was very rich and could have afforded such a home on the top of the hill of Zippori right next to the Roman citadel. Imagine his influential Roman guests lounging around the mosaics on the Triclinium. He probably even crossed the street to teach Jewish law in the Roman Theater.
To truly do the site justice, consider budgeting as much as three hours for a visit especially if you also want to explore fascinating rock-cut ancient aqueduct and its gigantic reservoir.
The route also provides a lookout of the Tomb of Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah, grandson of Yehudah Hanasi, and the Crusader Church of St. Anne (grandmother of Jesus, who was born at Zippori according to legend).
Byzantine and medieval lore mark Tzipori as the birthplace of Mary. Zippori may have been the home of one of the wealthy female disciples of Jesus, Joanna, the wife of Cuza, mentioned in Luke 8:3.
Opening hours of Tzipori (Sepphoris) National Park: