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Tiberias does not appear a glamorous and exciting tourist center, although the potential certainly exists. Nevertheless, despite its somewhat drab appearance, there are many interesting things to do and see in and around the city. It also has many quality hotels, there are nice beaches around Lake Kinneret, and it can be an excellent base for exploring the Galilee and Golan Heights.

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The history of Tiberias

After the death of Herod the Great, the Romans gave control of the Galilee to his son Herod Antipas, who in 20 CE founded the new city of Tiberias, named after his friend and patron the Roman emperor Tiberius. Herod Antipas intended that his new city would be the capital of the Galilee and a rival to the Jewish center of Tzipori. 

Tiberias was built in a typical Roman form with a bathhouse and theater, and the ruins of these can be seen in an archeological area. The theater, in particular, is worth seeing.


The city was built adjoining the residential area of Hamat Tiberias, and inadvertently over an ancient Jewish cemetery, and this prevented Jews from settling here. Hence, this was initially a predominantly pagan city. However, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai purified Tiberias by locating the graves and relocating the remains and this enabled it to become the chief Jewish center in the Galilee.


Josephus Flavius fortified the city during the Great Revolt against the Romans. However, its inhabitants surrendered and the city was thereby spared destruction. The Sanhedrin made Tiberius its final destination in about 150 CE when it left Tzipori. At one time there were thirteen synagogues in the city. The Jerusalem Talmud was written here between about 230 to 270 CE.

In 614 CE there was a Jewish revolt against the Byzantine empire in support of Persian invaders. However, the Byzantines eventually returned to Tiberias after the Persian occupation was defeated. A year later there was a wide-scale massacre of Jews, leading temporarily to the end of Jewish life in the Galilee.


Jewish scholarship again flourished in Tiberius from the beginning of the 8th century to the end of the 10th century. Tiberias became the main center for Jewish scribes and scholars, called the Masoretes, and they standardized the pronunciation and cantillation of the Bible.

Tiberias became a Crusader center after the capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade and functioned as the capital of their principality of Galilee. A small Jewish community resided here during this time. The end of the Kingdom of Jerusalem came about almost a hundred years later when Saladin besieged Tiberias. The Crusaders fell for the bait and left their stronghold of Tzipori in an attempt to relieve the siege. This left the entire Crusader army exposed in an unfortified position, exactly as Saladin had intended, and they were defeated at the Battle of Hattin about 10 Km outside Tiberias (see the hike on Karnei Hittim). This defeat led to the end of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and the reestablishment of Muslim rule throughout the former Christian kingdom.


During the subsequent Islamic Ayyubid and Mamluke periods the population of the city diminished and by the 14th and 15th centuries much it was in ruins. Hence, when Donna Gracia and her nephew Joseph Nasi offered Sulumein the Magnificent, the sultan of the newly established Ottoman empire, to rebuild the city at their own expense plus compensation to the government he readily accepted their offer. However, the project fizzled after the death of Dona Gracia.  


By the early 1700s there was a weakening of central Ottoman authority, and a Bedouin sheik, Zahir-al-Umar (also spelt Daher al-Omar), rebelled against the Ottomans and took control of the Galilee. He also fortified Tiberias against a Turkish attack. Much of this fortification can still be seen.


On hearing that the aged Rabbi Chaim Abulafia, the Chief Rabbi of Izmir in Turkey, intended leaving for Israel, Zahir al-Umar invited Rabbi Abulafia to Tiberias to rebuilt the Jewish community. The rabbi accepted the invitation and came with his family and ten students. They settled within the walls of the city in what is known as the Court of Jews. This was adjacent to the waterfront and was protected by an inner wall with a gate. This was the beginning of the rebuilding of Jewish life in Tiberias. Polish Jews settled here in 1780, and a further influx of rabbis in the 18th and 19th centuries, including Hassidim, established Tiberias as one of the holy cities of Palestine and a center of Jewish learning.

Sites to visit in downtown Tiberias


Tiberias Promenade (Yigal Alon Promenade):

The promenade is by the waterfront and is a popular walkway, especially in the evening. It is on a former dam constructed during the British mandate to prevent easterly winds blowing waves into the city. This was built after considerable flooding in the city in 1934 from water pouring down the mountainside and from waves from the lake that led to the deaths of many people. The Promenade is a fun place with stores, stalls, restaurants, cafes, and docks for boats. Prior to Covid, there was a music and light show at its southern end. Access to the middle of the promenade is via the continuation of HaYarkon St.


At the northern-most entrance/exit from the promenade there are exhibits in stone and illustrated tiles on the walkway demonstrating the work of the Masoretes who in the 8th to 10th centuries CE finalized a system for the pronunciation of the vowels of the Hebrew language. Written Hebrew uses only consonants, and how to pronounce the vowels in the Bible was known only by tradition.


There are public WCs at the far end of this path and also on the access path at the other end of the promenade.













The Court of the Jews and the Etz Haim Abulafia Synagogue:

While making your way towards the promenade via HaYarkon St., turn to your right into the adjoining Jewish Courtyard. It is close to the promenade and indicated by a sign. This area within the Old City was donated to Rabbi Chaim Abulafia by the Druze ruler Zahir-al-Umar to encourage Jews to settle in Tiberias. Previously, this was a residential area, but all the homes in the Old City, but not the synagogues or churches, were destroyed after the 1948 War of Independence. Hence, the Jewish Courtyard is now a large open courtyard with a memorial at its center and synagogues at its periphery.


First notice a section of the Crusader wall. This was previously surrounded by a moat. The Abulafia Synagogue is on the left as you enter the courtyard and was built in the 1740s by Rabbi Chaim Abulafia on the site of previous synagogues. This is not his original synagogue, as it has been rebuilt and renovated several times after earthquakes in 1759 and 1837 and a severe flood in 1934. When first built it was one of the most beautiful synagogues in the country. The present synagogue is from 1950 and is also quite beautiful. It has an elaborately decorated domed ceiling with a floral pattern of six overlapping circles. It is a Sephardi synagogue. Because people from Tiberias now live predominantly higher upon the hill, there are services only on Shabbat and Chol HaMoed.

There are also Hasidic synagogues in the square. The Karlin-Stolin Synagogue and Beit Midrash was originally built in 1786 by Hasidism who immigrated from Lithuania, but was destroyed in the earthquake of 1837. A new synagogue and study hall was built on the site by Karlin-Stolin Hasidim who immigrated here in the mid-19th century. It is now used by Breslov Hasidim, also as their study hall. It is a busy place.


The Old Synagogue on the right is used by Habad. It was formerly the Boyan Synagogue, and dates from the time that Boyan Hasidim came to Tiberias in the early 19th century. It was destroyed in the earthquake of 1837 and restored by Habad Hasidim. 







Tiberias Tourist Information:

This is located in the archeological park in front of the Sheraton Moriah Hotel on HaBanim St. not far from the lake. It is open from 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and Friday 8.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. There may be extended hours during July and August. Their phone number is 04 672 5666.


The Dona Gracia Museum in the Dona Gracia Hotel:

This museum is not as well-known a tourist site as it should be. The entire Donna Gracia Hotel is set up to commemorate the life of this remarkable lady, Gracia Mendes Nasi (1510-1569). It is decorated like a 16th century Spanish palace. There is a museum on the first two floors of the hotel dedicated to her life. This contains written displays, models from periods in her life, period rooms, and a room for dressing up in the clothing of that period.


This inspiring lady was a very successful business woman in a predominantly man’s world, and she became one of the wealthiest individuals in Renaissance Europe. She used her wealth and business resources to rescue hundreds of Marrano Jews from the Inquisition and she subsequently attended to their religious lives by supporting synagogues and yeshivot, publications, and a printing press. The inspiring story of her evasion of the inquisition in Europe, the intrigues related to those attempting to take over or inherit her wealth, and the family disputes related to her money are obvious material for a novel – and in fact several have been written. 


If you are viewing this exhibition on your own and outside the framework of a tour, the implications of what you are seeing may pass you by, since this is not a time period most people are familiar with. So do read the essay below for background information. Note, also, that there is a tendency for everyone but Israelis to begin looking at an exhibition from close to the door and then to move along to the right. However, Israelis start away from the door and move towards the left. If you do not do this, you will find yourself going back in time historically rather than forward!

Directions: Enter “Dona Gracia” into Waze and click on “Hotel Casa Dona Gracia.” The address of the hotel is 16-22 HaPrakhim St. Parking is on the street.

Admission: Admission is 20 nis per person. The museum is open from 10.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. The phone number of the hotel is 04 671 7176. Tours are available, including in English, but this needs to be booked in advance.  The price of this is 45 nis for an adult and 30 nis for a child from 6 to 18 years. The phone number to arrange this is 04 672-8900. This is their website. 


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The Spanish Ferrara Bible that Dona Gracia sponsored being presented to her.

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A commemoration of the work of the Masoretes on the Promenade. 

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The present Etz Chaim Abulafia Synagogue dates from 1950, although its origins are much earlier from the 1740s.

The Karlin-Stolin Synagogue in the Court of the Jews is now used by Breslov hasidim. It was built in the mid-1800s.

Maimonides' tomb:

As distinct from other tombs in and around Tiberias, there is little doubt that Maimonides is buried here, as his son mentions that he was interred in Tiberias after being briefly buried in Fustat in Egypt. He died in 1204. Why would he wish to be buried here? Maimonides was never happy that he was living in Egypt, since he recognized that he was transgressing a Biblical command to not return to Egypt. Tiberias had also been a place of Jewish scholarship and in his Mishneh Torah he wrote: “It is our tradition that the Sanhedrin will reconvene in Tiberias prior to returning to the Temple Mount.” (Mishna Torah, Sanhedrin 14:12).  Because of the conflict between the Crusaders and Muslims, his being buried in Jerusalem was out of the question. In this same location are also the tombs of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai and the Shla Hakodesh.


Directions: Enter “Maimonides Tomb” into Waze. It is on Yochanan ben Zakai St. There is a parking lot on this street. The site is well maintained and is open 24 hours a day. There is an adjoining synagogue with regular minyanim. There are also WCs here.








Maimonides Heritage Center:

The Maimonides Heritage Center is close to Maimonides’ tomb and a visit is well worthwhile. The aims of this center are to disseminate the teachings and world view of Maimonides, to explain their relevance, to engage in social welfare programs in Tiberias, and to provide studying opportunities. There is a display on the ground floor about Maimonides’ teachings with colorful multi-media exhibits and collections of his writings, including a handwritten diagram of the Second Temple. There is also a short video about Maimonides’ life. The address is 8 Khakham Abulafya St. Enter “Maimonides Heritage Center” into Waze. There is no admission charge but a donation is appreciated. Their phone number is 04 672 5280. Call beforehand to make sure the center is open. This is their website.

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Maimonides was a modern Orthodox Jew! His book "The Guide to the Perplexed" became highly controversial.  

The ruins of Roman Tiberias:

It would be nice if the city displayed its Roman ruins in a park with helpful signs and clear directions. But this is not the case. However, of particular interest is a nearly intact Roman theater adjacent to the cliffs. It is one of the biggest Roman theaters in Israel. It was built in the 1st century CE contemporaneously with the building of the city.


Directions: Enter "Roman Theater in Tiberias" into Waze, and this leads directly to the theater. However, although you are driving initially on a paved road, this soon becomes an uneven gravel path. To protect your car's suspension, park in a broad parking area by a concrete building with a white sign גן ארכאילוגי טבריה הקדומה and walk up to the theater. It is about a 7 to 8-minute walk to the top of the hill.

On the way up is a turning to the left to the ruins of a Roman baths, but they are not recognizable to a non-expert as a bathhouse and can be easily given a miss. Also, lower down and closer to Route 90 from the point of intersection of the two pathed roads is the site of a royal palace. The ruins are not readily recognizable as a Roman palace. Of interest, though, are giant cisterns beneath the ruins. There is a ladder on which you can descend to see them. The paved stones are from the Muslim period.

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Not that far from Route 90 is the Roman theater. It's impressive and worth visiting.

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An aqueduct provided water for subterranean water storage beneath the palace. It can be reached by a ladder that is conveniently placed.

The tomb of Rabbi Meir Ba'al HaNes:

The tomb of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes is just above the Hamat Tevera National Park on the hill, is the largest tomb complex in Tiberias, and the most frequently visited. It has separate Ashkenazi and Sephardi synagogues and separate male and female prayer areas. The tomb complex also contains several stores.


A series of miracles performed by Rabbi Meir is described in the Talmud (TB Avoda Zarah 18a-18b), and this gave him the reputation of being a miracle worker. Hence his name Rabbi Meir Ba'al HaNes (Rabbi Meir the miracle worker). An established tradition is to give charity in his memory, especially to the poor of Israel, and to say “God of Meir – answer me!” just as Rabbi Meir is recorded as doing in the Talmud. The hope is that this declaration will lead to miraculous events.


Rabbi Meir lived at the time of the Mishna and is considered to be one of the greatest fourth generation Tannaim. He was a pupil of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva’s teachings were transmitted through him and became part of the Mishna. However, his own halachic opinions were not accepted by the other sages as he seemed to function on a loftier spiritual plane (TB Eruvim 13b). He did not participate in the Bar Kochba Revolt and lived outside of Israel during the Hadrianic persecutions. However, he returned to Israel after this and played a prominent part in the reestablishment of the Sanhedrin in Usha. He also had academies near Tiberias. He died in Asia Minor, but was brought to Tiberias for burial.


Access to the tomb complex is from roads on either side of Hamat Teverya National Park, but not through this park. There is parking by the tomb from either of these roads. Enter into Waze “Tomb of Rabbi Meir.” If you are already in Hamat Tevera National Park, it is only a short distance from route 90 and can be easily reached on foot.

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The tomb complex of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes

The tomb of Rabbi Akiva:

The tomb of Rabbi Akiva is in Upper Tiberias at the end of Hagvura St. Adjacent to it is the tomb of Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzato (known as the Ramchal), a rabbi and kabbalist living in the 18th century.


The contribution of Rabbi Akiva to Jewish tradition is considerable, as he and his students collated the entirety of Jewish tradition after the destruction the Temple. The notes written by his students and approved by him formed the earliest version of the Mishna. His traditions were disseminated by his star student Rabbi Meir (Baal HaNess). According to a Midrash, Akiva began studying Torah at age 40 when he began learning the Hebrew alphabet together with his children. He supported the Bar Kochba Revolt (about 132 CE) and crowned Shimon ben Kosiba the Messiah by naming him Bar Kochba (the son of a star). As the most influential rabbi of the time, this was a significant step in furthering the revolt. The failure of this revolt and destruction of Judea led to Jewish migration to the Galilee and then to the Golan. He was executed by the Romans in Caesarea for continuing to teach Torah. His tomb complex does not have the grandeur of that of his pupil Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes, probably because he was never credited with miraculous capabilities.


Directions: Enter “Tomb of Rabbi Akiva” into Waze. Waze will lead you to a nearby parking lot, but it is also possible to park right outside the tomb. There are prayer areas for men and women. The view over Tiberias is impressive.

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At the tomb of Rabbi Akiva

Rachel's tomb:

The tomb of Rabbi Akiva’s wife Rachel is also in Tiberias, not far from that of Rabbi Meir Bal HaNes. Rachel is regarded as the paragon of a virtuous wife. She married Rabbi Akiva against the wishes of her rich father who disowned her and went to live in poverty with her husband. She persuaded her husband to begin Torah learning at great personal sacrifice to herself. With no previous background in Jewish learning, he became the preeminent sage in the country. The Talmud says this about virtuous women: “Rav said to Rabbi Hiyyah: "Whereby do women gain this merit [of Torah study]? By taking their sons to the synagogue to learn and waiting for their husbands to return from the study hall where they had been studying Torah” (TB Berachot 17a).

Directions: Enter into Waze “Tomb of Rachel” and click on “Tomb of Rachel Wife of Rabbi Akiva.”

Berko Archeological Park

This park is to the south of the city on Sderot Eliezer Kaplan and contains children’s’ play equipment and archeological ruins. The former consists of rope pyramids, an omega, climbing wall, carousels and of course swings. It also contains a recognizable southern gate of the Roman city with round towers at each side. Hours of the park are 4.00 p.m. to 8.45 p.m. and on Saturday from 12.00 pm to 9.00 pm, but check on these times. It is closed on Friday and holiday eves. Their phone number is 04-671 2950. There is an admission charge. Directions: Enter into Waze “Berko Archeological Park.”

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The southern city gate with towers

 Dona Gracia Nasi - an exceptional woman in virtues and money


After the orders for the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal were given in the late 14th century, thousands of Jews emigrated from the Iberian Peninsula. Nevertheless, as many as 100,000 Jews converted to Christianity under the pressure of the Church. Many of these conversos became very successful and achieved high positions in the state. However, many continued to practice their faith in secret. They were called disparagingly Marranos or pigs. The Church was aware that many conversos were insincere in their conversion to Christianity and in 1478 they initiated the Inquisition, the aim of which was to ferret out conversos who were still practicing Judaism. They were subjected to torture and death.


Gracia Mendes Nasi was from a converso family. Gracia is Portuguese for Grace (Hannah in Hebrew) and Nasi was her family name. The Christian name she used was Beatrice de Luna. Her family was originally from Spain but fled to Portugal when Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. Five years later, and while still in Portugal, her family converted to Catholicism.


Gracia married her uncle Francisco Mendes, who was also a converso and who had a very successful import business in spices and other commodities from the West Indies, particular black pepper. He was in business together with his brother Diogo Mendes who lived in Antwerp, then the financial center of Europe. The couple were married in a church, but also had a secret Jewish wedding. Ten years later her husband died, and Gracia found herself at the age of 28 the inheritor of half of Francisco’s large fortune, the other half being inherited by his brother.

Their business had bribed the Pope to delay the Inquisition in Portugal, but they were unable to hold it back forever. Before it began, she fled with her daughter to Antwerp where she became involved in her brother-in-law’s business. This business had many agents and a fleet and she was very successful as a business woman.


Her younger sister Brianda came with her to Antwerp and married her brother-in-law and now business partner Diogo Mendes. However, five years after moving to Antwerp, Diogo died. In his will, he put control of the Mendes commercial empire into Gracia’s hands on behalf of his widow and his daughter, presumably in recognition of Gracia’s commercial ability. This made her one of the richest people in Renaissance Europe. However, it would also lead to a dispute with her sister regarding the inheritance of Diogo’s money that would entwine governments.


While in Antwerp, Gracia developed an “underground railroad” using her agents and spice ships to bring escaping conversos from Portugal to Antwerp, and from there overland to Venice and then to Greece and Turkey. At this time, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (the sultan that built the walls around the Old City of Jerusalem) welcomed Jews to his new Ottoman empire.


Antwerp was also part of the Spanish Empire, and her next move was to the Republic of Venice, which was a safer place for Jews and conversos. She then moved to Ferrrara, also in Italy, where she was able to openly practice her Judaism. Her final destination was Constantinople (now Istanbul). In this city she assumed a leadership role by supporting synagogues throughout the Ottoman Empire, and also yeshivot, rabbinic scholars, and hospitals. She helped Jewish captives and Jews in distress, and even ran her own Jewish press so that Jewish sources were readily available to all Jews, including former conversos.


And the Tiberias connection? One of her projects was an arrangement with the Ottoman Sultan to set up a partially autonomous Jewish enclave in Tiberias where conversos fleeing from Spain and Portugal could settle. Why Tiberias? Possibly because of a Talmudic statement that the Sanhedrin will reconvene in Tiberias before the Temple Mount is established. It was also desolate and in ruins and could be developed as a completely Jewish enclave. This was, of course, exactly what Herzl attempted to do (unsuccessfully) almost 200 years later. Nevertheless, this first attempt at Zionism fell apart after her death. There is no record that she ever visited Tiberias.


The activities of Dona Gracia were largely unrecognized for many years. However, this is changing. The intrigue among the powers of Europe and Turkey for her money, her efforts to save Marrano Jews from the Inquisition, her concern for their subsequent lives as proud Jews, and the first attempt at Zionism after over a thousand years of exile is an inspiring story that deserves to be told.  

Tiberias and its ancient walls:


Until the modern period, Tiberias was a walled city that was situated adjacent to the lake. Following the 1948 War of Independence, the homes within it were destroyed, and with the expansion of Tiberias to the sides of the old city and up the hill, the old city no longer had any significance. However, the ruins of some of its walls are still apparent. Their location is of interest in showing how the old walled city moved northwards during various historic periods. Its eastern wall was always close to the lake.


The Roman city of Herod Antipas was built adjacent to Hamat Tiberias. Its southern gate with towers at each side can be seen in the Berko National Park.


The Crusaders also erected a citadel within the old city. Its location was unknown until recently, but was discovered during excavations carried out to the north of the Jewish Courtyard. You can see these excavations when you approach the Jewish Courtyard from HaYarkon Street.


Donna Gracia also built walls around her city, but these are not readily apparent. When Zahir-al-Umar rebelled against the Ottomans in the early 18th century, he fortified the city. His western wall can be seen on the east side of one of its main streets, HaGalil St. Look above the stores and you will see it! Ruins of his southern wall are at the southern end of the parking lot adjacent to the Leonardo Plaza hotel.


The son of Zahir-al-Umar built a citadel at the northwest part of the Ottoman wall in 1745 and its ruins can be soon on Tagger St off al-Hadif St. Nearby and also on this street is the Seraya, or the Ottoman governmental headquarters.


By the beginning of the 20th century the old city had reached full capacity. The first houses were built outside the city in 1911. Thus began the westward expansion of the city.

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