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Jews and Romans in Tzipori 

Sipphoris, or Tzipori as it is called in Hebrew, in the Tzipori National Park was the capital of the Galilee during the Roman period, and both Jews and Romans lived here. It is very apparent from the archeological ruins that their lifestyles were very different. A number of buildings in the park have been restored. Four short movies are also shown. All this makes a visit to this site a very vivid experience. Tzipori is also on the Jesus trail, as Christian tradition holds this site to be the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus.



Directions: Enter “Tzipori National Park” into Waze.

Admission: This is a site of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Park hours are 8.00 am to 5.00 pm on Sunday to Thursday and Saturday. The site closes one hour earlier on Fridays and holidays. Closing is 1 hour earlier in the winter. Last entry is one hour before closing. At the beginning of the park is an entrance pavilion with a parking area, gift shop, restrooms, and a partially shaded picnic area by the gift shop. Their phone number is 04-656 8272. This is their website.

Public transport: Enter "Tzipori National Park" into Moovit. The park is a 3.7-Km/46-minute walk from the closest bus stop at Tzipori Interchange. Several bus lines stop at this location.

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Overlooking the Beit Netofa Valley from Tzipori.

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The history of Tzipori


According to the Talmud, Tzipori was called this because it was perched on top of the mountain like a bird (tzipor). It overlooks the Beit Netofa Valley to the north.


A small Jewish town existed here from the Persian period. It was conquered by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BCE and he made Tzpori the capital of the Galilee. The city was subsequently conquered by Herod the Great, who built a palace here. After his death, the inhabitants attempted to break loose from Herodian rule but this revolt was crushed.


Josephus tried to take over the city during the Great Revolt but failed and the inhabitants surrendered to Vespasian, thereby saving their lives and the city from destruction. Perhaps because of this, Tzipori was given the status of a Roman polis after the Great Revolt and government institutions and public buildings were built. Following the Bar Kochba Revolt, many Jews from Judea settled here. Tzipori is mentioned frequently in the Talmud as a Jewish city, although it also had pagan citizens. At one time it contained 18 synagogues and study houses.


After the Bar Kochba Revolt and the subsequent Jewish migration to the Lower Galilee, the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish religious court, moved from Usha to Beit She’arim. When Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi (Rebbe) moved to Tzipori for the last 12 years of his life for health reasons, the Sanhedrin moved with him. Rebbe was head of the Sanhedrin and an administrative leader of the Jews, and in Tzipori he would have been able to work more closely with the Roman authorities. He completed his redaction of the Mishna here. The Sanhedrin remained in Tzipori until the 3rd century CE, when it moved to Tiberias under the leadership of Rabbi Yohanan.


​A restored synagogue from the Byzantine period has an exceptionally beautiful mosaic floor. A movie is shown here about the death of Rebbe.


Roman ruins include an outdoor theater and a Roman villa called the Dionysus House. This contains the famous mosaic “the Mona Lisa of the Galilee," and this is considered by many to be the pinnacle of mosaic art in this country.  A movie is shown here and also in the Crusader fortress. The mosaics in the Byzantine Nile House in the Roman residential area are also worth viewing because of their considerable beauty.

Churches were built in Tzipori during the Byzantine period, although the city remained predominantly Jewish. There was a major earthquake in 363 CE, but the city was rapidly rebuilt. It was conquered in the 7th century by the Muslims and subsequently went into decline.


The Crusaders captured the city during the Crusader period, renamed it Le Soupherie, and built here a fortress. It is from this fortress that the Crusaders left for the Battle of Hattin, during which they were defeated by Saladin (see the webpage Karnei Hittin National Park). There were no Jews living in the city during this time.


In the Muslim period, Tzipori became an Arab village. The Arabs engaged in anti-Jewish military activity during the 1948 War of Independence and the village was abandoned when it was attacked by Jewish forces.

Jews and Romans in Tzipori – together but apart


Romans and Jews fought two bitter wars against each other - the Great Revolt and then some 60 years later the Bar Kochba Revolt. The latter led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews and the destruction of the country of Judea. Nevertheless, these two people managed to live together in Tzipori throughout this period and for much longer. The reason for this must surely be that the Jews of Tzipori stayed out of both these revolts.


The Zealots who initiated the Great Revolt and Rabbi Akiva who supported the Bar Kochba Revolt had messianic ideas about achieving independence from Rome and rebuilding the Temple. Both revolts led to disaster for the Jews. Nevertheless, there were sages such as the leader Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, who escaped from Jerusalem during the Great Revolt, and Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, who became the religious and political leader of the Jews of the Galilee in about 161 CE, about 26 years after the Bar Kochba Revolt, who realized that for the sake of the preservation of Judaism a positive relationship had to be maintained with Rome. Both these leaders therefore adopted a path of realism. This did not need be at the expense of Jewish tradition, but would be at the expense of Jewish messianism.

Tzipori is a good example of this accommodation. For much of the time, Tzipori had a Jewish majority, although gentiles also lived in the city. Their separate lives are very evident from the archeological findings. Roman life is typified by the mosaic in the Roman villa depicting the adoration of the god of wine. There was also a Roman theater in the city. Jewish life is typified by its synagogues and study halls where Jewish law was studied and developed.

The park brochure describes a 3- to 4-hour walking tour, but most people will probably want to go by car to the different areas.


  • Just past the park entrance gate and on the left as you approach the park is a parking area. From here you can visit the impressive Roman water delivery system for the city.


As for other Roman cities, Tzipori had running water for its public baths and sewage. Water was channeled from springs in the Nazareth Mountains and brought into the city by two systems. A reservoir delivered water to most of the city by means of a large tunnel. This was dug into a fault line between chalk and limestone and had 6 shafts. You can descend into the reservoir and the beginning of its 235-meter-long tunnel. The aqueduct system also delivered water to a reservoir east of the city.

  • Park by the entrance pavilion of the park. A short movie about Tzipori is shown in a room adjoining the gift shop.  You can request for it to be shown in English. From the entrance pavilion you can either begin the circular walk around the park or drive to the next area of interest.


  • If you are driving, park at the next parking area. For the Jewish angle on this city, descend via the steps to the reconstructed synagogue.


According to sources, Tzipori had many synagogues, but this is the only one so far located. It was in use during the late Byzantine period, between the 5th to 7th centuries. Outside the synagogue is a mikveh. The building is narrow and had only one row of columns, probably because it was constructed between other buildings and there was insufficient room for it to be broader. Lack of space is also a reason proposed that the synagogue faced to the west and not towards Jerusalem as do most other synagogues in the Galilee (although not all).

Look at the details of the beautiful mosaic floor, which is in seven sections. The section closest to the synagogue entrance shows two scenes from stories of Abraham - the three angels visiting Sarah to inform her that she will become pregnant in her old age (this part is very damaged) and the binding of Isaac story with the two servants waiting for father and son to return from the sacrifice. Moving away from the entrance in the direction towards where the ark would have been is the Zodiac with a representation of the sun rather than the god Helios as in some other synagogues. Surrounding this are the Talmud's twelve constellations, corresponding to the 12 months of the year. The months of the year are written in Hebrew. The rest of the mosaic depicts aspects of the Temple service in Jerusalem. The next panel shows offerings in the Temple - the daily tamid animal sacrifice, the showbread on its table and a basket of first fruits. Next is a representation of Aaron offering various sacrifices in the Tabernacle. To his far right is a water-filled basin, although this panel is damaged. The next panel shows two 7-branched menorahs on either side of the Temple building and flanking this an incense shovel and the Temple symbols of a lulav and shofer. Finally, a panel of two lions with each of their front paws resting on the head of an ox. It will be recalled that the Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah whose symbol was a lion.


A movie is shown in the synagogue about the death of Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi. The sages and students were praying for the recovery of their Rabbi and this was preventing ascent of his soul. However, his virtuous housemaid realized that it was time for him to pass away and she broke a jug. This led to a momentary break in the prayers, at which time Rebbe died.

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Mosaic from the synagogue showing two lads waiting for Abraham and Isaac to return from the Sacrifice of Isaac. 

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This panel shows the daily sacrifice, showbread and first fruit offering, and above this Aaron offering sacrifices in the Sanctuary.

  • Ascend to the acropolis. To your left is the Dionysus House and Crusader Fortress and to your right the theater. ​Dionysos House is a reconstructed Roman mansion from the beginning of the 3rd century (#10 in the brochure). I


This building was damaged by an earthquake in 363 CE. One enters into the courtyard. This was at the center of the building and was surrounded on three sides by rows of columns. It led into the dining hall or triclinium. This dining room is deservedly famous because of its mosaic, which shows 15 scenes related to the Roman drinking god Dionysos and his cult. Staring at you is the bust of an attractive lady, often called "The Mona Lisa of Tzipori." It is usually held that Leonardo Da Vinci discovered the technique of creating the impression that a painted figure is staring at you. In actuality, this technique for the eyes was already known by the artist who created this mosaic. The blank areas in the mosaic are where couches would have been situated. A movie is also shown in this room. Other rooms were arranged around the courtyard and triclinium, including a bathroom, which probably had running water.  

The Romans ate reclining on couches. The rabbis who formulated the seder service for the eve of Passover wished to create a feeling of freedom and they had no better example of this than how Romans dined. This is how leaning was instituted during the Passover seder service. 

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“The Mona Lisa of Tzipori" in the mosaic at the Dionysos House (#10). 

  • Walk to the Crusader fortress. This was built in the Crusader period on an earlier structure.


This building was later refurbished and used as a school for children of the Arab village. Two short movies are shown here. One is about people of that time gossiping about Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi. The other, shown a floor higher, attempts to recreate the atmosphere of a Jewish study hall discussing a question of ethics. Go up to the roof where there is a lookout with a spectacular view. A useful sign identifies what you are viewing.

  • A visit to the Roman theater is worthwhile.


The theater was an integral part of a Roman city. It provided entertainment and was also used for public functions. The stage and its backdrop no longer exist, but their location is indicated. The entertainment shown was disapproved of by the Rabbis but was probably attractive to some Jews (otherwise the Rabbis would not have complained about it). About those who resisted the temptation the Talmud says: “Happy is the man who did not go to theaters and to circuses of those who worship the stars” (TB Avoda Zara 18b).

  • From the acropolis descend to the Roman section of the city dating from the early 2nd century. The grid arrangement of the streets and the two main paved streets, the Decumanus and the Cardo, are typical for a Roman city. Both these main streets would have had colonnades. Visit especially the covered Nile House, which has spectacular mosaic floors. Explanations are provided in the building.


This semi-circular theater (#14) was built at the end of the 1st century or beginning of the 2nd century. 

Nearby places of interest:

Tzipori is on the Jesus Trail, as Christian tradition holds that Tzipori was the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Links to the HOME PAGE and best family activities, hikes and historic sites in the GOLAN, EASTERN GALILEE, UPPER GALILEE, LOWER GALILEE, JORDAN VALLEY & LAKE KINNERET, the SHEFELAH, TEL AVIV-YAFFO and surroundings, NORTH of TEL AVIV, and SOUTH of TEL AVIV.

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