Tzippori, an ancient city in the lower Galilee, was once a center of Jewish life. The Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court, was located there. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, who wrote the Mishna, also lived there.
Tzippori is now a national park which is famous for its beautiful mosaic floors and ancient reservoir.
The ancient city of Sepphoris was fortified by the Assyrians in the 7th century BCE; it was then used as an administrative center under Babylonian, Hellenistic and Persian rule.
At the end of the 2nd century BCE, the Hasmoneans settled there and renamed the city Tzippori. Herod the Great captured the city without a battle in 37 BCE, bringing in Roman influences. After Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, the Jews rebelled against Roman rule. The Roman governor Varus destroyed the city of Tzippori and many of the Jews were sold into slavery. When Herod Antipas became governor in 1 CE, he rebuilt the city and renamed it Autocratis; the city was known as the “ornament of the Galilee”. During the first Jewish Revolt in 66 CE, the Jews of the city chose not to rebel, they signed a pact with the army and opened their gates to the Romans; the city was therefore not destroyed as were many other cities.
The city was renamed Diocaesarea in the 2nd century. After the Bar Kokhba revolt, many Jews settled in the city, including Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi who wrote the Mishna in 220 CE. The Jewish religious court, the Sanhedrin, was also moved to the city. In 351 CE, the Jews of the city rebelled against Roman oppression. This rebellion was quelled by Gallus Caesar. The city of Diocaesarea was destroyed in an earthquake in 363 CE. The city was rebuilt, and Jews, Romans, and Christians lived peacefully in the city during the Byzantine period.
In the 5th century, Christians came to live in Zippori. They believed that Zippori was the home of Mary’s parents, Ann and Joachim. They built a church in honor of St. Ann.
In 634 CE, the city, now known as Saffuriya, was conquered and ruled by the Arabs, under the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. In the 12th century, the Crusaders arrived and built a fortress overlooking the city, which they renamed La Sephorie. In 1187, Saladin conquered the city and renamed it Saffuriya; in 1516 CE, the Ottomans conquered the country.
Over the next 400 years, Tzippori was a small village of a few hundred Muslim families. The Byzantine church of St. Anna was completely destroyed. The village thrived on its pomegranate and olive produce.
The remains of various buildings were found in Tzippori, attesting to the various inhabitants of the city. These include remains from Roman, Jewish, and Crusader structures.
The 12th century Crusader tower was built on top of foundations from a Byzantine structure. The upper part of the tower was built in the 18th century, and was used as a school in the 1900s. The tower has a museum of the history of Tzippori and display of artifacts found on the second floor, and a view of Tzippori from the top of the tower.
The Roman theater has been reconstructed. It originally seated 4500 people, but it was damaged either by conquest or from the earthquake in 363 CE. It can be approached from the path, or seen from the Crusader tower.
The old Jewish town has been excavated, including a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) and a cobblestone street.
The Nile house, dating from the 5th century, has a mosaic floor depicting rituals regarding water. The intricate pictures show flooding and measuring the waters of the Nile. Drainage channels were also found in this house.
The Roman villa, dating from the 3rd century, contains the most famous mosaics in Tzippori. These mosaics portray various figures, including Dionysis, the god of wine, Pan and Hercules, as well as mortals. The center of the mosaic portrays a lady, presumably Venus. A description of each of the various panels of the mosaic is mounted at the path above the mosaic. The villa was destroyed in the earthquake of 363 CE.
The synagogue was built in the 6th century. It has seven panels in the mosaic, including a zodiac with the Hebrew months and Helios in his sun chariot. It also has some panels in the mosaic depicting sacrifices and sacrificial worship in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There is also a scene of angels visiting Sarah and another of the binding of Isaac (Akedat Yitzchak). An inscription in Aramaic recalls the name of the donors who paid for the mosaic floors.
The water system from the 1st century CE was intricate and well designed. You can enter it and walk through the tunnels and cisterns.
Tip: Zippori National Park is located about 5 kilometers west of Nazareth. To reach it, take route 79 west from Nazareth. Turn north on route 7926 to Zippori.
Tip: A film of the history of Tzippori can be viewed at the souvenir shop. It is available in Hebrew and English.
Tip: Tzippori National Park is open during the standard park hours. In winter, it is open from 8:00-16:00, and in summer from 8:00-17:00.
Tip: Some of the park is wheelchair accessible, but parts are not. The Nile Mosaic and the ancient synagogue can be reached by wheelchair.