Tag Archives: Tiberias

Sabbath in Tiberias – Day Twelve, Saturday 25th May

Our hotel is a short walk – about 15 minutes – from the centre of Tiberias, and some of our group have already explored the town, but the four or five of us who have been out previously to Tabgha and Nof Ginosar, have so far not venured in that direction.  So, at breakfast we decided to remedy that shortcoming.

Sea of Galilee, early morning

It was a pleasant walk into the town, which was mostly shut up because of the Sabbath.  That didn’t stop us from window shopping, however and there were some shops where that was decidely the best way of shopping.

The town of Tiberias is very ancient, established by Herod Antipas (one of the sons of Herod the Great) around the year 20CE, and named, probably in an act of sycophancy, after the Roman emperor Tiberias.  Despite Herod’s making it the capital of his territory in Galilee, for many years it was shunned by observant Jews because the town enclose a cemetery and was thus ritually unclean.  Over the centuries its importance became greater, and in the 16th century became regarded as one of Israel’s four most holy cities, after Jerusalem and Hebron. It was, however, from the first, a cosmopolitan town since Herod Antipas imported non-Jews from other parts of his Tetrarchy.  Over the centuries the make-up of the population changed several times, as Tiberias was conquered succesively by the Romans, the Byzantine empire, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Mamelukes, and the Ottomans, who were succeeded by the British Mandate and eventually, in 1948 by modern Israel.

Twice in its long history it has been noted as a centre for rabbinic study, and the great 12th century philosopher, physician and rabbinic scholar Moses Maimonides was buried in Tiberias as he wished, after his death in Egypt.  Seventeen times since 30 CE it has been severely damaged by earthquakes, the last time in 1943, and in 1934 what had been rebuilt after the major 1837 earthquake was either damaged or destroyed in a major flood.

Remains of an early Synagogue

There are, however, some of the ancient buildings remaining, although some, like a Sephardic synagogue, are in ruins.  There are also the remains of an Roman amphitheatre, now set in a small park.

One thing that we did note was that although there were many people on their way to worship at the synagogues, and we passed several on our walk, there were no extremes of dress as we had seen in Jerusalem.  In that sense it seemed a homogenous community, but Tiberias has been a place where both Ashkenazi and Sephardi have settled. Is this, perhaps, because of Tiberias’  cosmopolitan foundation?  It would be interesting to follow up, I think.

Roman Catholic Church in Tiberias – interior

After our walk around the seaside part of the town, and the shopping area, we headed to the harbour where we found a cafe and sat and talked fo a while.  It was rather lovely, just to sit and chat and unwind and watch the world go by.

Then we strolled back to the hotel to gird ourselves up for the packing, ready for an early start the next day; for then we begin our journey home.  And since we would be travelling home on a Sunday the whole group gathered together in the hotel garden in the evening for a final act of worship together, a Eucharist which reminded us of the memories we had gathered on this pilgrimage.


Home – but not yet! – Day Ten, Thursday 23rd May

OK, I don’t claim to be a birder!  I have been reliably informed that what I said yesterday were swifts at the Mensa Christi chapel were, in fact, swallows.  Apologies but they were winging about so fast I just had to guess!!

Yesterday was the last formal day of our tour, and some of our party are returning home owing to work or other committments.  The rest of us now have  three days of leisure to explore, revisit favourite sites or just sit by the pool and – well, you get the idea.

Early morning at the Sea of Galilee, towards Tiberias

Early morning at the Sea of Galilee, towards Tiberias

I think I mentioned earlier that our hotel is right on the Sea of Galilee and this morning it was a deep joy to get up just before dawn and watch the sun rise over the mountains on the other side of the lake.  It was also fascinating to see the birds, mainly swallows and egrets, swooping over the lake, some so low that they were skimming the water.  Just over to our right there was a rock sticking out of the water, and this was a favourite spot for a pair of egrets to come and preen before taking off and flying round the lake again.

An egret's favourite perch - he's just taken off again

An egret’s favourite perch – he’s just taken off again

The other fascinating thing was to watch the shoals of fish of varying sizes come swimming close in.  Mostly there seemed to be two sorts, the talapia which are plentiful in the lake and catfish, some of which were quite large, up to two feet long.  These mornings were very quiet and peaceful, ideal for reflection before the busyness of the day.  Usually there were never more than three or four others around, and with plenty of frontage to the lake we didn’t have to crowd each other.  Sometimes a couple of hardy souls would go and swim in the lake or in the pool.

Four of us decided that we would like to go back to Tabgha and spend more time in the gardens there and by the lakeside where we had celebrated the Eucharist, so we hired a taxi and off we went.  The taxi ride was, to say the least, interesting since the driver had two mobile phones which he juggled, and at times he managed to drive with no hands on the wheel.  Nevertheless we did get there safely, only to find that there was a special celebration on at the Church of the Loaves and Fishes, and the gardens were closed.  Undaunted we walked a couple of hundred yards up the road back to the Mensa Christi chapel where there are also some fine gardens, but which visitors are not allowed into, so all we could do was look through

Chapel of the Mensa Christi - interior

Chapel of the Mensa Christi – interior

the fence!  When we were here yesterday our group was virtually alone: today people were arriving by the coach load.  Many of them had services at one of the open air chapels, and it was fascinating to sit and hear the familiar liturgy in different languages, Brazilian, Japanese, American.  Fascinating, too just to watch people as they stood by the lakeside.  Some looked out over the lake, some paddled, some filled little containers and all the while the guides were explaining the significance of the site to their various groups, and again the mixture of languages floated over the air.

The time passed quickly and, having gone our separate ways we got back together again, rendezvoused with the taxi and returned to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon.

Moving On to Galilee – Day Seven, Monday 20th May

Today was another early start as we needed to be packed, rooms cleared, breakfasted and on the coach by 7.30am for our move to Galilee and the next phase of our pilgrimage.    Of course we are not going directly to Galilee. Our first stop is at the village of Abu Ghosh, which is one of three possible sites of Emmaus, where the resurrected Jesus revealed himself to two downcast disciples (Luke 24, 13-33).

Inside the Benedictine Chapel at Abu Ghosh

Now a small town, Abu Ghosh has, apparently, the earliest traces of human habitation in Israel, and a fascinating history.  Traditionally it has been identified with Anathoth, birthplace of the prophet Jeremiah and as the place where the Ark of the Covenant remained for twenty years in the house of Abinadab, until King David brought it up to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6, 1-19).  We visited the Benedictine monastery there, which has a beautiful chapel.

Our next stop was quite a surprise!  I think the picture says it all!

Yes, it is Elvis!

Yes, it is Elvis!

We made a slight detour on our way to our next scheduled destination, and came to a filling station with a cafe entirely devoted to Elvis Presley.  The statue in the picture is one of many Elvis memorabilia which includes pictures covering every wall.  If you buy a drink it is served in an Elvis mug that you get to keep.

Part of the old harbour, now largely destroyed

After our brief refreshment stop (I didn’t get an Elvis mug; I got an ice-cream instead. Personally I’ve always been more a Roy Orbison fan!) we went on to our next destination which was the seaside own of Caesarea Maritima – not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi which is tomorrow’s visit.  Now a national park, Caesarea Maritima was built by Herod the Great and for some time was the  capital of the Province of Judea under Roman rule.  It was a grandiose building project which included a massive harbour, and a hippodrome, as well as an arena.

After a video introduction to the site, and a tour of some of the ruins we went to lunch in one of the many restaurants in the central area and then picked up our coach again for a trip to Nazareth.

Part of modern Nazareth

Part of modern Nazareth

Nazareth is now a sizeable town, and growing.  The Basilica of the Annunciation is a huge building built in 1969 over the remains of a Crusader church, which in turn was built over the remains of a Byzantine chapel over the cave where traditionally Mary lived and was visited by the Archangel Gabriel (Luke 1, 26-38).  The Greek Orthodox tradition, however, has it that the Visitation occurred when Mary was at a spring nearby, and they have built a church at that site.

Basilica of the Annunciation

On the walls of the courtyard surrounding the Basilica there are murals, some mosaics, of the interpretation of the Annuciation by various countries, some forty or fifty of them, and it was a necessary reminder – if one was still needed – that our  image of the Holy Family is not automatically shared by the rest of the world.  Some of the murals were exquisitely beautiful; others were full of colour and liveliness.  It was fascinating!

Welsh interpretation of the Annunciation

Welsh interpretation of the Annunciation

Equally fascinating were the bronze doors of the Basilica, which showed scenes from the life of Jesus.

From here we went to the Church of St Joseph, where we were disappointed to find that access to the lower part, the traditional site of Joseph’s workshop, was not accessible as new archaeological investigations and restorations were taking place.

Finally, it was back on the coach to our new hotel at Tiberias, the Ron Beach Hotel <http://tinyurl.com/ktroo3h> on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, passing by as we went the village of Cana.