The ancient city of Zippori (aka Tzippori) was described by the first century Jewish historian, Josephus Flavius, as “the ornament of all Galilee.” This beautiful archaeological site is located on a hill in the Lower Galilee, midway between the Mediterranean Sea and Sea of Galilee. With abundant spring water and a fertile valley around it, it is a truly beautiful spot and includes what many have come to describe as the Mona Lisa of the Galilee.
An ancient city of great importance, Zippori was founded in the Hellenistic era and named the administrative capital of Galilee by Gabinius, the Roman governor, in the mid-first century BCE. Relatively uniquely, the city did not join the revolt against Rome in 66 CE instead opening its gates to the legions of the Roman Emperor Vespasian and thus being saved.
By the second century, Zippori had become the center of Jewish religious and spiritual life in the Land of Israel. The Sanhedrin (supreme Jewish religious and judicial body), headed by Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, was located in Zippori at the beginning of the third century, at which time Jews constituted the majority of the town’s population. Even after the seat of the Sanhedrin was moved to Tiberias, Zippori remained a center of Bible study and notable sages taught in its numerous academies.
The discovery of rich, figurative mosaics during excavations at Zippori provide evidence of the Roman character of the city’s pagan population, which coexisted in harmony with the Jews during the period of economic prosperity in the late Roman period. Zippori was destroyed in 363 by an earthquake, but was rebuilt soon thereafter, retaining its social and spiritual centrality in Jewish life in the Galilee, and the city had a growing Christian population during Byzantine times. Following the Arab conquest in the mid-seventh century, the city declined, however.
Since 1990 large areas of Zippori have been excavated, illuminating the written history of the city through incredible mosaics which line the floor. The remains of the ancient city are now a national park and attest to the uniquely pluralistic quality of Zippori over the centuries. The sites include a Roman theater, a Jewish residential quarter, ritual baths, churches and many, many mosaics including, notably the ‘Mona Lisa of the Galilee’
Zippori National Park is located off route 79, between Nazareth and HaMovil junction, 5 minutes from Nazareth, 45 minutes from Haifa, and 90 minutes from Tel Aviv. For archaeology fans, this is one not to miss.