Tzipori National Park is located in Lower Galilee, west of Nazareth. This National Park has many remains of the ancient city Tzipori (AKA Zippori or Tsipori), including many beautiful mosaics and an ancient water system.
Map of the area:
Historic background from Israel Nature and Parks Authority (official site):
The city knew many ups and downs. When Herod the Great was consolidating power over the country early in his reign (37 BCE) Zippori fell to him without a battle. After Herod’s death (4 BCE), rebellions against the Romans broke out, which were quelled when Zippori was destroyed by the Roman governor Varus. Some scholars believe that Zippori learned a lesson during this rebellion, and thus did not join the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans (66-73 CE).
Zippori did not remain in ruin for long–Herod Antipas restored it so beautifully that Josephus Flavius described it as “the ornament of all Galilee.” Later, Rabbi Judah Hanasi moved the Sanhedrin from Bet She’arim to Zippori, where he redacted the Mishnah in 220 CE. The sages of Zippori also contributed to the Jerusalem Talmud, which was completed in the fourth century CE.
In 351 CE, the people of Zippori, together with the rest of Galilee, responded to Roman oppression by rising up against Gallus Caesar. The Jews of Zippori attacked the Roman garrison, killed the soldiers and took their weapons. According to Christian sources, Rome’s violent crushing of the revolt included the destruction of Zippori. However, no archaeological evidence of this destruction has been found. Evidence has been unearthed of the city’s destruction in an earthquake in 363.
Christians and Jews lived together in Zippori from the fifth century on. The presence of a small Jewish community there during the Middle Ages is revealed by a 10th-century letter found in the Cairo Geniza. The Crusaders believed that Ann and Joachim, the parents of Mary the mother of Jesus, lived in Zippori. Remains of the church they built commemorating St. Ann can still be seen.
A Crusader fortress, rebuilt in the 18th century by Daher al-Omar, the Bedouin ruler of the Galilee, now crowns the top of the hill at Zippori. The village at that time was called Safouriyeh, which retained the sound of the ancient Hebrew name.
Visiting Tzipori National Park
When you enter Tzipori National Park you will see car parking to your left. If you want to see the ancient Tzipori Water System then you should park there and hike. We will start with the ancient city and return to Tzipori Water System towards the end of this post.
In order to reach the city, you have to drive straight for additional several km and you will see additional parking there.
Most Israeli know Tzipori National Park for its famous Mona Lisa mosaic. In fact, there are many mosaics in this National Park. Over sixty different mosaics dating from the third to the sixth century CE can be found across the city.
The Nile House
After visiting the Nile house we continued toward the hill. From the hill you can get nice views of Tzipori National Park in the foreground and Nazareth in the background:
Roman Theater and Crusader Fortress
As you pass the hill you will find 4,500-seat Roman theater at Zippori, which has been partially restored, and the Crusader fortress on the top.
Today the Crusader fortress contains a small museum and from the roof, you can see 360 degrees views of the whole area.
The “Mona Lisa of the Galilee”
Unfortunately, the ancient synagogue with its magnificent mosaic was closed. But nonetheless, we enjoyed our visit. With a good guide, you can easily spend a half day at Tzipori National Park and the mosaics are beautiful. But, that is not the end. Let’s return to the car and drive back to the first parking. There we will find the Water System.
Tzipori Water System
Tzipori Water System is located next to the first parking, the one closer to the entrance.
We parked there and started walking along the trail. After several minutes we saw this beautiful sabres flower (aka Opuntia ficus-indica):
This cactus is also the origin of the term sabra used to describe Israelis. A spiky skin on the outside, but a soft, sweet interior, suggesting, that while the Israeli sabras are rough on the outside, they are sweet and sensitive once you get to know them.
The reservoir is approximately 260 meters long and 8-12 meters high. It was in use during 1-7 CE.
They call it the six shaft tunnel due to the construction method. They dug six shafts (about 15 meters deep each) and then dug horizontally in both directions till workers from different groups met.
At the beginning of this tunnel, there was a valve. Using this valve they regulated the quantity of water reaching the city.
The tunnel inside is quite small (0.8 meters and 1-3 meter high) and it’s also very dark. In order to visit this tunnel, you will need a flashlight.
From the exit, you can either continue walking to the city or return to your car. Since our car was at the first parking, we returned there.
Exploring Tzipori water system took about an hour. This is a nice addition to the visit of the ancient city and especially beloved by children, who can play with flashlights.
That’s all for today and I’ll see you in future travels!