Capernaum (the town of Jesus) is an ancient village. Let’s visit the White Synagogue, Peter’s House, and the Church Of The Holy Apostles.
Table of Contents
- 1 Map
- 2 What is the Meaning of Capernaum?
- 3 History
- 4 What miracles did Jesus perform at Capernaum?
- 5 Capernaum in the Bible
- 6 Jesus Trail
- 7 When to visit Capernaum?
- 8 Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) National Park
- 9 Franciscan part of Capernaum
- 10 Church Of The Holy Apostles
- 11 Summary
Capernaum is located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. And it is divided into three complexes (see explanations below). Here is a map of this region:
The Three Parts Of Capernaum
Today this whole complex is divided into three parts. Let’s go over them, and later in this post, we will pay a visit. Also, each of them is marked on the map above.
- Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) National Park – was constructed in recent years and is located outside the ancient village of Capernaum. But it is a good starting point to visit the remaining two parts. There is also a dock, and you can sail from there.
- Franciscan area of Capernaum – presents archeological remains like Peter’s house and Capernaum synagogue.
- The Greek Orthodox section – houses the Church of the Twelve Apostles (also named Church of the Holy Apostles).
And here is an interactive map of this area:
If you are driving there, then enter “Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) National Park” into Waze (or another navigation app).
Buses #52, #142, #61 and #62 stop not far from Capernaum. Here is the link to Moovit, where the endpoint was already set. Just enter your starting point, and you will get updated directions.
What is the Meaning of Capernaum?
Capernaum stands for two words: “Kfar Nahum,” which means “Nahum’s Village.” But there is no consensus on the honor of which Nahum, the village, was named after.
Kfar Naḥūm, the original name of the small town, means “Nahum’s village” in Hebrew, but apparently, there is no connection with the prophet named Nahum. In the writings of Josephus, the name is rendered in Greek as Kαφαρναούμ Kapharnaoúm and Κεφαρνωκόν, Kepharnōkón; the New Testament uses Kapharnaoúm in some manuscripts and Kαπερναούμ Kapernaoúm in others. In the Midrash Rabba (Ecclesiastes Rabba 7:47), the name appears in its Hebrew form, Kǝfar Naḥūm. In Arabic, it is also called Talḥūm, and it is assumed that this refers to the ruin (tall) of Ḥūm (perhaps an abbreviated form of Nāḥūm).
The remains of Capernaum of the New Testament are located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The town was a center of Jesus’ activities in the Jewish Galilee (Matthew 4:13, 8:5) and became known as “His own city” (Matthew 9:1), where he performed several miracles (Luke 4:31-35; Matthew 8:14-17; Mark 5:21-42) and visited the synagogue (Mark 1:21-28). Capernaum is also mentioned by Josephus Flavius (Life 72), who was brought there after being wounded in battle. Christian sources of the Byzantine period describe Capernaum as a village inhabited by Jews and Christians. In the early Muslim period (7th-8th centuries), Capernaum continued to prosper, then declined and was abandoned in the 11th century. Its ruins were known in Arabic as Tel Hum, preserving the ancient Hebrew name Kfar Nahum (Nahum’s village).
The remains of the buildings and the synagogue were identified in 1838 by Eduard Robinson as Capernaum of the New Testament period and have since attracted many researchers, primarily Christians. The Franciscan Fathers acquired the site at the end of the 19th century, and they conducted excavations, mainly of the synagogue building and of the octagonal structure south of it. The synagogue was partially restored in the early 20th century. Extensive excavations in the village’s area and the foundations of the synagogue and the octagonal structure were renewed by the Franciscan Fathers between 1968 and 1972. In 1978-1982 excavations were conducted in the area of the Greek Orthodox church, east of the synagogue.
Capernaum was first established during the Hellenistic period (2nd century BCE). During the period of Jesus’ activity in Galilee (beginning of the 1st century CE), it was a large Jewish village. In the Late Roman and Byzantine periods (3rd-7th centuries), it became a prosperous town spread over 13 acres, along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and the moderate slope to the north. The inhabitants were fishermen, farmers, and merchants. A Roman milestone bearing an inscription from Emperor Hadrian’s period (early 2nd century CE) attests to the vital road across the village, which linked the Galilee with Damascus.
Excavations revealed that the Second Temple period’s houses were arranged in insulae (blocks) with streets running between them. Generally consisting of a large courtyard surrounded by rooms, the houses were constructed of local basalt and cement, and their walls were covered with light-colored plaster. Each house had only one entrance from the street. The courtyards were paved with basalt, and staircases were built along their walls, giving access to the second story or the roof. Many ovens were uncovered in the courtyards, and the houses contained numerous grinding stones made of basalt.
What miracles did Jesus perform at Capernaum?
There are numerous references to Capernaum in the New Testament. And many of them mention miracles that Jesus performed in the village. Here are some of them:
- Healing of the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13).
- Driving out of an Impure Spirit (Mark 1:21-26).
- Healing of a Paralyzed Man (Mark 2:1-12).
- Healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29–31, and Luke 4:38–41).
Capernaum in the Bible
Capernaum is called The Town Of Jesus. Let’s look at Matthew 4:12-17 to understand the reasons that lead to this:
12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Moreover, the town is cited in all four gospels, and it was reported to have been the hometown of the tax collector Matthew. Also, Capernaum is located not far from Bethsaida, the hometown of the apostles Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
Jesus lived only a short period of his life in Capernaum (as far as I remember, three years). But Capernaum was not just a stopping point after Nazareth. Jesus started to preach at Capernaum. And spent time teaching and healing and meeting many of the Apostles.
Capernaum is the last stop on the Jesus Trail. And since I already wrote about it, I will not elaborate on this post. You can find additional information at the Church Of The Beatitudes.
When to visit Capernaum?
In the Sea of Galilee guide, I showed this region’s average temperatures and rain levels. And if I sum up, it is boiling during the summer. Thus prefer Spring or Autumn.
And now, let’s visit Capernaum.
Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) National Park
Sunday – Thursday, and Saturday: 8:00 – 16:00.
Friday and holiday eves: 8:00 – 13:00.
Note: opening hours were updated in June 2019. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
As I mentioned, this national park was built recently and is located near (and outside of) Capernaum. But it can be a good starting point since there is an information center, restrooms, and a kiosk on site. Here is what they say on the official site:
The main area of the national park, which covers approximately 80 dunams (20 acres), is northeast of the antiquities site. The INPA has prepared the area to assist and complement the visit to the antiquities. The national park will become part of the new promenade, 3.5 km long, which connects Capernaum and Ein Sheva (Tabgha).
A dock has been built near the antiquities site, allowing visitors to sail to Capernaum from Tiberias and Ein Gev. Because the lake level changes frequently, the dock has been constructed to rise and fall with the water level.
An information booth is now being established at the national park, with a souvenir shop, toilets, a restaurant, and a snack bar. A fishing village and artists’ village are also planned, where daily life in Second Temple times will be recreated.
Franciscan part of Capernaum
5 NIS per person.
8:00 – 17:00
Note: opening hours were updated in April 2021. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
The Franciscan Fathers procured this part at the end of the 19th century. And they conducted excavations, mainly of two structures: Peter’s House and the Synagogue. We will start our visit from the synagogue.
Archaeological excavations have revealed two ancient synagogues built one over the other. The one we can see today is the 4th-century synagogue. To be more precise many think it was constructed in the 4th century, but there is no consensus among researchers. The fact that archeologists agree on is that this is not the synagogue where Jesus preached.
Researchers’ opinions differ regarding the date of the synagogue’s construction. All agree that it is not the 1st century CE synagogue from the time of Jesus. According to most, the Galilee synagogue type, to which the Capernaum synagogue belongs, dates to the Roman period (2nd and 3rd centuries CE). It includes Roman architectural elements (the columns and the architectural elements above the columns: the architraves, the friezes, and the cornices), emphasizing the external form and decoration of the structure. Historical data also support this construction date. In this period, following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the Jewish population and its religious institutions were concentrated in Galilee. Their political and economic predominance made the building of so elaborate a synagogue possible.
The synagogue of Capernaum was an impressive structure. Built of large, white limestone blocks from the hills of Galilee west of the town, it stood out among the grey basalt buildings surrounding it. The synagogue was built on a platform, two meters above the town’s houses, and separated from it by streets on all four sides. Oriented north-south, it had a decorated, southern facade towards Jerusalem.
The synagogue consisted of a prayer hall (20.5 x 18.5 m.), a courtyard to the east (20.5 x 11 m.), and an entrance porch (4 m. wide), running along the façade of the entire building. Staircases on both sides of the entrance porch led to the synagogue. The prayer hall was reached from the courtyard by a single entrance. All parts of the synagogue were paved with large, thick slabs of smoothed limestone.
The Prayer Hall. Basilical in the plan, its outer walls were decorated with prominent, flat pilasters. Three entrances in the southern wall opened from the porch to the prayer hall. The hall was divided by a row of columns (16 in all) that created three narrow aisles along with three of its walls (all except the southern wall of the façade). The columns were placed on high pedestals and supported Corinthian capitals. Stone benches were placed along the western and eastern walls. The researchers cannot agree whether there was a story above the prayer hall; according to a proposed reconstruction, the prayer hall was covered by a gabled roof constructed of wooden beams with clay roof tiles.
The Courtyard. An addition on the eastern side of the prayer hall, constructed at a later date, was reached from the porch in the south by two entrances, with another entrance via a staircase in the courtyard’s northeastern corner. There were three windows in the eastern wall, high above street level. The courtyard was divided by columns into a central, unroofed part, with three covered porticos along the walls, except along the western wall (shared with the prayer hall).
This synagogue was decorated with white limestone. Thus it is also called The White Synagogue.
The second structure that was excavated is a nearby church. And it is said to be the home of Saint Peter.
Located some 30 meters south of the synagogue, structural remains of three building periods were uncovered. In the lowest level were remains of a dwelling of the 1st century BCE, identified by Christian tradition as the house of St. Peter. During this early period, religious significance was already attributed to the building, rooms were added, and its walls and floors were covered with light-colored plaster. The building and its largest room (7 x 6.5 m.) served as a Domus Ecclesia (church house) for the community. Pilgrims who visited there in the Roman period left graffiti on its walls, including the words “Jesus,” “Lord,” “Messiah,” and “God” in Greek, Latin, and Syriac, as well as Christian symbols including the crucifix, a boat, and fish.
During the 4th century, the building was enclosed by a high-walled, square precinct (27 x 27 m.). An atrium was added at the entrance, and its walls were covered with colored plaster.
In the mid 5th century, an octagonal church was constructed on the earlier remains. It consisted of two concentric octagons (16.5 m. and 8 m. in diameter, respectively). The inner octagon was built directly on the House of Peter’s walls to preserve a memory of that building. It was paved with colored mosaic and had a peacock, an ancient Christian symbol for eternal life, at the center. On three sides of the outer octagon were porticos paved in mosaic with geometric designs. The entrance to the building was on the west side. On the east side was a small apse with a baptismal font and rooms on each side.
In 1990, large concrete columns were raised around the house, and a new church was built above Peter’s House to avoid damaging Peter’s house. This modern church is in the air, about three meters above the original structure. Moreover, the contemporary church has a glass floor, through which you can see the foundations of the 5th-century octagonal church.
Since Peter was a fisherman, some suggest that the modern church looks like a boat. But I have not found any official references to this fact.
Church Of The Holy Apostles
And from Peter’s house, we will continue to the area belonging to the Greek Orthodox church. This area was almost not excavated, and today you can find a small church. It is referred to as both Church of the Holy Apostles and the Church of the Twelve Apostles.
I have not seen a clear sign on-site, and different sites state different opening hours. Some say 10:00 – 17:30 (or till 16:00 during winter), and others suggest 09:00 – 17:00. We visited it around 2 pm on a Saturday, and I recommend visiting somewhere in the middle of the day, like 10:00 – 15:00.
Close to the Orthodox Church of the Twelve Apostles, you can find beautiful trees “climbing up.” This photo was taken while looking up:
Church Of The Twelve Apostles
The Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Apostles, in common use simply Church of the Apostles is the church at the center of the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Apostles at Capernaum, standing among the ruins of ancient Capernaum (Kfar Nachum) near the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. It is also known as simply the Greek Orthodox church at Capernaum, to differentiate it from the Franciscan monastery standing in the southern part of Capernaum. It is sometimes named the Church of the Seven Apostles, based on the seven disciples mentioned in John 21 (John 21:1-2), but it is dedicated to all the twelve apostles of Jesus.
The church is situated in the more recent, north-eastern part of the ruined ancient town, which is where the inhabitants relocated after the destruction of the old town from the time of Jesus, as a result of either the 749 Galilee earthquake or of a human-made event of the 7th or 8th century.
Church Of The Holy Apostles has a beautifully painted interior.
On the right of the following exterior photo, you can see the Franciscan monastery.
Though the Orthodox Church of the Twelve Apostles is relatively small, it is beautiful.
Capernaum should be on the travel list not only for pilgrims but also for archeology and history lovers. And since the site is not large (a typical visit will take up to two hours), you can combine it with nearby attractions. You can find them in my guide to the Sea of Galilee.
Have you ever been to Capernaum? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
Additional ResourcesHere are several resources that I created to help travelers:
- Israel Trip Planner is the page that will help you to create your perfect travel route.
- National Parks And Nature Reserves page lists and put all national parks on the map. There is also a top list, information about ticket types and campsites.
- If you are looking for things to do, here are the pages for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Sea Of Galilee, and Makhtesh Ramon.
- Wondering what events are there in Israel? Here is the Events And Festivals By Season guide.