City of mosaics from the mishnaic period
By Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Zippori National Park, encompassing the ruins of the ancient Roman- and talmudic-era city of Zippori, is located in the rolling hills of Lower Galilee, west of Nazareth.
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.
The 4,500-seat Roman theater at Zippori, which has been partially restored, affords a beautiful view of the Galilee mountains and the Bet Netofa Valley. Other main attractions include a talmudic-era residential quarter; the Crusader fortress; the restored third-century villa housing a magnificent mosaic depicting scenes from the life of Dionysus, the god of wine; and the hauntingly beautiful "Mona Lisa of the Galilee." The synagogue with its magnificent mosaic and the Nile Mosaic from the fifth century CE are also highlights, as is the 250-meter-long, first-century CE underground water system, which had a capacity of 5,000 cubic meters.
The Zippori visitors center hosts activities and guided tours, as well as ‘ancient-style’ Bar Mitzvahs and other events.