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Often referred to as the "Mona Lisa of the Galilee". Part of a mosaic floor in Tzippori.

Tzippori (Hebrew: צִפּוֹרִי), also known as Sepphoris, Diocesaraea (Ancient Greek: Διοκαισάρεια) and Saffuriya (Arabic: صفورية‎, also transliterated Safurriya and Suffurriye) is located in the central Galilee region of Israel, 6 kilometers (3.7 mi) north-northwest of Nazareth.[1] It lies 286 m above sea level and overlooks the Beit Netofa Valley. The site holds a rich and diverse historical and architectural legacy that includes Hellenistic, Jewish, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, Arabic and Ottoman influences. In later Christian traditions it is believed to be the birthplace of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where Saints Anna and Joachim once resided.[2]

Notable structures at the site include a Roman theater, two early Christian churches, a Crusader fortress that was renovated by Daher el-Omar in the 18th century, and upwards of forty different mosaics.[3]

Following the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132–135, Tzippori served as a center of Jewish religious and spiritual life and took in many Jewish refugees; remains of a 6th-century synagogue have been uncovered in the lower section of the site. In the 7th century, the town came under the rule of the Arab caliphates like much of the rest of Palestine. Successive Arab and Islamic imperial authorities ruled the area until the end of the first World War I, with a brief interruption during the Crusades.

Until its depopulation during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War,[4] Saffuriya was a Palestinian Arab village. Moshav Tzippori was established adjacent to the site in 1949. It falls under the jurisdiction of Jezreel Valley Regional Council, and in 2006 had a population of 616. The area occupied by the former Arab village was designated a national park in 1992


Early history[edit]

Although the date of the city's founding is a point of some dispute, it is at least as old as the 7th century BCE, when it was fortified by the ancient Assyrians. It subsequently served as an administrative center in the region under Babylonian, Hellenistic and Persian rule.[citation needed]

In 104 BCE, the Judean priestly dynasty of the Hasmoneans conquered Galilee under the leadership of either Alexander Jannaeus or Aristobulus I.[5] The city was called Tzippori, a name derived from the Hebrew word for 'bird', tsippor, perhaps because of its bird's-eye view the hilltop provides.[6] Sepphoris came under the direct rule of the Romans in the year 37 BCE, when the Roman client king Herod the Great captured the city from his rival Mattathias Antigonus, reportedly at the height of a snowstorm (Josephus, Ant. 14.414-6).[7]

Ancient Galilee

After Herod's death in 4 BCE, Sepphoris became the center of one of several Jewish rebellions against Roman rule. The Roman army moved in under the command of the Roman Governor in Syria, Varus.[citation needed] After burning the city, the Romans sold many of its inhabitants into slavery and crucified 2000 Jewish rebels (Josephus, Ant. 17.271-87; War 2.56-69).[citation needed] After Herod's son, Herod Antipas was made Tetrarch, or governor, he proclaimed the city's new name to be Autocratoris, in honor of the emperor (called Autocrator in Greek) and rebuilt it as the "Ornament of the Galilee" (Josephus, Ant. 18.27).[citation needed] An ancient route linking Tzippori to Legio, and further south to Samaria-Sebastia, is believed to have been paved by the Romans around this time.[8] The new population was loyal to Rome.

At the time of Jesus, Sepphoris was a large, Roman-influenced city. It has been suggested that Jesus, while living in Nazareth, may have done business there.[9] Archaeological investigations at the site have led to numerous debates about the influence of this town on Jesus, and shed light on differences within Galilean society.

The inhabitants of Sepphoris did not join the Great Jewish Revolt against Roman rule of 66 CE. The Jerusalemite Josephus, a son of Jerusalem's priestly elite had been sent north to recruit the Galilee into the rebellion's fold, but was only partially successful. According to archaeologist Zeev Weiss the city reflected "continuity, life and peace. It chose to open its gates to Rome and to continue to exist- there was exposure to the Other. There was a willingness to accept things that came from outside."[10]

Around the time of the rebellion Sepphoris had a Roman theatre - in later periods, bath-houses and mosaic floors depicting human figures. Sepphoris and Jerusalem may be seen to symbolize a cultural divide between those that sought to avoid any contact with the surrounding Roman culture and those who within limits, were prepared to adopt aspects of that culture. Rejected by Sepphoris and forced to camp outside the city Josephus went on to Jotapata, which did seem interested in the rebellion, - the siege of Jotapata ended on July 20 67 A.D. Towns and villages that did not rebel were spared and in Galilee they were the majority.[11] Coins minted in the city at the time of the Great Revolt carried the inscription Neronias and Eirenopolis, "City of Peace". After the revolt, symbolism used on the coins was little different from other surrounding pagan city coins with depictions of laurel wreaths, palm trees, caduceuses, and ears of barley.[citation needed]

Just prior to the Bar Kokhba revolt, the city's name was changed to Diocaesarea. Following the revolt in 132–135, many Jewish refugees from devastated Judea settled there, turning it into a center of Jewish religious and spiritual life. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, one of the compilers of the Mishnah, a commentary on the Torah, moved to Tzippori, along with the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish religious court.[12] Before moving to Tiberias by 150, Jewish academies of learning, yeshivot, were also based there. Diocaeserea, so named in honor of Zeus and the Roman emperor, became not only a center of spiritual and religious study, but also a busy metropolis of trade because of its proximity to important trade routes through Galilee.

Diocaesarea was destroyed by the Galilee earthquake of 363, but rebuilt soon afterwards, and retained its importance in the greater Jewish community of the Galilee, both socially, commercially, and spiritually. Jews and pagan Romans lived peacefully alongside one another during the Byzantine period, and the city welcomed a number of Christians as well.

Islamic conquest and the Crusaders[edit]

Ya'qubi noted that Saffuriyyah was taken during the first conquest by the Arab armies in Palestine,[13] in 634.[14] The city was incorporated into the expanding Umayyad Caliphate, and al-jund coins were minted by the new rulers.[15] Saffuriya was engaged in trade with other parts of the empire at the time; for example, cloaks made in Saffuriyya were worn by people in Medina.[16] Umayyad rule was replaced by Abbasid rule, and Arab and Islamic dynasties continued to control the city, with a brief interlude during the Crusades, up until its conquest by Israel in the war of 1948. Throughout this period of time, the city was known by the Semitic name Saffuriya.[17]

The early 12th century brought the Crusaders to Palestine. They built a fortress and watchtower atop the hill, overlooking Saffuriya, and dedicated it to Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Virgin Mary. This became one of their local bases in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and they renamed the city La Sephorie. In 1187, the Crusaders were dispatched from La Sephorie to fight the Battle of Hattin. After the defeat of the Crusaders by Saladin, the Ayyubid Sultan renamed the city Saffuriya. In the 15th century, Saffuriya came under the control of the Ottomans. It remained a titular see of the Catholic Church under the name Diocaesarea in Palaestina.

In the 14 centuries between the rule of Herod of Antipas and that of the Ottoman empire, the city reportedly thrived as a center of learning, with a diverse, multiethnic and mutlireligious population of some 30,000 living in relatively peaceful coexistence.[18]

Modern history[edit]

Sefurieh - Plain of Buttauf, Palestine, 1859.jpg
Sefurieh, 1859
Saffuriyya is located in Mandatory Palestine
Arabic صفورية
Also spelled Suffurriye, Safurriya
Subdistrict Nazareth
Coordinates 32°45′10.4″N 35°16′46.2″E / 32.752889°N 35.279500°E / 32.752889; 35.279500Coordinates: 32°45′10.4″N 35°16′46.2″E / 32.752889°N 35.279500°E / 32.752889; 35.279500
Population 4,330[19] (1945)
Area 55,378[19] dunams
Date of depopulation 16 July 1948/January 1949[20]
Cause(s) of depopulation Military assault by Yishuv forces
Secondary cause Expulsion by Yishuv forces
Current localities Tzippori and the village land was distributed between Kibbutz Sde Nahum, Kibbutz Heftziba and Kibbutz HaSolelim[20][21]
Crusader/Ottoman Fortress, the upper part was used as a school from the early 1900s (decade) until 1948.[22] Note doorway constructed under Daher el-Omar.

Saffuriya (Arabic: صفورية‎, also transliterated Safurriya and Suffurriye), along with the whole of Palestine, came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire after it defeated the Mamluks at the Battle of Marj Dabiq in 1516. An Ottoman firman of 1572 describes Saffuriyya as one of a group of villages within the sanjak of Safad, which was part of the Qaysi faction, and that had rebelled against the Ottoman authorities.[23] At the end of the 16th century, the population was recorded as consisting of 366 families and 34 bachelors, all Muslim. Saffuriyya was larger than neighboring Nazareth but smaller than Kafr Kanna.[24] A number of important scholars came from the village during this period, including the qadi, al-Baq'a al-Saffuri (died 1625) and Ahmad al-Sharif (died 1633), a poet and qadi.[25]

It is reported that in 1745 Daher el-Omar, who grew up in the town,[26] built a fortress on the hilltop above Saffuriya.[14] In the early 19th century, the British traveller J. Buckingham noted that all the inhabitants of Saffuriya were Muslim, and that the house of St. Anna had been completely demolished.[14][27]

In the late 19th century, Saffuriyya was described as village built of stone and mud, situated along the slope of a hill. The village contained the remains of the Church of St. Anna and a square tower, said to have been built in the mid-18th century. The village had an estimated 2,500 residents, who cultivated 150 faddans (1 faddan = 100-250 dunams), on some of this land they had planted olive trees.[28] In 1900, an elementary school for boys was founded, and later, a school for girls. A local council was established in 1923. The expenditure of the council grew from 74 Palestinian pounds in 1929 to 1,217 in 1944.[14]

Though it lost its centrality and importance as a cultural centre under the Ottomans (1517–1918) and the British Mandate (1918–1948), the village thrived agriculturally. Saffuriyya's pomegranates, olives and wheat were famous throughout the Galilee.[29]

In summer of 1931, archaeologist Leroy Waterman began the first excavations at Saffuriya, digging up part of the school playground, formerly the site of a Crusader fortress.[1]

In 1944/45 a total of 21,841 dunams of village land was used for cereals, 5,310 dunams were irrigated or used for orchards, mostly olive trees.[14][30] By 1948, Saffuriya was the largest village in the Galilee both by land size and population, which was estimated at 4,000 Arabs.[31]

On July 1, 1948, during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the village was bombarded by Israeli aircraft.[31] On 16 July it was captured by Israeli forces along with the rest of the lower Galilee in Operation Dekel. The villagers put up some resistance and managed to destroy several armoured cars in an ambush.[32] Following the collapse of the resistance all but 80 of the villagers fled. Some made their way northwards toward Lebanon, finally settling in the refugee camps of Ain al-Hilweh and Shatila and the adjacent Sabra neighborhood in Lebanon. Others fled south to Nazareth and the surrounding countryside. After the attack, the villagers returned but were evicted again in September 1948.[4] On January 7, 1949, 14 residents were deported and the remaining 550 were resettled in neighboring Arab villages such as 'Illut.[4] Many settled in Nazareth in a quarter now known as the al-Safafira quarter because of the large number of Saffuriyya natives living there.[29] As the Israeli government considers them absentees, they cannot go back to their old homes and have no legal recourse to recover them.[33]

The area remained under martial law until 1966.

The site of the Arab village was planted with pine trees.[31] On February 20, 1949, the Israeli moshav of Tzippori was founded southeast of the former village.[31] The pomegranate and olive trees were replaced with crops for cattle fodder.[34]

Archaeological sites in the National Park[edit]

The history of Tzippori as presented in the modern day national park mainly covers the periods up to Roman and Byzantine rule, with mention of the Crusades, the period of rule under the Arab caliphates and the Ottoman Empire and British rule.

The Crusader/Ottoman tower sits high atop the hill, overlooking both the Roman theater, the majority of the Jewish city and the destroyed Palestinian village. It was built in the 12th century, on the foundation of an earlier Byzantine structure. The tower is built as a large square, 15m x15m, and approximately 10 m. high. The lower part of the walls are built of reused antique spolia, including a sarcophagus with decorative carvings. The upper part of the tower and the doorway were constructed by Daher el-Omar in the 18th century. Noticeable features from the rebuilding are the rounded corners which are similar to those constructed under Daher in the fort in Shefa-'Amr. The upper part of the building was converted for use as a school during the reign of Abdul Hamid II in the early 1900s (decade), and used for this purpose until 1948.[35]

Much of the town itself has been excavated, revealing Jewish homes along a main cobblestone street. Several images have been found carved into the stones of the street, including that of a menorah, and another image that resembles some ancient game reminiscent of tic-tac-toe. Mikva'ot (pl. of Mikvah ), Jewish ritual baths, have been found as well, identified by the steps leading to the bottom, carved out of the earth along with the rest of the bath.[36] The Roman theater sits on the northern slope of the hill, and is about 45 m in diameter, seating 4500. Most of it is carved into the hillside, but some parts are supported by separate stone pillars. The theater shows evidence of ancient damage, probably from the earthquake in 363, but also quite possibly from the Arab conquest.[citation needed]

Offering of fruits and grains, the Nile House Mosaic

A modern structure stands to one side of the excavations, protecting the remains of a 5th-century public building, with a large and intricate mosaic floor. Some believe the room was used for festival rituals involving a celebration of water, and possibly covering the floor in water. Drainage channels have been found in the floor, and the majority of the mosaic seems devoted to measuring the floods of the Nile, and celebrations of those floods.[37]

Finally, a Roman villa is arguably the centerpiece of the discoveries, containing one of the most famous mosaics in Israel. It was built around the year 200 and destroyed in the earthquake of 363. The villa is in the traditional form of a triclinium; seats would have been arranged in a U-shape around the mosaic, Roman villa mosaic floor and people would have reclined while dining and drinking, talking and contemplating the mosaic images. The mosaic, for the most part, is devoted to Dionysus, god of wine, and of socializing. He is seen along with Pan and Hercules in several of the 15 panels.[37]

Dionysus Party

The centerpiece of the mosaic floor, however, at least for the archaeologists, is an image of a young lady, possibly meant to be Venus, which the researchers have dubbed "The Mona Lisa of the Galilee." Smaller mosaic tesserae were used to allow for greater detail and a more lifelike result. The image is certainly more lifelike, and more detailed (as in the shading and blush of her cheeks) than most expect mosaics to be.[37]


Zodiac Wheel Mosaic in the great synagogue of Tzippori, 5th century

The remains of an ancient Tzippori Synagogue have been uncovered in the lower section of the city. It was built in the late 5th or early 6th century, at a time when the town's Christian population was increasing and the strength of the Jewish population was diminishing. Measuring 20.7 meters by 8 meters wide, it was located at the edge of the town.

The mosaic floor is divided into seven parts. Near the entrance there is a scene showing the angels visiting Sarah. The next section shows the binding of Isaac. There is a large Zodiac with the names of the months written in Hebrew. Helios sits in the middle, in his sun chariot. The last section shows two lions flanking a wreath, their paws resting on the head of an ox.

The most interesting are the central sections of the mosaic. One shows the "tamid" sacrifice, the showbread, and the basket of first fruits form the Temple in Jerusalem. Also shown are a building facade, probably representing the Temple, incense shovels, shofars, and the seven-branched menorah from the Temple. Another section shows Aaron dressed in priestly robes preparing to offer sacrifices of oil, flour, a bull and a lamb.

An Aramaic inscription reads: "May he be remembered for good Yudan son of Isaac the Priest and Paragri his daughter Amen Amen"[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Leroy Waterman (1931). "Sepphoris, Israel". The Kelsey Online. 
  2. ^ Eric Meyers ed. (1999). Galilee, Confluence of Cultures. Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, Indiana.  pp. 396-7
  3. ^ Mariam Shahin (2005). Palestine: A Guide. Interlink Books: Northhampton, Massachusetts. 
  4. ^ a b c Benny Morris (2004). The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem revisited. Cambridge University Press. pp. 417, 516–517. ISBN 978-0-521-00967-6. Retrieved 28 August 2011. 
  5. ^ "Sepphoris". Virtual Religion Network. Retrieved 2006-07-03. 
  6. ^ Talmud Bavli, Megillah, 6, 81
  7. ^ "Zippori". The Department for Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel. Retrieved 2006-07-03. 
  8. ^ Richardson, 1996, p. 133.
  9. ^ PBS Frontline - December 15, 2009 PBS Frontline
  10. ^ Zeev Weiss, speaking on Searching for Exile,Truth or Myth?, Ilan Ziv's film, screened on BBCFour, 3 November 2013 [1]
  11. ^ Searching for Exile,Truth or Myth?, Ilan Ziv's film, screened on BBCFour, 3 November 2013
  12. ^ PD-icon.svg "Diocaesarea". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  13. ^ le Strange, 1890, p.32
  14. ^ a b c d e Khalidi, 1992, p. 351.
  15. ^ Melissa M. Aubin (2000). The Changing Landscape of Byzantine Sepphoris. ASOR Publications. 
  16. ^ Crone, 2004, p. 102.
  17. ^ Chancey, 2005, p. 102.
  18. ^ Kathryn M. Duda (1998). "Interpreting an Ancient Mosaic". Carnegie Magazine Online. 
  19. ^ a b Hadawi, 1970, p.63
  20. ^ a b Morris, 2004, p. xvii village #139
  21. ^ Morris, Benny, (second edition 2004 third printing 2006) The Birth Of The Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-00967-7 p 517
  22. ^ Petersen, 2002, p. 270.
  23. ^ Heydn, 1960, pp. 83-84. Cited in Petersen, 2002, p. 269
  24. ^ Hütteroth, Wolf-Dieter; Abdulfattah, Kamal (1977), Historical Geography of Palestine, Transjordan and Southern Syria in the Late 16th Century, Erlanger Geographische Arbeiten, Sonderband 5. Erlangen, Germany: Vorstand der Fränkischen Geographischen Gesellschaft. Page 188.
  25. ^ Khalidi, 1992, pp. 350-353.
  26. ^ Pappe, Illan (2010) The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty. The Husaynis 1700-1968. Saqi, ISBN 978-0-86356-460-4. p.35.
  27. ^ Buckingham, 1821, p.90
  28. ^ Conder, Claude Reignier and H.H. Kitchener: The Survey of Western Palestine. London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund. (1881) I:279-80. Quoted in Khalidi, 1992, p. 351.
  29. ^ a b Laurie King-Irani (Autumn 2000). "Land, Identity and the Limits of Resistance in the Galilee". Middle East Report. No. 216 (216): 40–44. JSTOR 1520216. 
  30. ^ Hadawi, 1970, p.110
  31. ^ a b c d IIED, 1994, p. 97.
  32. ^ O'Ballance, Edgar (1956) The Arab-Israeli War. 1948. Faber & Faber, London. p.157.
  33. ^ Kacowicz, 2007, p. 140.
  34. ^ Benvenisti, 2002, p. 216.
  35. ^ Petersen, 2002, p. 269, 270
  36. ^ Bar-Am, Aviva (January 25, 2010). "Ancient Tzipori". Jerusalem Post. 
  37. ^ a b c Tzipori National Park pamphlet (in Hebrew) 
  38. ^ Jewish Heritage Report Vol. I, Nos. 3-4 / Winter 1997-98 Sepphoris Mosaic Symposium Held in Conjunction with Sepphoris Mosaic Exhibition by Leslie Bussis Tait


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