Tiberias Hot Springs, Spa and More!
Tiberias Hot Springs, Spa and Archaeological National Park
Tiberias (Tiverya), is one of Israel’s 4 holy cities that also includes Jerusalem, Safed (Tzfat), and Hebron. Built on the shores of the beautiful Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee,) the lowest altitude freshwater lake in the world, Tiberias was originally constructed by Antipater to cull favor with Rome; Tiberias is named after the Roman Emperor Tiberius.
As he built it on a large Jewish graveyard, it was forbidden for Jews to live there. But he wasn’t going to allow that to thwart his plans, so he forced some Jews to move there, but the place was naturally never popular.
According to tradition, Tiberias was redeemed when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was cured of a plague of boils after bathing in its healing hot springs. In gratitude, he restored a state of purity to the town that allowed Jews to live there.
After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Sanhedrin (the ancient Jewish supreme ecclesiastical court) eventually settled in Tiberias. The Mishnah and the Jerusalem Talmud were both finished here.
The ancient name of Tiberias, Hamat Tiberias, was due to the hot (hum is the Hebrew word for hot) thermal mineral springs, of which there were 17 well known already in Biblical times for their curative powers. The hot springs are also mentioned several times in the Talmud, ancient Biblical texts.
Hamat Teverya National Park
The site of Hammat Tiberias, which is now a national park in south Tiberias, was discovered when the main road from Zemach junction at the south end of Lake Kinneret, to modern Tiberias, was being built in 1920. The workers uncovered a beautiful seven branched candelabrum (now in the Israel Museum). Digging is still going on and it is hoped that more excavations will shed light on the fascinating history of Tiberias. What has been uncovered to date are the remains of three synagogues built one on top of the other and a bathhouse from the time of the Second Temple.
The large ancient bathhouse which was uncovered may have been the one mentioned several times in the Talmud and another building, still being excavated, may possibly have been the seat of the Sanhedrin, the ancient Jewish court.
A small part of a mosaic of the first synagogue built in 230 CE during the time of the Mishnah can be seen at a lower level than a mosaic floor from the second synagogue uncovered at the site that existed in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE.
The second synagogue is called the Severus Synagogue and a mosaic floor from it, similar to the one in Kibbutz Bet Alfa, was found in good condition, although part of it had been damaged in an earthquake. There is a Hellenistic pagan influence in parts of this Severan mosaic that has several large motifs of the yearly cycle of the zodiac signs and the four seasons. The south side of the mosaic that faces towards Jerusalem has Jewish symbols associated with the destroyed Second Temple in Jerusalem. These are two seven branched menorahs (candelabrum), a lulav (palm branch), a shofar (ram’s horn) and an incense shovel.
Remains of the third synagogue that was built on top of the Severus Synagogue show it was more extensive and includes a niche at the southern end for the aron ha’kodesh (Holy Ark) that faced the direction of Jerusalem. The third synagogue continued to function until the 8th century CE.
Another reconstructed building at the Hamat Teverya National Park is the Hamam Suleiman (Solomon’s Hot Springs) that was built in 1780 for bathers and now contains a small air-conditioned museum with artifacts like perfume bottles used by people to anoint themselves after bathing. There is wheel chair access to the museum.
Tiberias Hot Springs – Hamei Tiveria
At the bottom of the Hamat Teverya National Park, the hot springs still bubble up and you can smell the sulfur and see the steam pouring out of the grid covered vents in the ground. These hot mineral springs feed the popular and main tourist attraction, the Tiberias Hot Springs and Spa that are adjacent to the park, and also located right across the road on the shore of the beautiful Kinneret. The hot springs have separate bathing pools for men and women.
At the newer Tiberias Hot Springs across the road is a large outdoor sulfur pool, fresh water pool, a children’s pool, a luxurious spa and the private Shato beach with parasols, chairs and tanning beds. There are also dry and wet saunas, hot tubs, a gym, pampering beauty and spa treatments like peeling, mud wraps, reflexology and massages. For further information phone: Tel: (04) 612-3600.
Two Holy Sites and a Synagogue
Just above the Teverya National Park is the Tomb of Rabbi Meir Baal Ha’ness, a site for prayers for healing that is open from 6:00 am until 8:30 pm, and half a block away next to the Rimmonim Tiberias Mineral Hotel is the kever (grave) of the Amorai, Rabbi Yermiah next to a small synagogue where you can catch a minyan.
Did You Know?
Visiting hours to the Hamat Teverya National Park are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (April to September) and 8:00 am to 4:00 pm (October to March). On Fridays and holidays eves the park closes an hour earlier than the above. For further information phone: (04) 672-5287.