Sepphoris was the capital of the Galilee in the Roman period. Some fascinating discoveries have been made in the city, including breathtaking mosaics, a theatre and public buildings. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has opened a new path through the ancient city’s water system.
Main points of interest:
House of Dionysus
A breathtaking lookout over the Galilee from the roof of the fortress
Israel Nature and Parks Authority activities to improve visitor services and preserve the site
The Authority has opened up the archaeological sites at Sepphoris, including new excavations at the ancient Jewish settlement of Shikhin, as park of the National Park. The Authority has prepared the site for public access: it has installed toilets, water taps and a kiosk, put up signs and illustrations, set up an exhibition in the Crusader Fortress, built a lookout point from the roof of the fortress and laid out an accessible path through the Sepphoris site.
How to get here:
From the Hamovil-Nazareth interchange road (Route 79, between kilometre signs 22-23), turn north onto the road leading to the National Park. Inside the National Park the path begins from the parking area next to the cash desk.
In the days of the Second Temple, Sepphoris was a major city, and at the start of the Roman period Herod Agrippa II, grandson of Herod the Great, made it his capital. Many Jews moved here from Judea after the Bar Kochba Revolt, and Rabbi Judah the Prince lived here towards the end of his life. This was where he completed the Mishnah. According to Christian tradition, Joachim and Saint Anne lived here, the parents of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. In the 12th century, the Crusaders left the springs of Sepphoris to fight the decisive battle against Saladin and his men at the Horns of Hattin, which they lost.
A wander around the National Park will allow you to discover remains of the ancient city: paved roads from the Roman period, a stone theatre with room for around 4,500 spectators, the House of Dionysus - a Roman villa with magnificent mosaics, Nile House - a public building decorated with 11 mosaic floors depicting the celebrations of the flooding of the Nile, as well as impressive remnants of the synagogue.
Sepphoris had a sophisticated system of aqueducts and reservoirs to provide water for the city.
Dr. Tzvika Tzuk, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority’s chief archaeologist, has researched this system, and the walking path follows the final part of the water system, all of which is contained within the National Park.
1. The reservoir
Follow the signs from the car park south towards the reservoir. A 5 m deep settling pit has been discovered in front of the reservoir. The pit was intended to collect heavy waste materials and the sediment added to them, and to prevent these from flowing into the reservoir.
The huge reservoir is located round 1.5 km east of ancient Sepphoris. The water reached the reservoir via two aqueducts, which collected water from springs in the villages of Mashhad and Reineh. The aqueducts merge and then again split once they reach the city. The northern aqueduct no longer exists and nor do any remnants of it, and the southern aqueduct brought water to the huge reservoir, hewn into the rock. It is around 250 m long, 10 m high and 4 m wide. The reservoir holds around 4,300 m3.
The reservoir was in use from the 2nd to the 7th centuries AD. It was built here since this is the only high place in the Sepphoris area made from limestone, which is easy to carve. The reservoir was covered in plaster on two occasions: in the 2nd century AD it was covered in light-coloured plaster, and in the 4th century it was covered again, presumably as a result of the great earthquake of 363, which caused serious damage.
Walking through the reservoir is an impressive experience. It is worthwhile paying attention to the supporting arches, which were also probably built during the 4th century reconstruction. At the western edge of the reservoir, a small opening underneath a staircase leads to a narrow tunnel around 55 m long. The tunnel gets narrower as it goes along, until it is blocked by a wall. The wall has an opening with a lead pipe. At the other end of the pipe was a valve for regulating the water flow (the valve is no longer there).
2. The shaft tunnel
As the path continues, you will reach the shaft tunnel. The tunnel was given this nickname since it was built with six vertical openings (shafts), cut deep into the rock. When the stonecutters reached the specified depth, they began to dig the tunnel. The digging at the bottom of each shaft was done in two directions.
The visit to the tunnel takes in a section around 90 m in length, from shafts 4 to 6. Part of the walk can be done standing upright, and part will require crouching down. Before entering the tunnel, there is a facility for visitors to check whether their height allows them to get through the tunnel without bending down or not.
As you leave the aqueduct, go up overground to a 700 m path, which follows the ruins of the ancient aqueduct to the visitors’ entrance. Next to the entrance, two small reservoirs have been dug up (reservoirs of the arches). These are hewn into the rock and there is a large carob tree next to them. The bigger of the reservoirs (5x9 m) was supported by 5 stone arches and a stone ceiling, while the smaller reservoir had just 4 supporting arches. These are assumed to be Sepphoris’ older reservoirs, which it used before the large reservoir was built.
3. The pool
East of the visitor centre, on the northern side of the parking area, there is an open pool measuring around 21x14 m. Researchers suggest that this pool was used for bathing and cleaning.
Here, next to the visitor centre, we can begin the fascinating tour of the site of this ancient city.