Nile mosaic villa – Tzipori


In the first half of the second century, there was a major change in the urban layout of Tzipori following the increase in its population. The increase was mainly as a result of Bar Kochba revolt, and I will only mention that according to the decrees of Emperor Hadrian after the suppression of Bar Kochba revolt in the year 136, Jews were forbidden to settle in and around Jerusalem. The result was that Jews settled in other cities, such as Tzipori, Tiberias and Jaffa.

As a result of the population growth in Tzipori, it was decided to expand the size of the city to the flat area, east of the hill, east of Tzipori Acropolis.

One of the most important buildings in the expanded city is the Nile mosaic villa which was built at the beginning of the Byzantine period on the remains of buildings from the Roman period and was probably destroyed in the late Byzantine period.

Before entering the villa, you can see here parts of a Roman bath – a typical Roman bath included a system of rooms with different temperatures: lukewarm room (tepidarium), warm room (caldarium), and cold room (frigidarium). The order used by visitors changed from place to place, but a typical flow was first entering the lukewarm room, then moving to the warm room, returning to the lukewarm room and ending in the cold room.

At the base of the construction concept of Roman baths is the heating system called hypocaust. The concept seems simple, but the implementation required in-depth engineering knowledge. In a Roman bath, a room had a double floor. On the lower floor were pillars as you see here, about 50 to 60cm high and on top were stone slabs that formed the floor of the warm room. Adjacent to the walls of the warm room, on the lower floor level, fire burned. The flames and the hot air flowed in the space between the lower and upper floor and between the pillars. The hypocaust pillars are the clearest archaeological feature of a Roman bath.

In a typical big city, a multi-activity center developed around the bath that included a sports center, stalls, and more. An interesting point is that in the early days of the Roman empire, the baths were used at the same time by both women and men, but by the time the baths arrived to the Land of Israel it was already forbidden. Sometimes there were separate baths for men and women, but in most cases the separation was done by the hour.

And now back to the Nile mosaic villa – The building has three main wings connected by corridors. In the center of the western wing is a hall with a basilica pattern with 2 rows of columns. Adjacent to it are various rooms, most of which include Nile related celebration mosaic. The mosaics are simply spectacular – see the geometric shapes with an impressive level of accuracy. Also, the images depicting human figures and creatures from Greek mythology, for example we see centaurs symbolized among other things lawlessness. The connection between creatures from Greek mythology, created centuries and more BC, presented in a building from the Christian Byzantine period is undoubtedly interesting.

See the Amazons – The Amazon in Greek mythology is a warrior woman. The Amazons saw themselves as the daughters of Ares, the god of war.

This is the largest room, you can see a spectacular mosaic depicting celebrations held in Egypt during the height of the Nile, this is next to hunting scenes.

Based on the dimensions of the building, the large number of rooms and the fact that no elements were found that characterize a residential building, it can be concluded that this is a public building, probably the municipal basilica which is the most important public building in the city. The basilica is mentioned in Byzantine sources as a place where municipal assemblies, discussions, and the like were held. No symbols were found in the building that necessarily linked it to the Jewish or Christian community that lived here. However, from the descriptions that appear on the floors, as well as the inscription found at the entrance, all indicate that whoever designed the mosaics understood Roman art and knew the meaning of the classical figures depicted in the various mosaics.

It can be said with certainty that the Jews of Tzipori, who were the majority of the city’s population even in the Byzantine period, also enjoyed this impressive building.

And we will end as usual, with a question – who is the person most identified with Tzipori in the Roman period, the answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Information Sources

  1. Book: Ariel: Journal for the Knowledge of the Land of Israel - Tzipori and Its Surroundings, Editor: Eli Schiller, Publisher: Ariel
  2. Book: Touring with Hebrew Sources in Northern Israel, Editors: Hana Amit & David Amit, Publisher: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
  3. Qadmoniot: Magazine for the Antiquities of Eretz-Israel and Bible Lands No.113, Publisher: Israel Exploration Society Jerusalem

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