Tzipori – Crusader fortress


We are visiting Tzipori again, the capital of Galilee in the Roman period. Tzipori is the city where Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, the President of the Sanhadrin, completed the editing and then signed the Mishnah. As for the Mishnah and the Sanhedrin, let me try and explain in very short the 2 terms. The Sanhedrin was a type of a Jewish supreme council and court having jurisdiction over religious, civil, and criminal issues and it existed during the 2nd temple period until the early 5th century. Mishna is a written collection of the Jewish oral traditions.

It is important to note that Tzipori was unique in Galilee and Israel in number of aspects. The one aspect I will mention today is the political approach that was adopted by the City of Tzipori leaders, compared to other villages and cities in respect to the Romans, during the period from Herod the great till the Great Revolt period, so we are looking at a period of 100+ years from 40BCE to 66CE.

When Herod begins the conquest of Galilee in the harsh winter of 38/39 BCE after being appointed by the Romans in 40 BCE to rule Judea, he begins his conquest with Tzipori and that goes without a battle, unlike his next stop at Arbel located on mount Arbel with its impressive hiding caves along its cliffs, where he had a very difficult battle against Matityahu Antigonus II, the last Hasmonean king. After Herod’s takeover Tzipori it continues to serve as the provincial capital of Galilee.

One hundred years later during the great revolt against the Romans in 67-66 CE, Yosef ben Matityahu, commander of the Galilee during the revolt, fortified Tzipori with the financial backing of Tzipori’s rich population, who shortly after decided to separate themselves from the rebels and remain loyal to Rome. They asked the Romans to place Roman guards in Tzipori and agreed with them to a kind of peace treaty. The Jews of Tzipori welcome Vespasian, who will soon become a Roman emperor. Tzipori population, where the only of Galilee asking peace from the Romans during the Great Revolt. You can like it or not, but without a doubt, the Jews of Tzipori took an independent position.

The Fortress – This is one of the most impressive buildings in Tzipori. It is a square building 15 x 15m and 12m high. The fort was built during the Crusader period, on the remains of an ancient structure. It was two-story, built of large ashlars that were probably taken from ancient buildings. In the corners of the building there are sarcophagi from the late Roman period, some of which are decorated. A brief explanation of sarcophagi – this is a word that originated in Greek and means “meat eater”. It is a stone container that is usually made of hard limestone and serves as a coffin. The use of sarcophagi was common at many sites in Israel during the Second Temple period and the Roman period, and it is possible that a burial in the sarcophagus testified to the high socio-economic status of the deceased. Walking around the fort, you can see that in every corner there are two sarcophagi, except in the northeast corner where there are three. An interesting tradition prevalent among the Arabs of the village, is that the sarcophagi contained a treasure, and the broken edges are evidence of their search inside, yet all that was found were the stones which the Crusaders filled the coffins.

The room at the entrance floor and the stairwell are from the Crusader period, so Tzipori is a town then, under the rule of the Crusaders who built the fortress. The construction is characterized by large, dressed stones. On the entrance floor there is a cistern and three large firing slits. The building was used during the Crusader period as a fort that stood at the highest location of the town. During the Ottoman period, in the days of Daher al-Amar and his son Ahmad (1745-75), the firing slits were blocked and turned into rectangular windows, the entrance gate was built with the pillows decoration at the top, as well as the firing slit above the arch and the first floor.

The fort’s roof – What a spectacular view from the roof that matches the name explanation of Tzipori, where Tzipori in Hebrew is a Bird, so Tzipori is at the top of a mountain just like a bird.

One can understand from this place the reasons for the importance and the power of Tzipori. The fertile alluvial soil areas, which are located just in front and right to the east, in a valley named Beit Netofa – this fertile soil is equivalent to wealth. Every year in winter it is seen after several rainy days that the eastern part of the valley is flooded with water, and this has been exploited in the ancient times just as still used today for various crops. To the south, Tzipori Valley where the springs are located. The abundance of easy-to-cultivate agricultural land, and plenty of water, is relatively rare and of course of great importance both in the economic aspect of the area’s residents but also in the commercial aspect since Tzipori sat at a crossroads that I elaborate on as part of “Tzipori Springs” dedicated video.

From the fortress’ roof, you can also see the ancient city, the Roman theater, the residential area from the 2nd temple period on the west of the hill, and the warehouse building from the Byzantine period south of the fortress. Between the fort and the warehouse building there is a large water cistern, which was part of a central water supply system at the top of the hill.

For about a century the fortress stood unused. Towards the end of the 19th century the fortress was renovated by the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1909-1876). He strengthened the walls, and built the second floor.

The foundations of the building were exposed twice: for the first time in 1931, when the foundations of the eastern wall were exposed and were dated to the Roman period. In 1983, the northwestern corner was exposed, and its foundations were dated to the Byzantine period. It was also found that below the foundations of the fort was a building from the Roman period. Several cisterns were also exposed in the two excavations, but everything was covered and can no longer be seen today.

And as usual we will end with a question – as I mentioned, the fortress was built during the Crusader period. After the crusaders lost Jerusalem, which city was the most important Crusader city in Israel? – the answer will appear towards the end of the video.

How to get there?

From Yokneam (as a reference) – Driving from Yokneam on Route 77 towards Tiberias – at the HaMovil Interchange, use the right lane to follow signs for Route 79 toward Haifa/Nazareth. Once on Route 79 drive for about 4km, and exit right to route 7926.

Once on 7926, follow the signs to Tzipori National Park, after 2Km you will arrive at the park gate.

Once you enter the park, drive 700m to the visitor center, there is a nice video covering the different sites on the park. The fortress is 500m away from the visitor center.

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. Book: The Jewish War, Author: Josephus Flavius

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