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Hammat Tiberias Review
Not to be confused with the nearby Tiberias Hot Springs (a modern spa where you can bathe), Hammat Tiberias is a national park that includes a notable mosaic floor, and the remains of an ornate 4th-century synagogue and ancient therapeutic baths. The Hammam Suleiman (Turkish bath), which was in use from 1780 until 1944, is now a museum. It's located just to the right of the park entrance. Hammat Tiberias is worth a half hour visit, though the experience parallels the more impressive ruins and hot springs in which you can soak at Hammat Gader.
The site has Israel's hottest spring, gushing out of the earth at 60°C (140°F) because of cracks in the earth's crust along the Syrian-African Rift. Alas, this is an archaeological site, so you don't get to try the waters here. The healing properties of its mineral-rich waters were already recognized in antiquity, as evidenced by the ruins of ancient towns—including an exquisite 4th-century AD mosaic floor of a synagogue.
Legend says that Solomon, the great king of Israel, wanted a hot bath and used his awesome authority to force some young devils below ground to heat the water. The fame of the salubrious springs spread far and wide, bringing the afflicted to seek relief. Seeing such gladness among his subjects, Solomon worried about what would happen when he died and the devils stopped their labors. In a flash of the wisdom for which he was renowned, Solomon made the hapless devils deaf. To this day, they have not heard of the king's demise and so continue to heat the water for fear of his wrath.
By the end of the Second Temple period (the 1st century AD), when settlement in the Sea of Galilee region was at its height, a Jewish town called Hammat (Hot Springs) stood here. With time, Hammat was overshadowed by its newer neighbor, Tiberias, and became known as Hammat Teverya (Tiberias Hot Springs). The benefits of the mineral hot springs were already legendary: a coin minted in Tiberias during the rule of Emperor Trajan, around AD 100, shows Hygeia, the goddess of health, sitting on a rock with a spring gushing out beneath it.
Parts of ancient Hammat have been uncovered near the road, bringing to light a number of ruined synagogues. The most dramatic dates from the 4th century AD, with an elaborate mosaic floor that uses motifs almost identical to those at Beit Alfa: classical Jewish symbols, human figures representing the four seasons and the signs of the zodiac, and the Greek god Helios at the center. The mosaics of Hammat Tiberias are among the finest ever found in Israel. Later cultures exploited the hot springs, too, as the small adjacent Turkish bath attests.
Behind Hammat Tiberias, a turquoise dome marks the tomb of Rabbi Meir Ba'al Ha-Ness, the "Miracle Worker," who supposedly took a vow that he would not lie down until the Messiah came—and was therefore buried in an upright position. His name has become an emblem for charitable organizations, and many a miracle has been attributed to the power of prayer at his tomb.
Hammat Tiberias is on the southern edge of Tiberias on Route 90. Although you can walk from the downtown hotels, the summer heat makes this unbearable. It's best to take a taxi.
- Address: Rte. 90, 2 km (1 mi) south of Tiberias, 7 km (4 mi) north of Kinneret., Tiberias | Map It
- Phone: 04/672-5287
- Cost: NIS 12
- Hours: Apr.--Sept., Sat.--Thurs. 8--5, Fri. and Jewish holiday eves 8--4; Oct.--Mar., Sat.--Thurs. 8--4, Fri. and Jewish holiday eves 8--3
- Website: www.parks.org.il/ParksENG
- Location: Tiberias
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