Continuing with my first ever university trip, a two-day affair in the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) region, I awoke in my country lodging bed in Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’akov early in the morning to first pray and then eat breakfast in the antiques-decorated dining room. We prepared sandwiches for later and boarded the buses, eager to begin the adventures of the day. Our first stop was just minutes away, the restored Samakh (or Tzemach) train station from the Ottoman period.
Samakh was the last station this side of the Yarmouk gorge before heading to Damascus and the Hedjaz region of modern day Saudi Arabia, where Mecca and Medina can be found. In order to advance both commercial and passenger transportation from the Holy Land coastline inland, the Ottoman Empire built their first station in the port city of Haifa (see post). Subsequently building stations across the land via the Jezreel Valley, the railway reached the considerable dip in elevation of the Great Rift Valley and a great undertaking was in order – the Ottomans’ largest construction feat (see map). But even with a topic as interesting as the old Hejaz Railway, time was of the essence and we were hustled back onto the buses and driven to the next site on the list, Berko Archaeological Park in Tiberias (also known as Tverya).
Skipping the history of Tiberias, which can be found in the above-linked post, we headed straight for the Roman theatre at the base of Mount Berniki – a large venue for live performances with some 6,000 seats. We had fragmented lectures given at different vantage points around the sizable theatre and then we moved on to the next ruins just a few minutes away, the remnants of the drainage canal built to direct the mountain runoff during the rainy season away from the vulnerable city.
Running alongside the drainage canal are the ruins of the ancient Roman city gate and Byzantine southern city walls. It was at this gate that ancient Tiberias’ cardo (main street) began, stretching northwards into the city which, in the 500’s CE, was fortified by the Byzantine Caesar Justinian. Having skipped some of the initial public buildings, including a bathhouse and a basilica, we returned to the buses for a nice drive to the picturesque Wadi Hamam.
Passing modern Tiberias we turned off Road 90 under the shadow of Mount Arbel, an impressive cliff edge that claims a 110 metre (360 foot) drop. Disembarking across from the colourful Arab village of Wadi Hamam we started our way uphill on an unmarked trail, heading for the archaeological dig of Horvat Veradim, better known as the ruins of Wadi Hamam.
We passed large swathes of wild mustard, dotted with the occasional scarlet pimpernel while barn swallows swooped gracefully overhead, feeding off the bugs attracted by the cows and the flowers. The weather was beautiful and the hike itself was pleasant and short; before long we arrived at a flat stretch with the walled remnants of an ancient synagogue, complete with broken columns. Perching on stone steps I settled down to hear a lecture about the significance of this synagogue, as well as the unique mosaic floors uncovered (of which I saw one just recently in the Israel Museum of Jerusalem).
During this address I was handed two small bits of broken glass which sparkled in the most delightful way. Having visited the Israel Museum last week I learned that the beauty of the sparkle is actually just iridescence caused by the glass’ deterioration, also known as silver weathering. I was unable to secure any guesstimation as to the glass’ age or maker, due to the fact that the bits are not indicative pieces are thereby essentially worthless.
Briefly interrupted by the village’s prerecorded muezzin call to prayer, the lecture carried on for a while during which I found an interesting piece of flint. When our brains were sufficiently filled with knowledge about Wadi Hamam’s synagogue we walked over to the other ruins which seem to have been public buildings of sorts. Descending the slope we noticed a millstone laying among some ordinary stones, evidence of ancient industry – most likely the production of olive oil. Here is my favourite photo of the two-day trip, and there is a short video clip I filmed in glorious 4K resolution when the muezzin was calling that can be seen HERE:
With that we reassembled ourselves on the buses and took off for the next site, just at the end of the road on the banks of the Kinneret – ancient Migdal (or Magdala).