Tzippori – Home to Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi and Mona Lisa of the Galilee?

An Introduction to Tzippori (Tsippori)

Located in the heart of the Lower Galilee the antiquities at Tzippori National Park reflect a flourishing city with a mixed population of Jews, Pagans, Christians and Samaritans.  Both Jews and Pagans produced great cultural achievements in ancient Tzippori, also called Sephoris.  Around 200 C.E. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi (Judah the Prince – who is buried at Beit Shearim) sealed the Mishna in Tzippori.  Excavations at Tzippori unearthed the most sophisticated mosaic pavements ever discovered in Israel, the highlight of which is the face of a young woman on the floor of a Roman villa, now referred to as ‘Mona Lisa of the Galilee’.

Visiting Tzippori

A brochure with a site map on an aerial photograph is available at the admission booth.  After paying admission drive to Tzippori National Park’s inner most parking area.

Follow the steps uphill from the parking lot and then turn left at the site map sign on to a path that leads to the ruins of an ancient Roman theater.  The theater is occasionally still used for dramatic performances.  Masonry from its elegant scaenae frons can be seen lying nearby.  Continue from the theater up a set of steps to the west that leads to the ruins of Tzippori’s Jewish Quarter, identified on the basis of the remains of miqvehs or ritual baths found at the site.

Turning to the east, a large stone building stands ahead.  This is a fortified Crusader watch tower.  The tower’s corners were fashioned from sarcophagi taken from nearby burial chambers.  There is a panoramic view of the surrounding region from the tower’s roof.  Inside the building are interactive computer screens which provide more information about the site.  On the lower floor is an audio video presentation about Tzippori.

Next to the watch tower to the east is a low brown stucco building.  This building shelters the ruins of a Roman villa and the ‘Mona Lisa’ mosaic.  The lavish mosaic is dedicated to the god of wine Dionysus and features scenes from his life, including his fabled drinking contest with Heracles.  The artistic pinnacle of this mosaic is the exquisite head of a young woman, dubbed ‘Mona Lisa of the Galilee‘.

From the villa continue on to the lower city and visit Tzippori’s Cardo, where the ruts of cartwheels are still visible on the ancient pavement stones.  Next to the southern end of the Cardo are the ruins of a building with several magnificent mosaic pavements, including the ‘Nile Flood Festival’ mosaic and the ‘Amazon Warrior’.

Returning to the parking lot, a path leads downhill from its northeastern corner to the ruins of ancient synagogue with a mosaic floor showing a wheel of the zodiac, as well as various Jewish motifs.

On the way out of Tzippori adjacent to the admission booth lies a section of Tzippori’s ancient water system.  The aqueduct/reservoir no longer holds water and it is possible to walk through it.  Especially recommend for families with children.

Tzippori is at least partially wheelchair accessible and a mobility vehicle is provided at no cost by prior arrangement only.

Getting to Tzippori

Tzippori is located just off Road 79 west of Nazareth.

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