The main city on the Sea of Galilee, Tiberias has a split personality. Ha Galil Street is reminiscent of a tree-shaded main street in any small American town—it’s lined with small shops serving the population from the surrounding countryside. If the old basalt-rock buildings, with their second-story balconies, were renovated, the street could be charming. A block to the east is the other main street, Ha-Banim Street, passing high-rises, megahotels, and the Midrehov, or Pedestrian Mall, leading to the Waterfront Promenade, packed with tourists during the summer and Jewish holidays, throbbing at night with wall-to-wall discos, pubs, cafes, and restaurants. The Waterfront Promenade has a magnificent view across the lake. Ninety meters (295 ft.) to the left are the remains of a Crusader fort, jutting up in black basalt stone from the water.
If you’re frantic from boredom, consider “The Galilee Experience” (tel. 04/672-3620), inside a modern structure on the Promenade, at press time. It’s a 30-minute, state-of-the-art, multimedia show, with an emphasis the life of Jesus, the rise of Christianity, and also on 20th-century Zionism. Oddly, little mention is made of the ancient Jewish history of the area, or of Israel’s large Arabic community, which makes up half the population of the Galilee. We think the real reason for the shows existence is to funnel tourists into its gift shop, a virtual mini-mall for religious tourists, selling anointing oil, frankincense, menorahs and religious DVD’s The entrance fee is NIS 28; free for the shopping mall. The Galilee Experience is open Saturday through Thursday, 9am to 10pm, and Friday from 9am to 3pm.
Tiberias’s Jewish Tombs-Important places of veneration for religious pilgrims over the centuries, the tombs of the city of Tiberius are varied and many.
Arguably the most important is the famed Rambam’s (Maimonides’s) Tomb (its located off Yochanan Ben-Zakkai Street). Rabbi Moses Ben-Maimon, known both as Maimonides and the Rambam, was the greatest Jewish theologian of the Middle Ages. A Sephardic Jew, he was born in Cordova, Spain, but lived most of his life in Morocco and Egypt, where he was an Aristotelian philosopher, a physician (he served as personal physician to Saladin, at his royal court in Egypt), and a leading scientist and astronomer. His principal work was “The Guide for the Perplexed.” Although he didn’t live in Tiberias, according to legend, as he was dying, the great Maimonides had himself strapped to a donkey and was carried northward from Egypt, toward the Holy Land, where he hoped to be buried. The inhabitants of Tiberias found his body and buried him in their city. The philosopher, who died in 1204, is now honored by a newly restored mausoleum and gardens.
Nearby is the tomb of Rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakkai, founder of the Yavne Academy in the years following the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 (the Yavneh Academy was central to keeping Judaism alive in the decades after Jerusalem’s destruction). And on a hillside just west of town is the memorial to Rabbi Akiva, a cave in which, according to tradition, he was buried. This great sage compiled the commentaries of the Mishnah before the Romans tortured him to death at Caesarea around a.d. 135 for his role in supporting the Bar Kochba revolt.
The tomb of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness (Meir, Master of Miracles; he also lived in the time of the Mishnas), on the hill above the hot springs, is considered one of Israel’s holiest sites; pilgrims visit in search of medical cures and help with personal problems. Rabbi Meir is remembered in a white building that has two tombs. The Sephardic tomb, with the shallow dome, was built around 1873 and is believed to contain the actual grave, close to the interior western wall of the synagogue; the building with the steeper dome is the Ashkenazi synagogue, erected about 1900. Tradition has it that Rabbi Meir was brought here after his death but had willed that he be buried standing up, so that when the Messiah came he could simply walk out to greet him.
Tiberias is home to other tombs in varying states of neglect, and strong pilgrimage traditions have developed over the centuries. A marble structure beside a modern apartment building, the Tomb of the Matriarchs is believed, according to some traditions, to be the final resting place of a number of biblical women, including Jacob’s third and fourth wives, Bilhah and Zilpah; Yocheved (the mother of Moses); Zipporah (Moses’ wife); Elisheva (wife of Aaron); and Avigail (one of the wives of King David).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.