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Tiberias: Heart of the Galilee
Tiberias, located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, is a popular health and holiday resort as well as a Jewish and Christian pilgrimage destination. The Sea of Galilee, Yam Kinneret in Hebrew is one of the most well-known bodies of water in the world. The history of Tiberias shows that this location has been sought after since ancient times, and is no less popular today. Here Jesus delivered his famous sermons and performed his first miracles. Tiberias sits along the 32-mile shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. The Sea lies roughly 650 feet below sea level and is 14 miles long and 7 1/2 miles wide at its widest point. The Sea of Galilee is an important source of fresh water for the entire country. While called a Sea, it is actually a lake, and lies on the ancient "Via Maris," a route that linked Egypt and Mesopotamia. Tiberias is the heart of the Galilee, posed on a mountain slope, beautifully looking over to the Golan Heights at the other side of the lake.
Tiberias: City of History
Tiberias has been a popular destination for tourists for more than 2,000 years. In the Roman times, this thriving recreation spa, built around 17 natural mineral hot springs, welcomed visitors from many parts of the ancient world. The city was built by Herod Antipas and was named Tiberias in honor of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Around Tiberias occurred many of the biblical stories and many famous sites are located nearby: Capernaum, home to at least five of the twelve disciples, is the lakeside town where Jesus preached. This is where Jesus told his followers, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.". The Church of the Beatitudes is said to be where the Sermon of the Mount was preached. Further north is the town of Tabgha, the traditional site of the Miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes. (Matt. 14: 13-21). Here Jesus fed 5,000 followers from five loaves of bread and two fish, and today is marked by the Church of Multiplication. The nearby lakeside town of Magdala is the hometown of Mary Magdalene, and of course the Sea of Galilee is where Jesus walked on the water.
The leader of the great Jewish revolt against the Romans, Rabbi Ben Akiba (50-137 CE), was put on trial here in Tiberias. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 137 CE. His mausoleum is in the necropolis of Tiberias, and can still be seen. In the Mishnaic and Talmudic period, Tiberias was an important spiritual center. The Mishna was completed in Tiberias in 200 C.E. under the supervision of Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi ("Judah the Prince"). 200 years later the Palestinian Talmud was also composed at Tiberias (420 CE).
At the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee is Degania Aleph, Israel's oldest kibbutz, founded in 1909.
Today, Tiberias is a city of 30,000 inhabitants, and is still a major tourist attraction both for its natural beauty and for its historical sites.
Tiberias: Visiting the City
The modern city of Tiberias is easily reached by road from Tel-Aviv (2 hours), Haifa (1 hour) or Jerusalem (2 hours). Accommodation is abundant and many different types of hotels, B&B, and hostels are available. The Kibbutzim and villages around the Sea of Galilee also offer accommodation, most in beautiful and serene surroundings. The west side of the Kinneret is stonier and not all beaches are easy to reach. The eastern side has sandy beaches and offers water sports of all kinds. In the afternoons a strong eastern wind starts blowing over the region, so be cautious when bathing. The Golan Heights and the Northern Galilee regions are easily visited from Tiberias.