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Tempting Tiberias

Posted By Abigail Klein Leichman On March 6, 2013 @ 12:00 am In See Israel | 1 Comment

If the Roman Emperor Tiberius were alive today, you’d probably find him enjoying the high-tech laser and water show from the boardwalk of the Israeli lakeside city established in his honor close to 2,000 years ago.

Tiberias Hotel Association CEO Joanne Smadar tells ISRAEL21c that the Tiberium show is at the top of every Tiberias tourist’s list. “It speaks to everyone and it’s free of charge, running every day of the year except Yom Kippur,” she says.

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The multimedia extravaganza on the southern end of the Yigal Alon Harbor promenade is offered at 7, 8 and 9 every night, and all you have to do is show up. Four consecutive 15-minute shows are projected onto huge water screens on the breakwater of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) together with flame and laser effects, dancing water jets, music, artistic lighting and inflatable elements.

Popular though it is, Tiberium is just one of many attractions that keep the Galilee city’s hotels at least 70 percent occupied all year.

“We have something for every faith and every kind of person who’s coming,” says Smadar, and Tiberias is easy for English-speakers to navigate.

Get ready to get wet

Aside from its many religious pilgrimage sites for Jews and Christians, Tiberias is a prime location for water recreation and sports.

Kite-surfing, windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking are everyday activities at the harbor, and each night the waterfront is lit up by small cruise ships that treat tourists to dinner and dancing.

The Yigal Alon Harbor Promenade. Photo by Itamar Grinberg

Take the kids to Gai Beach Aquatic Park, where in addition to the beach there’s a swimming pool, wave pool and water slides. Children also will enjoy archeological digs, rope pyramids, Omega zip line, climbing wall, swings and carousels at the 25-acre Berko Archeological Park.

Massages, mud treatments and Turkish baths are available at Tiberias Hot Springs, a spa situated around a series of ancient thermo-mineral pools fed by 17 natural mineral-rich springs originating at nearby Hamat Tiberias National Park.

Fine dining, tours

Although Tiberias is home to many eateries well known to locals, the three restaurants tourists tend to hear about are Decks (fresh Argentinean grilled meats), Pagoda (kosher Chinese cuisine), and the French Mediterranean chef restaurant Little Tiberias (not kosher) for the best steak in town, according to Smadar.

Aerial view of Tiberias. Photo by Itamar Grinberg

She encourages visitors to check out, as well, the Mediterranean-style, family-run Avi Batan restaurant and two new dairy establishments on the promenade, Basil and Rosa. Thanks to its geography, Tiberias also has many eateries specializing in fresh-caught fish.

Several of the 29 hotel association members offer tours and boat rides for guests, including a free Saturday morning walking tour that begins at the small archaeological park housing the association’s headquarters.

The office is inside a 12th century Crusader-Ottoman building. Also on the grounds are remnants of a sixth-century synagogue, one of 13 synagogues that stood in Tiberias during Talmudic times.

The boutique Scots Hotel used to be a hospital.

The tour then visits the old synagogue founded by Rabbi Haim Abulafia, who died in 1744, and continues to the Church of St. Peter, constructed on the ruins of a Crusader-era church designed to resemble the hull of an overturned boat. The next stop is the former Scottish hospital that is now the luxury boutique Scots Hotel catering to Christian pilgrims.

The tour ends at the Doña Gracia House Museum and Hotel, devoted to the life story of Gracia Mendes Nasi, an influential Jewish European businesswoman who leased the Tiberias region in 1558 from the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent to house refugees of the Spanish Inquisition and reestablish a Jewish presence in Tiberias.

Religious Tiberias

Doña Gracia knew that Tiberias played an important role in Jewish history.

Originally inhabited by the tribe of Naftali, Tiberias was the seat of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of Israel, during the Second Temple period (around 530 BCE to 70 CE). The Jewish legal code, the Mishna, was completed in Tiberias in 200 CE. And in 1204, the great Jewish sage Maimonides was buried in Tiberias. His tomb is a short distance from the town center, and a new Maimonides Heritage Center stands adjacent to the gravesite.

Tiberias is of great interest to Christians. Thousands of pilgrims don white robes every year to be baptized at Yardenit just south of the city. This is the site traditionally recognized as the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

As most of Jesus’ disciples lived and worked along the Sea of Galilee, many of the oldest churches in the world are found in Tiberias and in the surrounding towns. Nearby Mount Berenice (or Mount Berniki) contains the ruins of the Byzantine-era Anchor Church, which got its name from the ancient anchor found at the center of the stone altar. Across the street from the Scots Hotel is the 19th century Church of Scotland. At the southern end of the Yigal Alon Harbor promenade is an old Greek Orthodox church and monastery.

Smadar recommends starting a Christian tour of Tiberias with the 36-minute show at Galilee Experience on the marina. This facility, one of the largest tourist centers in Israel, includes a 200-seat theater, a book and souvenir store, an art gallery and a coffee shop with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

*Photo via Shutterstock.com

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