Tiberias is a city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, Lower Galilee, Israel. Established in 20 CE, it was named in honour of the emperor Tiberius.
Tiberias has been venerated in Judaism since the middle of the 2nd century and since the 16th century has been considered one of Judaism’s Four Holy Cities, along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed. In the 2nd-10th centuries, Tiberias was the largest Jewish city in the Galilee and the political and religious hub of the Jews of Palestine. According to Christian tradition, Jesus performed several miracles in the Tiberias district, making it an important pilgrimage site for Christians.
Initially the relationship between Arabs and Jews in Tiberias was good, with few incidents occurring, but in April 1948, sporadic shooting broke out between the Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods of Tiberias. The Jewish Haganah army attacked the city and refused to negotiate a truce, while the British declined to intervene. The Arab population (6,000 residents or 47.5% of the population) was ‘evacuated’ under British military protection on 18 April 1948.
Many Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews settled in the city, following the Jewish exodus from Arab countries in late 1940s and the early 1950s. Over time, government housing was built to accommodate much of the new population, and the city came to rely on tourism, becoming a major centre for Christian pilgrims and internal Israeli tourism. Since 1990s, the importance of the port for fishing was gradually decreasing, with the decline of the Tiberias lake level, due to continuing droughts and increased pumping of fresh water from the lake.
Ancient and medieval Tiberias was destroyed by a series of devastating earthquakes, and much of what was built after the major earthquake of 1837 was destroyed or badly damaged in the great flood of 1934.
Houses in the newer parts of town, uphill from the waterfront, survived. Wide-scale development began after the Six-Day War, with the construction of a waterfront promenade, open parkland, shopping streets, restaurants and modern hotels.
Farther History of Tiberias – from Lonely Planet guide
The town owes its origins to a series of hot springs that lured pleasure-seekers of Roman times and attracted the attention of Herod Antipas.
Herod Antipas was almost as egotistical as his father, Herod the Great, founder of Caesarea: the son’s town included a grand stadium, a gold-roofed palace and a great synagogue.
The population was mixed, but following the Bar Kochba Revolt (AD 132–35) and the resulting exile of the Jews from Jerusalem, Tiberias became the centre of Jewish life in Israel. The work of the great sages was continued beside the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and academies of rabbinical study were founded. A Tiberian system of punctuation and grammar was applied to the Torah, thus becoming the standard for all Hebrew, and the Mishnah was completed here around the year AD 200 – achievements that elevated Tiberias to the status of one of the country’s most holy Jewish cities. The population at this time is estimated to have been around 40, 000, making the city larger than the Tiberias of today.
The Crusaders took Tiberias in 1099, built a fortress slightly to the north and generally shifted the focus of the town away from its original Roman-Byzantine centre. However, the new fortifications proved inadequate and failed to keep out Saladin when he arrived at the head of an army in 1187. The loss of Tiberias to the Muslims sparked the battle at the Horns of Hittin, which proved to be another inglorious defeat for the Crusaders, heralding the demise of the Latin kingdom. Tiberias went into decline, particularly after being seriously damaged by the many battles fought there and severely rattled by occasional earthquakes.
Early in the 16th century, the Ottoman Turks gained possession of the Holy Land and in 1562 Süleyman the Magnificent granted the rights to farm the taxes of Tiberias to a Jew, Don Joseph Nussi. Aided by his mother-in-law, Donna Grazie, he attempted with some degree of success to revive the town as a Jewish enclave. The next player was an Arab sheikh named Daher al-Omar who, in the 18th century, established an independent fiefdom in the Galilee, with Tiberias as its capital. He was assassinated in 1775. The town fared little better, with a great part of it demolished by an earthquake in 1837.
Many Jews of the First Aliyah (late 19th century) chose to settle in Tiberias and more followed with the expansion of the Zionist movement. By 1947 the population of Tiberias was again predominantly Jewish. The following year the Arabs and Jews went to war over the town. The defeated Arabs fled and Tiberias was left wholly Jewish.