Tzipori National Park in Israel, photos and description

The most detailed guide to Tzipori National Park, Northern Israel

Tzipori National Park (Tzippori or Sepphoris) has the best mosaics in Israel, a rich history, and is a place not to be missed. Our guide has tips on what to see and do, when to go, entrance fees, how to get there or hours of operation.

If you ask someone where you can find the most beautiful mosaics in Israel, chances are you’ll get the same answer – Tzipori National Park, aka Mosaic City. Not that you won’t find mosaics in other places like Beit She’an or Caesarea, but only in Tzipori are there so many and they are in such good condition. In addition, they are simply magnificent, and the combination of nature, history, and ruins is simply breathtaking. By the way, the most famous mosaic is called the “Mona Lisa of Galilee,” which means that we are not exaggerating.

Sometimes called Sepphoris or Tzippori, this national park is one of our favorite places in Israel, and we think this fantastic place should be on every itinerary in Israel. If you go to Nazareth or the Lower Galilee region – see the Sea of Galilee – in general, the ancient city with its colonnaded streets, baths, theater, synagogue, residential buildings and rich mosaics should not go without your attention. Sepphoris was once a lively and cosmopolitan city, not for nothing did Josephus call it “the pearl of Galilee”. So here’s everything you need to know about Tzipori National Park (Israel) before you go there.

THE HISTORY OF Tzipori National Park

Tzipori was an important Roman and Byzantine city in the heart of Lower Galilee and it also played an important role in Jewish history. Tzipori’s history stretches from the Hasmonean period to the Crusader period, so there’s a lot to look at if you want to delve deeper into the periods and events that shaped this settlement. Meanwhile, the city was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 363, but later rebuilt and flourished in the Byzantine era.

The city was first mentioned during the reign of Alexander Janaeus in 103 B.C., but some excavations have found evidence of the First Temple period. During the Roman period it became the capital of Galilee and then witnessed several Jewish revolts against the Romans. The last important events took place here in the 18th century, when the Arab village of Saffuriye was fortified and the fortress rebuilt. Perhaps the most important event from a Jewish point of view, however, occurred at the beginning of the third century A.D. when Rabbi Judah Hanashi moved to Zippori with the High Court of Jewish Law (the Sanhedrin). It is rather strange that after reading so much information about the history of Tzippori, it remained virtually unnoticed until the 1980s, when the first serious excavations were carried out there.

WHAT TO KNOW about Tsipori National Park

Before we dive into our own travel experience, we’ll share some useful information about Tsipori that you need to know before you travel.

“Why is he called Tsipori? Because he sits on top of the mountain like a bird.” (Babylonian Talmud, Megilah, 6a). Despite the Talmudic tradition, it is still unclear how Tzipori got its name. What is certain is that the Romans called this settlement Dioceseria, which means “city of Zeus and Caesar. And, as mentioned above, one can find many spellings, such as Tsipori, Zippori, Zipporis or Sepphoris.

Tsipori National Park is wheelchair accessible, so it is a great alternative to places like Nimrod Fortress, which are quite difficult for people with disabilities or families with strollers to visit.

HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU NEED TO VISIT TSIPORI

Allocate at least two hours to visit Tsipori National Park, although we would recommend adding another hour (or two) to have time to enjoy the attraction without too much rush. It took us just over three hours to see just about everything in the national park, but that’s individual. It is not uncommon at major Israeli archeological sites, such as Tzipori, to spend even four or five hours to get the most out of each site. However, it all depends on your preferences and travel itinerary, because not everyone can devote that much time to each site. And not everyone can concentrate for such a long time.

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WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN TSIPORI PARK

Walking through the centuries that have shaped Tsipori, we can see cobblestone streets, Roman villas, a synagogue, a theater, a bathhouse, an aqueduct or a crusader fort. If you are looking for a bit of history, that is exactly what you will find here in Tsipori National Park.

Visit Tsipori National Park

Arriving from the Mount Tabor side, we wanted to avoid the infamous road situation in Nazareth, so we headed to the north parking lot. At least, that’s what we thought. With a quick glance at the map, we thought we could get there by going through the settlement of Hoshaya. This turned out to be a mistake, as at one point we were stopped by a yellow gate. Nevertheless, we returned to Highway 77, drove west, and then turned left onto Highway 79, which brought us to the right junction. Here we turned left again and finally reached Tsipori National Park. Some travel mistakes are just inevitable. Fortunately, this mistake turned out not to be so terrible and only cost us some time and a few shekels of gas. The parking lot was pretty busy, but we had no problem finding a free spot. We left the car in the second parking lot, but if you want to enjoy the Ancient Reservoir first, it is better to leave it in the first one.

The Ancient Reservoir

One of the most notable structures in Tsipori National Park is the Ancient Reservoir and Aqueduct. The most interesting thing about the aqueduct is that you can walk part of it. It is marked as the first stop in the brochure we received when we purchased our ticket, but we skipped it and headed straight for the Entrance Pavilion, so we had to go back. It reminded us a bit of the main underground cistern in Tel Hazor National Park in its uniqueness, so don’t miss it. And since it’s best to see it first in Tzipori, we put it at the beginning of this section.

Entrance Pavilion

We left the car in the parking lot in front of the “Entrance” pavilion, which, you might say, is the main entrance with a cafe, picnic area, restrooms, free drinking station or gift store. This area was quite busy, so we quickly left it behind and continued on the well-maintained trail that runs parallel to the narrow road.

Streets

Although much of the city was destroyed by the earthquake, the two main streets survived the disaster relatively well. The layout of the two main streets with colonnades is typical of Roman cities. The columns have not been restored to their original condition, so the most interesting thing you can see here are the ruts in the hard limestone formed by the repeated passage of carts. They are still clearly visible to the naked eye even after so many centuries, and it is impossible not to notice them.

Neal’s House.

We turned left at the intersection of Decumanus and Cardo and walked to the end of the road, where we found the House of Neal. Although little remains of the house today, we soon learned why Zippori is so popular. The floor of the house is covered with some of the most beautiful mosaics we have ever seen. And the House of Neal quickly became our favorite stop in the entire complex. Conveniently, informative signs explain a bit about the meaning of the mosaics and even the technique of their creation.

House of Dionysus

The House of Dionysus, home to the iconic Mona Lisa of Galilee, is for many visitors the best stop in Zippori National Park. When we first entered, the entire room was completely filled with children from a school field trip getting a history lesson from a teacher with a loud microphone. It was like entering a beehive, and it was impossible to get a proper look at any of the mosaics, so we decided to come back later. When we returned to the site, we ran into another massive bus tour, but this time we were able to sneak through it to see the stunning mosaics. A massive earthquake destroyed the mansion in A.D. 363, and the mosaics were left unfinished. It took some time for our eyes to get used to the lack of light, as the room is quite dark and the light concentrates on the mosaic, which consists of 28 different colors. Fun fact: The most iconic Mona Lisa of Galilee mosaic is relatively tiny in reality, so it took us a while before we found it.

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Crusader Fortress

If you’re interested in the history of the Crusaders, you’ve probably already seen the Hospitaller Fortress in Acre, which is the kind of place that can give you a great insight into this period. The Crusader Fortress in Tzipori is not as impressive as the fortress on the Mediterranean Sea, but it is one of the best stops on the property. The Crusader Tower, towering over the hill, offers a beautiful view of the Tzipori National Park and the surrounding Galilee region. As its name implies, the tower was built during the Crusader era and served as a watchtower. In 1187 they used it as a camp before marching to the Battle of Hattin (sometimes called the Battle of the Horns of Hattin) where they were defeated by the Ayyubid forces led by Saladin.

Theater

We followed the suggested itinerary from the Tzipori map booklet, so the theater of the first century AD was one of the last stops on our visit. Like the theaters we saw in Caesarea or Beit Shean National Park, with about 4,500 stone seats, this theater was also quite huge. The theater had five entrances connected by an arched corridor and was in use until the Byzantine period.

HOURS OF WORK.

Tsippori National Park is open from 8 am to 5 pm Sunday through Saturday in summer (8 am to 4 pm on Fridays and holidays).

In winter, the Tzippori is open from 8 am to 4 pm Sunday through Saturday (8 am to 3 pm on Fridays and holidays).

Also, try to avoid major Jewish holidays, as they also affect opening hours.

ENTRANCE FEE.

The entrance fee to Tzipori National Park is 28 shekels ($9) per adult. Of course, you can use your Israel Pass to get into the area for free.

Technically it’s not free, but rather at a discount since you still have to pay for the pass, but it’s worth it.

HOW TO GET THERE

Tzipori National Park is located less than 20 kilometers north of Nazareth and the easiest way to get there is by car. It is easy to drive in Israel, but be prepared for bad traffic in Nazareth during rush hour. Getting to Tzipori National Park from Nazareth by car is easy.

GPS navigation uses traffic data to calculate the best route to get to Tzipori, so it makes sense to take the fastest route. Be prepared for the fact that driving in Nazareth can be a little tricky for first-time visitors. The narrow and busy streets reminded us of Amman, which we visited last year, but that experience was much less chaotic.

You can choose at least three routes to travel to Tzipori National Park from Haifa. However, we think that the longest route via Highways 75, 70, 77 and eventually 79 is the most interesting since you will also be able to stop by Beit Shearim National Park. Acre is only 40 kilometers northwest of Tzippori. Tel Aviv is 115 kilometers southwest of Tzippori and you can drive there in about two hours. Jerusalem is about 180 kilometers south of Tzippori on Route 6, and it takes about three hours to get there.

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WHERE TO STAY

Nazareth is the closest town to Zippori National Park and offers the best selection of hotels. Although Nazareth sometimes gets a bad reputation for terrible traffic jams, it is still a place not to be missed, as you can find several important tourist sites there. And while you are there, it might make sense to stop there before or after visiting Zippori. You can also find several small family-run hotels in the countryside, which are a great alternative to the busy hotels of Nazareth, but they usually have a limited number of beds. These hotels usually have only one or two rooms, so they are often sold out, especially during peak season.

So here are our picks for the best hotels in Nazareth.

Budget | Fauzi Azar by Abraham Hostels – Located in a charming 200-year-old Arab mansion in the city center, Fauzi Azar is one of the best hostels in Nazareth. The hostel has both dorms and private rooms, so you can choose the right type of accommodation according to your preference and budget. A buffet breakfast is included in the price.

Budget | Rosana Guest House is a lovely guest house located in Old Town, Rosana Guest House is one of those small establishments where you will feel at home. The owner of the guest house is very helpful and friendly, and the view from the terrace is gorgeous.

Ramada Olivie Nazareth – One of the most popular hotels in town, the Ramada Olivie Nazareth is a great place to stay. Rooms are clean and modern, the restaurant has a rooftop bar with a terrace that offers excellent views of the city, and the hotel has many amenities such as a heated pool, spa, or gym. The central location and free parking are just icing on the cake.

WHAT TO TAKE WITH YOU.

Walking and standing for long periods of time on a hot day can be tiring, so take care to stay hydrated throughout the day. Bring a reusable water bottle that can be filled at drinking stations scattered throughout the complex. Easy access to tap water is one of those little practical things we liked so much about Israel, as it makes this part of the trip very easy and convenient. And it doesn’t matter if you’re going to Rosh Hanikra, Banias Falls or Ein Gedi; water stations can be found almost anywhere. Also, wear comfortable sneakers, as the trail is sometimes uneven. We would bring a small compact backpack, sunscreen and a camera. You can wear your normal hiking clothes here, unlike places like the Dome of the Rock or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where stricter clothing rules apply.

A unique historical monument – the city of Tzipori, Israel

Tsipori roads

One of Israel’s many National Parks that deserves attention is Tzipori. It is an open-air museum that has remarkably well preserved various values relating to the life, religion, and developmental history of the Jewish people. It is believed that Tzipori is the spiritual center of the Promised Land, but the park will be of interest not only to Jews, but to all other peoples.

Read in this article

A bit of history

It is not known reliably the interpretation of the name of the city, but there is an opinion that it came from a play on words: “tzipor” – “sitting on top like a bird.” The first mention of the settlement dates back to 100 BC – at that time the reign of King Alexander Yannaya, who proclaimed Tsipori the capital (administrative center) of Galilee.

The history of the city has ups and downs: it was destroyed several times by the rebels and the Roman authorities, then rebuilt again, and a few years later destroyed by fire. Until the 10th century, the Jewish community lived here under Arab rule, and for a time there was a Crusader garrison.

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Tsipori became a walled city, and fortifications were built on its tops. In the 18th century, a Galilean sheikh became ruler and made the town the center of his domain.

Tsipori map on the rock

A model of the city

Over time, the town became a village, whose inhabitants worked in the olive orchards. In 1948, the Arab-Israeli war broke out, Tsipori was captured by the military and by 1949 all its inhabitants had settled in nearby villages and towns.

It is interesting that Tzipori is not mentioned in the Bible, although it is located just a few kilometers from Nazareth, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Researchers call it the “city of silence” for this reason.

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Tzipori Archaeological Excavations

In 1931, Professor Leroy Waterman of the University of Michigan arrived at this site. From that time, archaeological excavations began at Tzipori. They continued in 1975 and 1985, but under the direction of Israeli historians, professors and researchers of all kinds. The main findings, which are recognized as of historical value, date back to the Roman-Byzantine period of the settlement.

Tzipori

The Tzipori Mosaic

Archaeological excavations are still underway, but those sites that have been fully worked out by scientists are open to tourists and visitors to the country. It was with the first excavation tours that the history of Tzipori already began as a National Park in Israel.

Tzipori and Nazareth

From the hill a good view of Tzipori National Park in the foreground and Nazareth in the background

Sightseeing in Israel National Park

If one walks around Tzipori by oneself one can only enjoy the beauty of nature and the amazing view of the world around from the top. But if you use the services of a guide, you can not only add their own knowledge, but also to “see” life and be the inhabitants of the ancient city.

tzipori israel

Roman Villa

On the west side of the hill is the Roman Villa, which dates back to the 3rd century and is considered very rich. It is a two-storey building that has a courtyard with columns – they are of particular interest. The whole surface of the columns is decorated with mosaics, which are illustrations of the myths of Dionysus and Aphrodite. There are also “pictures” of pagan rites in honor of Dionysus.

Tzipori Mosaic

Roman villa is an example of ancient architecture, which gives you an idea of how advanced construction was at the beginning of our era – bedrooms and living rooms, separate dining room and bathroom with running water impress even modern tourists, let alone our ancestors.

The network of streets

Relatively recently for the guests of Israel was opened a large square on the eastern side of the acropolis. Here are the main streets of the ancient city, roofed sidewalks. In those early days, when the Romans ruled Tsipros, this was a place of trade – there were stalls along the streets. It is known precisely that in the Byzantine period of the history of the settlement the surface of the sidewalks was covered with mosaics, but they have hardly survived to this day.

ancient streets of tzipori

The guide will explain in detail the significance of these central streets, what they were. Especially impressed tourists can mentally imagine the beauty and grandeur of the city, for which it has repeatedly been proclaimed the capital of Galilee and the possessions of the Sheikh.

Residential Quarter

The western side of the Tzipori Hill was a residential area that dates from the 2nd to the 1st century B.C. This residential area is open to tourists. Various sized buildings stand along the road, which was paved and considered a thoroughfare for cattle.

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Tzipori houses

There are mikvahs near each house, a water basin used for ablutions before entering the dwelling. This indicates that the western slope was inhabited by the Jews – they had this tradition, it was believed that water washes away impurities, and one enters the house absolutely clean, preserving peace and well-being in it.

houses of the Nile

It is interesting that the houses in the residential area were built of stone, all the windows and doors, as well as mikvahs were hollowed out in it and plastered – for those times, such work was considered “jewelry”.

The Roman theater

The northern side of the hill has been one of the most important sites in the archaeological excavations carried out. It was here that the Roman theater, built in a hemisphere, was uncovered. Most of its seats for spectators were carved directly into the rock, with foundations and arches along the sides.

Tsipori Roman theater

Roman theater and crusader fortress on top

The theater had a diameter of 74 meters, was built with a capacity of 4500 spectators, but in ancient times was severely damaged. Only a small part of the building survived, but even it gives an idea of the “scale” of construction and the population of the city.

Synagogue

The synagogue is situated in the “lower” city, the structure dates back to the 5th century. The synagogue is over 6 meters long and is divided into two main rooms – the main hall and the nave (the longitudinal space in any temple, separated from the other halls by columns).

Tsipori synagogue

Synagogue, main hall

A particular interest is the floor of the synagogue – it is covered with mosaics, there are signs of the full zodiacal circle with the names of months from the Jewish calendar. There are also images of God Helios on a chariot, scenes from Biblical stories and attributes of worship.

Tzipori caves

From the reservoir underground runs a water duct to the city. And it is dug in such a way, that its slope is observed everywhere – slightly downwards. From the conduit to the surface there are six shafts.

In addition, in the National Park you can see the buildings of the Alexandrian culture with images on the walls of the rituals during the celebration of the Nile, the ancient water pipeline with a capacity of 5 thousand cubic meters, burial caves, the Crusader fortress.

Watch a video tour of the ancient city of Tsipori:

Opening hours and visiting hours

Admission to Israel’s Tzipori National Park costs 28 shekels for an adult and 14 shekels for a child. Opening hours:

  • 8-00 – 17-00: Tuesday – Thursday + Saturday;
  • 8 a.m.-4 p.m.: Friday + holidays.

It is important to remember that visitors stop going to the territory of the ancient city for 1 hour before closing time, and in winter time Tsipori schedule shifts by 60 minutes – closing time is at 16-00 and 15-00 respectively.

All information can be obtained by calling 04 – 6568272 or on the official website https://www.parks.org.il/.

Tsipori is a unique place that allows you to study ancient history with visual aids.

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Most of the architectural and historical monuments are perfectly preserved here and the guides will tell you about them in an interesting way. They speak several languages, including Russian, so there is no problem with understanding.

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