Hammat Tiberias (or Hammat), a spa and city 3.2km (2 miles) south of Tiberias, existed well before the founding of Tiberias in the 1st century A.D. Hammat and Tiberias existed side by side for hundreds of years as "twin cities." In Roman and Byzantine times, Hammat developed into a spa resort visited by travelers from all over the known world. The ruins of Hammat are now a national park.
Hammat contains the ruins of one of Israel's most magnificent ancient synagogues, as befits a town that would have hosted wealthy visitors from distant Jewish communities. Most spectacular is the Hammat Tiberias synagogue's well-preserved mosaic calendar floor (4th c. A.D.), which depicts the zodiac cycle and, in its outer corners, four women representing the seasons of the year. At the center of the zodiac, the sun god Helios rides on a chariot through the heavens; beyond the zodiac, a separate mosaic panel depicts traditional Jewish symbols, including the Ark of the Covenant flanked by two ceremonial menorahs. The famous native zodiac floor of the Bet Alpha synagogue (which served a Byzantine-era farming village in the Jordan Valley) may have drawn on this very sophisticated mosaic for inspiration.
Entrance to the ruins is through the Ernest Lehman/Haman Suleiman Museum, which inventories information on regional history and the curative powers of the hot springs. Warning: Be aware that the open water flowing through the gardens around the ruins comes directly from the hot springs and will scald you should you decide to do something foolish, like test it with your toe. Up the hill from the baths is the Tomb of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness (Rabbi Meir, Master of Miracles), a disciple of Rabbi Akiva, and one of the great sages who helped to compile the Mishnah in the 2nd century A.D.
- © Frommer's 2013
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