Israel’s national parks system deserves many superlatives, encompassing over 70 historical and natural sites across the country. That includes all non-urban World Heritage sites, so on my first visit to Israel, I purposefully stopped by quite a few of the national parks. Tzipori was one that I haven’t been to on that trip, even though it was recommended to me by a number of my friends and relatives in Israel.
Tzipori was once the capital of Galilee and a leading scholarly city. Mishnah – the first written collection of Jewish traditions – was completed in the early 3rd century CE in Tzipori (known back then as Roman Sepphoris), which does not necessarily elevates it to the same status as the four holy cities of Judaism, but still marks its historical importance. Christians have their own reason to venerate Tzipori, since the parents of Mary, Jesus’s mother, hail from here.
Nothing is left of that city nowadays beyond archaeological digs. As far as archaeology goes, Tzipori is probably not among the top destinations in Israel. But what makes this place stand out are the incredible floor mosaics spread across several locations inside the park.
This is the floor of Dionysus House, a villa built in Roman times. Absent any known records of what a place may have been called when people lived there, ancient points of interest frequently are named after the prominent decorative elements. In this case, the Greek god of wine, since the mosaics here primarily depict scenes associated with him.
This portrait of a woman is widely considered the pinnacle of mosaic art in Israel and is rather aptly nicknamed “the Mona Lisa of the Galilee”.
It is mesmerizing. Her eyes follow you no matter which angle you choose.
A couple of other fragments.
The Nile Festival House is a public area from the Byzantine period. Amazons, centaurs, and hunting big cats are mosaics that catch the eye here.
Floors at the Synagogue are no less impressive, centered on the Zodiac and depicting a number of Biblical stories.
Here or there throughout the ancient city streets, you can find other surviving fragments.
…all surrounded by the landscape typical of an ancient excavation site.
The Crusader Castle stands at the highest point of the site.
From the roof lookout, there are perspectives of Galilee in all directions.
There is a series of videos found throughout the interior spaces that I believe are meant to illustrate the importance of Tzipori as an erstwhile center of Jewish learning and spirituality. IMHO, the production is a bit contrived and superficial, but thankfully short in each instance.
If you have been to Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily, it is hard to avoid comparing Tzipori to that. Overall, Villa Romana would probably win on the sheer quantity of its mosaics, but I cannot say that Tzipori would lose on the quality. It is not a WH site – not even on the tentative list. It is still one of the most visually impressive treasures found in Israel.
Note that there are variations in how Tzipori is transliterated into English on various maps – there may be one or two “p”s and the starting sound may be represented as “Ts” or “Tz” or even “Z”.