Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Roman theater in Tiberias!

A real revelation awaits you for R Day at ABC Wednesday--a recently uncovered Roman theater!

All photos are clickable.
Above you see, going from right to left, the Sea of Galilee, the southern shoreline of hotels of modern Tiberias, the dig at which I recently volunteered, and in the foreground a different dig (not mine) which is being done by paid workers for the Israel Antiquities Authority.

After my group of volunteers and staff had worked down below at our site from 5:30 until 13:00, we walked up (in the intense heat) to visit the other dig going on on the slope of Mt. Berenice.

We were welcomed and guided by one of the archaeologists in charge.

Look at this!! Those lucky ducks are working on a Roman theater!
The Romans began building Tiberias in 18 C.E. and the oldest parts of the theater belong to that time.
Off to the right, under the black shade net, was a later structure (3rd-4th century) whose mosaic floor survived, complete with a Greek dedicatory inscription.

Four rows of seats remain in good shape.
The staircase up to the auditorium (where the public sits) is a much later addition, from Byzantine times.
There was room to seat at least 5,000 spectators.
The present-day mayor of Tiberias has big plans to turn the theater into a much-needed venue for big performances. He will use the 22 million shekels that Ehud Olmert gave in 2006 to encourage the citizens of the city. In the summer of 2006 missiles fired from Lebanon were exploding all over the Galilee region, and the people really needed some encouragement.

Our guide the archaeologist is also a restorer. He marveled at the fact that he had no restoration work to do on the perfect floor of the orchestra, 18 meters in diameter, paved with limestone flagstones.
What you see above is the crack made by a big earthquake.
I'm not sure which earthquake. Tiberias is over 200 meters below sea level and sits on the bottom of the Great Rift Valley, scene of many recorded quakes over the last 2,000 years. The last big one was in 1837, very destructive.
You see a hole at the base of the stage? There were several of them in a semi-circle on one side of the orchestra. Someone had an idea that maybe they were for fence-posts, and that the fence enclosed wild animals. Something like gladiators??

The impressive rounded outer wall of the theater is from the local black basalt.
All of this was so well preserved because it was 15 meters below ground less than a year ago.
Covered by alluvium, a landslide from the quarry higher up the hill, and spillover of garbage with which the Municipality had filled the big hole made by the quarrying.
Great progress has been made in the excavations which began only last January.
Well yeah, where there is funding, work can go fast forward.

The site is not open to the public at all, yet.
Seeing the Roman theater was a great field trip for our group.
Now if only we could know and see who had belonged to these two sandaled feet discovered at the site . . . .
More information here although Haaretz newspaper title mistakenly calls it an amphitheater (which is round or oval, like a stadium). Ours is a theater, open to the north.
And the official report from the Israel Antiquities Authority, with some aerial photos, is here.
To see how the theater was barely visible, in a photo from 2006, I recommend going to Bible Places Blog.


Robin said...

What a fantastic find, and what a boon a venue like that would be to Tiberias too.

Sylvia K said...

I've really loved your posts about the archaeological finds/digs you've been able to see and participate in! It has to be wonderfully exciting and rewarding! Thanks for sharing, Dina!


Rinkly Rimes said...

An exciting find, But I can almost feel the Roasting sun from here!

photowannabe said...

Totally fascinating and an amazing find so well preserved. Everyday must be an adventure for you.

Sara said...

Those Romans knew how to take advantage of a great view.

jeannette stgermain said...

A Roman amphitheater...wow! The thing I am not quite understanding, Dina is how the Romans got the Jews in those days to come to an amphitheater? Or was it more for Roman inhabitants?

Dina said...

Robin, right you are. The mayor expects to get a lot of revenue back from this investment in the theater and in the whole archaeological park.

Sylvia, glad you are enjoying. It IS the best work I know of.

Rinkly Rimes, yep, it was in the 90s F (40+ C).

Photowannabe, right, every day is an adventure in Israel, whether you are digging or not. :)

Sara, indeed. And they positioned the seats looking to the north, so the sun would be at their back during performances. Clever.

Jeannette, good question. The late Prof. Izhar Hirshfeld, who excavated so much of Tiberias, when he first saw parts of the theater (not amphitheater) poking out 19 years ago, said:
"The most interesting thing about the theatre is its Jewish context. Unlike Tzipori [Sepphoris], which was a multi-cultural city, Tiberias was a Jewish city under Roman rule. The findings demonstrate the city's pluralistic nature and cultural openness, a fact uncommon in those days."

Carolyn Ford said...

To be in the midst of such ancient history is amazing. I can't hardly imagine being so lucky to be a part of it. Good for you, Dina. Relish every moment of the joy!

Joy said...

What an amazing find, they sure knew how to build to last. Wonderful places to watch live theatre and feel your connection with those citizens of the past.

James said...

This really sparks my imagination. What a great find.

Kay said...

Wow! This is all so fascinating, Dina. This is just the sort of thing that Art would love to do. If he didn't have so much to do over here, I'd send him over to you.

SandyCarlson said...

That must be an awesome thing, discovering this moment from the past. That was exciting to read and see.

Dimple said...

It must have been a good reward to see what they were working on, even if not quite as good as doing the work yourself!

Leslie: said...

Fascinating! Thanks for sharing. :D

Cloudia said...

This is such a great post. We are provleged to see this because of you, Dina. I thought of you when I wrote my marine archeology post. Thanks for taking us to such a special place.

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

Gel said...

Hi Dina,
I am riveted by your fantastic post. Ever since I was a child, I'd read about archeology and digs. Thank you for sharing your incredible experiences. This find in your current post is awesome.

FA said...

Wow! Thanks, Dina, for all the interesting details and links. It was amazing to see how the theater looked in 2006 and today. What rewarding results. I hope that you're not too bored now that your project is over. But, then again, perhaps it'll take you awhile to get through all your pictures so that you can share them with us. Shalom.

Jew Wishes said...

These photos are so incredible. They are magical, mystical.

How exciting and rewarding!!!

moongipsies@msn.com said...

how cool - -an archaeological finds/digs! Fabulous photos and descriptions..

Anonymous said...

it's amazing what those stones can say!!!

Mar said...

What an interesting post and great pictures!! I throughly enjoyed it!

R is for renovation

Jedediah said...

I really enjoy your post about the digs. I'm amazed how well the theatre is preserved after all that time. I've visited one on Sicily (near Syracuse) and it had a great view, too, although not as spectacular.

jay said...

Wow ... that looks very exciting to work on! I think people here would be appalled at the thought of incorporating it into a modern theatre, but I think it might be quite good, both for the people of the country and for the preservation of what is left of the original structure. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see a performance there?

Dina said...

Shalom friends and thanks for all your fine comments.

Jay, it worked at Caesaria. They have concerts there in the reconstructed Roman theater. For a photo please see

Deborah Rey said...

If nly those stone could speak! Fabulous pictures.

Rose said...

What a fascinating find, and it must have been a thrill for you to get to see it! The Romans left their prints everywhere--but they certainly built things to last!

JM said...

Absolutely fascinating, Dina! Wonderful post!

Roger Owen Green said...

rugged, roasting Roman ruins

Q said...

This site is very interesting. I love the way a "dig" can help us understand the past.
I always learn so much when I visit you. Thank you for taking us on the field trip too. I am very interested in the Paleo-Indians who once lived in my area. I have been visiting sites and reading and doing research.
It does take funding for these projects but the rewards are so worthwhile.

Reader Wil said...

If only these stones, rocks and bricks could talk....
What a great find you did! Your work is so interesting. I should like to know what the holes at the base of the stage were used for. Great post, Dina!

Tumblewords: said...

Fantastic! I love your posts about digs.

Pietro said...

The whole post is so interesting, Dina: from the really amazing find, to the thrilling images and the informative text. Thanks for sharing.

Caprice- said...

Great info and pictures about the Tiberias theatre! I read some of the other articles and one description of the "courtyards" built into homes reminds me of a story I read once about King David that described the small home he grew up in with a courtyard that was attached to other homes and their courtyards.
I can't help but wonder if the theatre was used to feed Christians to the lions (fencing for wild animals you mentioned)? Thanks for your wonderful reports of Israel- I do hope to see it myself someday!

Petrea said...

These posts of discovery always make my heart beat a little faster.

JM said...

Fantastic! Your Roman Theater is much more 'organized' than mine, which is just a bunch of ruins. I guess the problem was the fact it's on an urban area, they even had to tear down a couple of buildings to reach what we can see now.