She was the beautiful daughter of King Herod Agrippa I – grandson of Herod the Great and Mariamne the Hasmonean – and her name was Berenice. She lived in the first century CE and the Roman general Titus, who was later to become Emperor of Rome, could resist neither her charms nor her beauty: he fell in love with her and took her to Rome with him. When he became emperor, however, he was obliged to send her back to Judea, as the Roman people would not tolerate a Jewish queen. Titus sacrificed his love to the glory of ruling an empire, and Berenice returned to the land of her birth.
This fascinating sequence of events is no way connected with the hill that towers over Tiberias. Berenice the beautiful would appear to have spent the remainder of her life in far-off Banyas, but this did not discourage the local people from bestowing her name upon the hill above Tiberias. In Arabic the site is known as Qasr Bint al-Malik, which means “Palace of the King’s Daughter” – and who, if not Berenice, is worthy of that title?
The Byzantine wall
In the 6th century CE the Byzantine emperor Justinian, one of history’s great builders, decided to make his mark upon Tiberias, and he ordered a wall to be built around the city. Justinian, who was responsible for the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the famous church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, encircled Tiberias with a massive wall that protected it for centuries, until the arrival of the Crusaders.
This wall did not surround only the residential quarters of the city: it climbed up the steep hillside and included the summit of Mount Berenice, 190 meters above the Kinneret, within its embrace. Remains of the wall, which measured almost three kilometers in length, have also been found in the area of the hotel compound adjacent to the promenade, and at other sites in the city, too. It is on Mount Berenice, however, that the most impressive ruins can be seen: remains of the 3.2 meters thick wall and the remnants of its towers, some of which have been preserved to a height of around five meters, can still be seen at the site. On the southern slope of the hill stand the ruins of the western gate of Byzantine Tiberias.