Mount Berenice - A View to the Sea of Galilee

At the top of the hill that looks down upon Tiberias and the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), which nestle below as if in the palm of a hand, stand the ruins of an impressive Byzantine church and the remains of the wall that once fortified the city.


Geographic location: Sea of Galilee, the valleys and lower Galilee
Track type: Walking path
Target audience: All
Difficulty: Easy
Track length: 2 km
Season: All

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Geographic location: Galilee

Special Sites in the Area: Byzantine Church, remains of fortified city

Other sites in the area: Switzerland Forest, Ein Poriya spring

How do you get there?
Make your way to the southern part of Tiberias, and from Rehov HaGalil (“Galilee Street”), the city’s main thoroughfare, drive up Rehov HaNatur to Rehov HaShiloah. Turn right and climb immediately up Rehov Toledano, which winds to the left and continues to ascend until it reaches a dirt road, which was created by KKL-JNF. This trail, which is accessible to vehicles of all kinds, continues up the hill for around another 1.5 kilometers, and it will lead you to a small parking lot adjacent to the ruins of the church on Mount Berenice.

 
Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.
 

Touring on Mount Berenice

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.

The church on Mount Berenice

Why did the builders of the Byzantine wall around Tiberias invest such enormous efforts in this massive barricade, when it is clear that the additional section was of no particular importance to the city’s defenses? The reason would appear to be the remarkable monastery and church that stood on the hill’s eastern peak. The church provided a view of “the landscape of Jesus,” i.e., the area in which he preached and performed many of the miracles described in the New Testament. From this spot, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Chorazin (Korazin), Tabgha (Ein Sheva) Church and Kursi at the foot of the Golan Heights are all clearly visible, as is the point where the River Jordan flows into the Kinneret.

Justinian’s buildings were destroyed in an earthquake in 9 CE, and all that remains today is the water cistern to the west and the foundations of a wall, which lie beneath another building constructed at a later date.

The church at the site is known as the Anchor Church, because of the discovery beneath its altar of a basalt stone weighing around half a ton and resembling an anchor in shape. This stone would appear to have been regarded as a sacred object in the Byzantine period, and to have been linked to Jesus’ activities around the Sea of Galilee.

The church building visible at the site today dates back to the second half of the eighth century, when the area was under Muslim rule. It was large, measuring twenty-eight meters in length, and constructed in the form of a basilica, with an aisle on each side of a central nave. The roof was supported by seven pairs of columns arranged in two rows; these have survived, together with their capitals.

The floor was made of white plaster interspersed with areas of mosaic and there was another mosaic floor, in black and white, in the courtyard to the west of the entrance. In the center of the yard a square cistern hewn into the ground collected water from the roof of the building. The church was in operation until around the end of the Crusader period, i.e., until the end of the thirteenth century or the beginning of the fourteenth.

From here we recommend moving on to visit Switzerland Forest, whose many scenic lookouts provide a view of the Kinneret. The forest, which takes its name from the Friends of KKL-JNF in Switzerland whose donations helped to create it, extends for five kilometers from Tiberias Illit in the north to the Poriya Hostel in the south.
We also recommend visiting the Ein Poriya spring on the eastern slope of Mount Poriya, about a kilometer to the east of Poriya Illit.