In April and May 2017, a trial excavation was conducted near the Karlin Synagogue in Tiberias (Permit No. A-7984; map ref. 251146–80/743586–610; Fig 1), prior to renovation work in the Courtyard of the Jews. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was directed by J. Gosker (photography), with the assistance of K. Covello-Paran and E. Stern (scientific guidance), M. Peleg (digital documentation), Y. Ya‘aqobi (administration), E.J. Stern (pottery reading), R. Liran (surveying and drafting) and laborers from Kefar Manda.
The Courtyard of the Jews was part of the Ottoman-period (eighteenth century CE) Jewish Quarter of Tiberias. Previous excavations in this area yielded the remains of a Crusader-period citadel (Razi and Braun 1992; Stepansky 2009), and established that at that time the city was located further north than it had been during the Roman, Byzantine and Early Islamic periods.
The present excavation (75 sq m) comprised two areas—Area A, west of the synagogue, and Area B, east of the synagogue—yielding remains ascribed to two strata (II, I): several walls in Area A and a massive wall enveloping a tunnel in Area B from the Crusader period (Stratum II); and other walls and floors, uncovered mainly in Area B, from the Ottoman period (Stratum I).
Stratum II — Crusader Period (twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE). Four small wall sections (Fig. 2) were exposed in Area A. It was not possible to reconstruct the outline of the structure to which these walls belonged due to the small excavation area. An opening in one of the walls was sealed with stones and mortar. The technique and materials employed in blocking this opening are similar to those that were used to block the citadel gate (Stepansky 2009).
A section of a massive east–west wall was found in Area B (W103; width 7 m; Fig. 3). Only the northern face of this wall was manually excavated, while its southern face was exposed with a mechanical tool. Both faces were built of masonry stones of uniform size; the space between them was filled with multiple courses of fieldstones and mortar. Similar walls uncovered at a distance of 10–20 m north of the present excavation were part of the Crusader-period citadel of Tiberias (Stepansky 2009). This building technique for erecting massive walls is also found in large Crusader-period structures in ‘Akko (E. Stern, pers. comm.).
An east–west tunnel (exposed length 7 m) was found inside the massive wall; its original length is unknown due to the destruction at its eastern end. The tunnel was breached in the center of the wall, probably in the twentieth century, as it appears to have been accomplished with modern mechanical tools. For most of its exposed length the tunnel was vaulted (Fig. 4), but the western end of the exposed section had a ceiling made of basalt slabs (Fig. 5); at this point there were stone doorposts flanking an entrance that was blocked with unhewn fieldstones.
The function of the massive wall and the tunnel that runs through it remain unknown; it is, however, noteworthy that the tunnel led from the citadel toward the Sea of Galilee.
A fill containing large building stones was excavated to the north of the tunnel; it yielded a classical-period pillar base that was reused as a wellhead in the Crusader period (Fig. 6).
Stratum I — Ottoman Period (sixteenth–twentieth centuries CE). A fill (thickness 0.75 m) in Area A yielded pipes, potsherds, glass finds and animal bones and was dated to the Ottoman period. The excavation also exposed several walls and two floors of this period in Area B. Both floors belonged to the same building: the eastern floor was apparently the actual floor of the building, while the western floor might have been a raised platform or a bench (Fig. 7).
Razi Z. and Braun E. 1992. The Lost Crusader Castle of Tiberias. In B.Z. Kedar ed. The Horns of Ḥaṭṭin (Proceedings of the Second Conference of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East, Jerusalem and Haifa, 2–6 July 1987). Jerusalem–London. Pp. 216–227.
Stepansky Y. 2009. Tiberias, the Courtyard of the Jews. HA-ESI 121.