Strata I–II, the Fatimid and Abbasid Quarter (Fig. 2)
A residential quarter—part of the Abbasid city constructed after the earthquake of 749 CE—was exposed. The city, which was the capital of Jund al-Urdun during this period, flourished and extended across a vast area, from the Hot Springs of Tiberias in the south to modern Tiberias in the north, far beyond the limits of the Roman-Byzantine and Umayyad city that was destroyed in the earthquake. The quarter, built on the ruins of the theater, was intersected by a street and several alleys. It included more than ten large dwelling units that were built of stepped basalt construction, which conformed to the outline of the theater (Figs. 4, 5) that was overlain with an accumulation of alluvium and debris. The street, aligned east–west was paved with basalt flagstones (exposed length c. 20 m, width 4 m) and its western end extended as far as the rock cliff of Mount Berenice. The narrow alleys (width 1.5 m) had a tamped-earth surface. The houses, which were laid out according to a logical urbane plan, had a central courtyard and occasionally even a garden or fountain that was flanked by one or two residential wings (Fig. 6). The rooms were small and an installation of some sort was located in almost all of them. Traces of white lime plaster were discerned on some of the houses’ walls. The rooms had partly plaster floors and others were tamped earth. The floor levels provided evidence of repairs that were carried out in the rooms during the Abbasid and Fatimid periods, although the chronological separation between them is difficult. A variety of installations were revealed in the courtyards, including ovens (Fig. 7), plastered pools, millstones and grinding bowls, as well as staircases that led to a second story. A rich assemblage of pottery vessels that included complete bowls, jars, jugs and lamps, which dated to the Abbasid and Fatimid periods (Fig. 8), was exposed in a plastered installation in Building 9.
A hexagonal fountain whose floor was paved with marble slabs and its walls were coated with hydraulic plaster was exposed in the courtyard of Building 1. A clay pipe (diam. 9 cm) in the foundation of the walls followed the outline of the fountain and terminated in six vertical pipe outlets (diam. 4 cm). The water was recycled by means of a drainage pipe, set in the floor of the fountain (Fig. 9).
A round cesspit, lined with basalt fieldstones and having no plaster or a floor, was dug below the courtyard’s floor in each house. Potsherds from the Abbasid and Fatimid periods were found in the cesspits (Fig. 10). Similar pits were found in layers that dated to the Abbasid period elsewhere in Tiberias (HA-ESI 118; HA-ESI 120; HA-ESI 120), where they probably also served as cesspits. Two large water reservoirs that were dug into open cavities in the theater structure were also exposed. Another reservoir and a bell-shaped cistern were dug into the middle of the theater’s lower block of seats.
A plethora of artifacts that consisted of storage, cooking and serving vessels, clay lamps, glass, metallic and stones vessels, along with a hoard of twenty-five gold coins, dating to the Abbasid period, reflect the wealth of the quarter’s residents. A variety of church furniture and stone items decorated with crosses are probably evidence of a Christian community that resided in the quarter. The exposure and documentation of the quarter add important contributions to the study of the Abbasid and Fatimid periods in Tiberias.
The impressive remains of the theater started coming to light while dismantling the Abbasid stratum; three distinct construction phases were discerned (see Fig. 3). The construction of the theater (Stratum V) is dated to the founding of the polis Tiberias and it seems that the theater was small in this phase and contained two blocks of seats (diam. 60 m, width 47 m). During the second phase (Stratum IV), which is dated to the first half of the second century CE, based on architectural finds, the theater was enlarged (diam. 78 m, width 55 m) to include another auditorium with a third block of seats and the stage structure was upgraded. In the third phase (Stratum III), dating to the late fourth century CE, the third block of seats was canceled and dismantled, a tribune was constructed in the center of the bottom block of seats and extensive changes were made to the stage. The theater continued to be used for gatherings until the end of the Byzantine period; it was then abandoned and covered with debris until it was ultimately destroyed by the earthquake that struck the city on January 18, 749 CE.
The remains of the seating system included parts of the lower block of seats (ima cavea) and a section of the peripheral corridor(ambulacrum), which separated the lower and middle blocks of seats (Fig. 11). So far, three vomitoria have been uncovered. These were the aisles that led into the auditorium via the ambulacrum. Four rows had survived of the lower block of seats and in front of them was a podium (height 1.1 m), built of two courses of basalt and a limestone cornice. The seats consisted of a course of basalt that was decorated with a limestone cornice in the two bottom rows and a basalt cornice in the third row. The lower block of seats was divided by six radial staircases(scalaria) into five wedge-shaped blocks(cunei) and two tribunes(tribunalia, not preserved) that were positioned above the vaulted aisles(aditus maximi), which separated the auditorium(cavea) from the stage structure(scaena). Probably in the Byzantine period an area with special seating (tribunal) was erected in the center of the lower block of seats; it was reached by way of a staircase from the orchestra (Fig. 12).
The semicircular orchestra (diam. c. 20 m) was exposed and its limestone pavement was preserved in its entirety (Fig. 13). It was surrounded by a railing, parts of whose foundations had survived, which separated the orchestra from the peripheral aisle (width 1 m) that was located at the foot of the lower block of seats (balteus). Two aisles (aditus maximi) that led to the orchestra from the east and west were paved with basalt flagstones (Fig. 14) and in the center of their southern wall was a staircase that ascended to the peripheral corridor (ambulacrum).
The Stage Structure
The stage structure (scaena) and its wing towers (versurae), which flanked it on both ends, were exposed. The stage structure (6×30 m) consisted of two parallel walls. The southern one, which is the front wall of the stage, was completely preserved and decorated with alternating rectangular and semicircular niches (Fig. 15). Staircases that ascended the stage were built in the three rectangular niches in the middle of the wall and statues were placed in the two semicircular niches between them. Two other staircases ascended the stage from the side aisles (aditus maximi). Towers that contained stairwells were erected in the two wings; the western one was partially exposed. The back wall of the stage had three openings: a center opening (valve regia) and two in the wings (hospitalia). A podium in front of the back wall had two wide apses that flanked the main entrance. The podium bore the decoration of the scenery wall at the back of the stage (scaenae frons); its architectural elements, found during the course of excavations, included Corinthian pillar capitals and a system of beams that consisted of architraves, friezes and cornices, as well as an architrave that adorned an apse. All of these were dated, based on style, to the second half of the second century CE and they belonged to the second phase of the theater.
The late phase of the stage (Stratum III) dated to the late fourth century CE. Its wings were paved with limestone flagstones and its center was covered with wooden beams, borne atop pillars that incorporated two large pedestals. Part of the area beneath the stage (hyposcanium) was exposed on the eastern side. An impressive staircase was exposed east of the stage. It ascended a long hall that was paved with a mosaic, in whose center was a dedicatory inscription (Fig. 16) that dated to the end of the third or the beginning of the fourth centuries CE.