Area A. The area (60 sq m; Fig. 1) was located in front of the Ez Ha-Haiyym Synagogue complex. A section of the city wall, oriented east–west (length 6 m, width 3.4 m), which included the remains of a gate (width 3 m) in an excellent state of preservation (Fig. 2), was exposed. The wall’s façade that faced north was revealed to a height of 4 m, extending as far down as the water table at the time of the excavation (minus 210.10 m), without exposing its base.
The wall was built of ashlar stones, one of which having a boss and drafted margins, and dressed basalt stones that were carefully matched and bonded together with hard plaster in an irregular header-stretcher pattern. Two Roman cornice stones were incorporated in the wall’s façade, east of the gate and below its floor level; these may have served as consoles/arch supports to the north or as decorative elements in the wall’s façade.
The historical, architectural and ceramic data indicate that the building complex can be identified with a section of the northern wall of the Crusader fortress from the twelfth century CE (Fig. 3) in Tiberias, which was conquered by Saladin on July 5, 1187, the day after the Battle of Hattin (Y. Stepansky, 2004, The Crusader Fortress of Tiberias, Qadmoniot 127:50–57 [Hebrew]). Other short sections of the southern side of the fortress were discovered in excavations of the 1970s (HA 61-62:9–10 [Hebrew]).
A fragment of a decorated limestone lintel (0.8 × 1.1 m, thickness 0.6 m) that probably originated from a large public building (synagogue?) of the Roman or Byzantine periods was incorporated in the western doorjamb of the gate. The stone is adorned with a relief of a panel, depicting a wreath and an inflorescence of acanthus leaves, set within an intertwined frame (Fig. 4). The center part of the original lintel, decorated with a wreath of Hercules (0.6 × 0.6 × 0.7 m; Fig. 5), was discovered upside down in the soil fill at the front of the gate. Comparisons can be drawn between ours and other lintels from the synagogues at Capernaum (S. Loffreda, Recovering Capharnaum, Jerusalem 1993, pp. 17, 41), Horbat ‘Amudim and Horbat Qazyon (Z. Ilan, Ancient Synagogues in Eretz Israel, Tel Aviv 1991, pp. 58 [Qazyon] and pp. 134–135 [Horbat ‘Amudim]).
The soil fill in front of the gate and the later fill of the gate contained other ancient elements including, a basalt ashlar stone (0.45 × 0.45 × 1.40 m) with a crude relief of a five-branched menorah (?; Fig. 6), a capital, stone fragments of a cornice and frieze, a fragment of Italian marble and a limestone masonry stone that bears a V-shaped stonemason’s mark. Two slots installed opposite each other in the gate’s doorjambs were the tracks for an iron portcullis, a common element in the gates of Crusader fortresses. Diagonal dressing, which is characteristic of Crusader construction, was discerned on some of the stones in the gate’s doorjambs, together with the secondary use of ancient architectural elements. The bases of the doors’ pillars in the gate were fashioned in a half-round style, symmetric with each other and the flagstone floor was provided with a step brake for the doors. Two round sockets of the doors’ bolts survived below the step, on either side of the gatehouse. The flagstones of the gate’s floor terminate in a straight line south of the gate, toward the interior of the fortress. A short section (length 3 m) of a tamped-earth floor, without pavement, was exposed at the elevation of the gate’s floor level (later pavement stones from the Ottoman period were discovered at higher levels in this area). Still within the Crusader period or after the Ayyubid conquest in 1187, the gate was blocked in two phases, as evidenced by the two stone walls in the Crusader-Ayyubid style, with plaster-filled interstices that protrude above the stone surface and are characteristic of the twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE. These walls were built breadthwise across the gate and negated its use (Fig. 7). Over the course of time and after the gate was blocked, the area filled up with soil and stones, which at the beginning of the eighteenth century CE, served as a bedding for the initial buildings of the Jewish quarter of Tiberias that existed until 1948.
A stone wall, aligned north–south, was discovered in front of and abutting the Crusader city wall; it consisted of at least two construction phases. The ceramic finds collected at the base of the wall indicated that the two phases of the wall, which may be a retaining wall of a septic pit, dated to the Ottoman period. Fill that consisted of stones, alluvium and fine-grain sediment was discovered on either side of the wall and beneath its base.
Floors, walls, traces of a street or pavements, contemporary with the city wall and the gate and extending northward from the gate, were not found. A section of a wall/pillar (W505; length 3.5 m, width 1.4) was discovered 3 m from the front of the city wall and parallel to it, opposite and north of the city wall section and east of the gate. Wall 505 was built of five courses (height 1.7 m) of dressed stones; basalt and limestone column drums were incorporated in it length-wise and width-wise. The wall ends in the west exactly in-line with the gate’s eastern doorjamb. It was cut in the east by the eastern balk of the excavation area. The ceramic material recovered from the foundations of W505 dates it to the time of the city wall and gate, i.e., the Crusader period, but its function and relation to the city wall and gate are unclear.
Northwest of W505 and 7 m from the gate, at a higher elevation, was the square base of a large pillar or sealed structure (2.4 × 2.6 m), which was built of headers and stretchers and was not dated.
The excavation at the front of the city wall and gate corroborated the assumption that had previously been raised by Z. Razi and E. Braun (The Lost Crusader Castle of Tiberias, in B.Z. Kedar (ed.), The Horns of Hattin, Jerusalem 1992, pp. 216–227), who suggested that a moat filled with water from the Sea of Galilee surrounded the fortress. Wall 505, which was parallel to the city wall, and the base of the square structure to its northwest, were probably incorporated in the fortress’ defenses. They may have been part of the approach way that led to the gate, via a wooden bridge that spanned the moat and could be raised.
Area B was c. 25 m south of Area A. A small area (2.5 × 3.5 m) was excavated in front of the Karlin synagogue where a section of a wall (length 3.5 m, width 1.2 m), aligned north–south, was discovered. The western face of the wall was built of four courses of dressed stones and a few fieldstones (height 1.35 m). A floor section of plaster and stones was exposed west of the wall. Part of a basalt sarcophagus was found east of and adjacent to the wall, at a depth of 0.5 m below surface. Most of the sarcophagus was buried below the eastern balk of the excavation area; it was not in situ and not in its original use. A short section (length 1 m) of another wall that extended west from the northern end of the first wall was exposed.
The potsherds recovered from Area B were from the Ottoman period; hence the discovered walls were used for a long time. Nevertheless, it is difficult to determine the date of their construction; they may have been built in the Mamluk period or even in the Crusader period.