During January–February 2003 an excavation was conducted along the southern city wall of Tiberias, in a section between Ha-Bonim and Ha-Galil Streets (Permit No. A-3814*; map ref. NIG 2510/7434; OIG 2010/2434; ESI 1:110), within the framework of a conservation and reconstruction project of this city wall segment, implemented by the Conservation Department of the Antiquities Authority and funded by the Government Tourist Corporation. The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, was directed by Y. Stepansky, with the assistance of Y. Ya‘aqoby (administration), V. Essman and V. Pirsky (surveying and drafting), H. Tahan (pottery drawing), L. Kupershmidt (metallurgical laboratory), R. Kool (numismatics), C. Amit (bayonet photography), E.J. Stern (ceramics advice) and R. Oren (technical assistance on behalf of the project coordinator).
The excavation was undertaken on both sides of the Ottoman-period city wall. Five squares were opened next to the wall (Fig. 1; total area of 35 sq m), two on the outside (Squares D2, E2) and three inside (Squares B3, C3, E3). The foundations of the city wall from the Ottoman period and remains of an earlier wall that is apparently dated to the end of the Early Islamic period or the beginning of the Crusader period were exposed, as well as building remains from the Ottoman period. The excavation took place following the partial conservation and restoration of this section of the city wall.
The Excavation outside the City Wall. Soil fill in the two squares (D2 – 2.0 × 2.5 m; E2 – 2.5 × 2.5 m) contained potsherds from the Byzantine, Early Islamic, Crusader–Ayyubid (few), Early Ottoman (few) and Late Ottoman (eighteenth–nineteenth centuries CE; most of the finds) periods. The excavation reached a depth below surface of 1.6 m in D2 and c. 2.0 m in E2. A concentration of five masonry stones that probably derived from collapse was discovered in the soil fill of Square E2, which also contained the foundation of the city wall from the Ottoman period that was built of small basalt fieldstones (Fig. 2). The ceramic artifacts discovered down to the depth of the foundation included glazed bowls (Fig. 3:20, 21) and a Rashaya el-Fukhar jar (Fig. 3:22), dating to the latter part of the Ottoman period (the eighteenth–nineteenth centuries CE). It therefore seems that the city wall was visible almost to the depth of its foundation at the end of the Ottoman period and apparently until the 1930s, as indicated by photographs taken at the beginning of the twentieth century. Over the course of the latter, probably about the time of the great flood that occurred on May 15, 1934, the area was covered by a layer of soil c. 2 m thick. A level of disarrayed stones (width 0.5 m) that ran the length of the wall in Square E2, at the depth of the foundation, was exposed. A few potsherds that dated to no later than the Early Islamic period were discovered between the stones. This level of stones may be part of the infrastructure for the foundation of the city wall from the Ottoman period, although it is also likely that it belonged to the earlier construction complex, possibly from the Early Islamic or even the Crusader periods.
The Excavation inside the Wall. Remains of an earlier wall (width 2.2 m), adjacent to the northern face of the city wall from the Ottoman period, were exposed in the squares (B3 – 3 × 4 m; C3 – 2.5 × 2.5 m; E3 – 2.5 × 2.5 m). It was aligned east–west and built of two rows of dressed basalt stones with a core of densely packed soil and stones and (Fig. 4). A section of the early city wall (W4; length 3 m) was excavated in Square B3. Its northern side, probably the inside, was exposed to the level of the foundation (1.7 m below surface). The northern face of the wall consisted of five stone courses placed as headers (Fig. 5) and foundations that comprised small basalt stones. Only the top of what was probably the outer face of the city wall’s southern side was exposed since the Ottoman-period wall was next to it (Fig. 6). A section from the top of the early wall was exposed in Square C3 (W5; length 2 m). The construction of this wall section was similar to that of the wall in Square B3. Only several stones from the wall were discovered in Square E3. These were probably a small section of its northern face. The early wall was damaged here due to the construction of a north–south wall during the Ottoman period (below). Seven meters east of Square B3, a section of the early wall (length 5 m, preserved max. height 3.5 m) that was preserved above surface and incorporated in the construction of the Ottoman-period wall (Fig. 7), was discerned. It was also built of two rows of stones with a core of soil and stones. It seems that the builders of the Ottoman-period city wall utilized the remains of the early wall in this section, which was preserved to a relatively considerable height, and incorporated it in the new wall for the purpose of thickening and reinforcement.
Local probes were conducted in the core of the wall in Square B3 and between the stones in its southern side in Square C3. These sealed loci contained potsherds dating to the Early Islamic period (ninth–eleventh centuries CE), particularly to the Fatimid period (eleventh century CE), including glazed bowls (Fig. 3:1–4), a cooking pot (Fig. 3:5), jars (Fig. 3:6–8) and a jug (Fig. 3:9). The single later potsherd was a fragment of a roof tile that is probably dating to the Ottoman period and was discovered between the stones of the southern side of the city wall in Square C3. It seems that this fragment penetrated this spot when the adjacent Ottoman-period city wall was built or repaired. An Umayyad fils from the years 697–750 CE was discovered in a non-sealed locus, in the soil fill above the top of the wall in Square C3. The coin does not indicate the time of the city-wall construction, yet it suggests that activity had taken place in the area prior to the wall’s construction.
Based on the ceramic finds, it seems that the construction of the early wall should be dated to the end of the Early Islamic period (eleventh century CE) or the beginning of the Crusader period (twelfth century CE, after the Crusader conquest in 1099). However, the possibility that the early wall was built later, possibly in the sixteenth century CE, on land that lay vacant since the Early Islamic period and at the initiative of Dona Garcia Mendes and Don Joseph Nasi, mentioned in several historical sources as builders of Tiberias’ city wall, should not be negated.
Nonetheless, the relatively numerous potsherds from the Early Islamic period, including bowls (Fig. 3:1–4), cooking pots (Fig. 3:5), jars (Fig. 3:6–8), a jug (Fig. 3:9) and lamps (Fig. 3:10, 11) and from the Crusader-Ayyubid periods (twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE), namely glazed bowls (Fig. 3:12–14), cooking pots and pans (Fig. 3:15, 16) and a jar (Fig. 3:17), contrary to the meager amount from the Mamluk and the beginning of the Ottoman periods throughout the entire excavation area, including glazed bowls (Fig. 3:18, 19), lead us to conclude that the earlier date for the construction of this city wall should be preferred. It seems that by the Mamluk period the early wall was no longer in use. A few potsherds from this period and a single coin of the Mamluk ruler Shaban II were discovered in the excavation. The coin was minted in Damascus in 1368 CE and came from the soil fill above the top of the early wall in Square C3, suggesting that some sort of activity, which was probably not related to the fortification, occurred in the region during this period. The city wall from the Ottoman period was probably built in the sixteenth century CE, at the time of Dona Garcia Mendes and Don Joseph Nasi, whereas in the eighteenth century CE, during the rule of Daher al-‘Omar, it was renovated and strengthened.
In addition to the remains of the early city wall, building remains, dating to the Ottoman period, were uncovered in the squares on the inside of the wall. A stone pavement (L118) that abutted on the northern façade of the early wall was discovered in Square B3. It seems that the early wall was utilized during the course of the Ottoman period and probably served as a wall for a dwelling or part of another building complex.
Sections of walls and a pavement, ascribed to a structure that was built on top of the early wall, were discovered in Squares C3 and E3. It seems this building was in use until the beginning of the twentieth century CE, as indicated by sections of pavement and walls coated with a thick layer of blue plaster that was popular in Tiberias until the time of the British Mandate. A section of a north–south oriented wall, which had damaged the early wall, was exposed in the western part of Square E3. Two construction phases were discerned in the wall, both dating to the Ottoman period. A bayonet that belonged to an Ottoman army rifle, dating to the end of the nineteenth or the beginning of the twentieth centuries CE (Fig. 8), was discovered in the soil fill east of the upper part of the wall (from its later phase), above a grayish white plaster floor (L107).