During March–June 2002 excavations were conducted in an area slated for a building addition to the Galei Kinneret Hotel in Tiberias (Permit No. A-3607; map ref. NIG 25125/74330; OIG 20125/24330). The excavation, carried out on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the hotel, was directed by M. Hartal, with the assistance of K. Covello-Paran, Z. Abass, Y. Lerer (area supervision), Y. Ya‘aqobi (administration), V. Essman, V. Pirsky and T. Kornfeld (surveying and drafting), T. Sagiv (field photography), S. Marco and M. Stein (geology), H. Smithline (studio photography), H. Tahan (drawing), A. Lester (glass and metal artifacts) and G. Bijovsky (numismatics).
An area of c. 950 sq m was excavated in the hotel’s courtyard, next to the beach in the southern part of Tiberias (Fig. 1). Nine strata were exposed. In the Early Roman period the site lay outside the city's perimeter and a stadium was erected there, a section of which was uncovered in the excavation. The stadium was used until the third century CE after which it was dismantled. Buildings constructed in its place in the Byzantine period continued to be used in the Umayyad period. They were destroyed in the earthquake that struck in the year 749 CE. In the Abbasid, Fatimid and Crusader periods, when the site was situated outside the city, industrial installations were found there. Subsequently the area was uninhabited until the twentieth century CE.
The Early Roman period
An accumulation (depth: 2 m) of pebbles and numerous potsherds from the Early Roman period was exposed in the excavation area. This was apparently deposited as a result of erosion from the adjacent city that had come to rest on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Stone ‘measuring cups’ (Fig. 2), which are indicative of a Jewish settlement at Tiberias, were also found in this layer. No building remains or installations were found from the Early Roman period and it seems that this area was outside the city limits at that time.
The only architecture that dated to the Early Roman period was discovered in the northern part of the excavation area. A large edifice (width c. 39 m) that was built into the pebble layer was revealed. A section of a curved wall (length 15 m, thickness 9 m, height 2 m; Figs. 3, 4), built of dressed ashlar stones and a fill of fieldstones and hard bonding material, was exposed. A dressed-stone corbel with a hole through it (Fig. 5) was incorporated into the construction on the inside of the wall; something was probably meant to be tethered to this stone. The material that abutted the outer face of the structure contained potsherds from the first century CE, which dated its construction to this time. On top of the wall was a small bronze figurine of a winged-boy that should probably be identified as Cupid (Fig. 6). A large deposit of clay accumulated inside the building, probably due to flooding from the Sea of Galilee after the structure was no longer in use. It seems that the water that penetrated into the building was a result of the seasonal rise of the lake's level which did not drain off because it was blocked by the walls of the building. The clay, which precipitated in the standing water, contained sherds from the third century CE that are similar to those found on top of the wall. These finds date the destruction of the building to the third or the beginning of the fourth century CE.
The plan of the building and the manner of its construction indicate that this was an important public structure in Roman Tiberias, most likely the city’s stadium that was built along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, outside the city's perimeter (Life of Flavius Josephus 16, 17). The stadium was used for athletic competitions and horse races, as well as a gathering place for the city’s residents on special occasions. Following the naval battle between the Jews and Romans near Migdal, thousands of prisoners were confined in the stadium, some of whom the Romans decided to execute while others were sold into slavery (War of the Jews 3, 10). The stadium is also mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud (Erubin 5, 1 [22: p. 2]). The length of the stadium is still unknown; however, it was probably several hundred meters long. A section of its curved southeastern foundation was exposed upon which the seats (cavea) were built. After the stadium was no longer in use the seats were dismantled and used as construction material while the massive foundation remains to the present day.
The Byzantine period
In the Byzantine period the city expanded and a long hall (4.80 × 9.00 m; Fig. 3) was built on the remains of the stadium. Its roof was supported by a row of arches whose remains were found along the length of its walls. The hall had two floor levels, a lower one from the Byzantine period and an upper one from the Umayyad period. In the southern part of the area remains of a large building were exposed that also date to the Byzantine period. Its outer wall, which had an entrance, was exposed for a length of 14 m. The wall was built of fieldstones and roughly-hewn stones (length 2.1 m; Fig. 7); its lower courses were worn down by the waves of the Sea of Galilee. Most of the remains of the building are situated beneath the hotel and therefore were not excavated. Three columns in secondary use (Fig. 8) were set in place on the beach opposite the front of the building; a Nabatean capital was used as a base for one of them (Fig. 9).
The Umayyad period
Two large buildings from the Umayyad period were discovered in the area. The northern one utilized the foundations of the Byzantine hall, and a number of halls were added to it. The wide eastern wall (length c. 35 m) of this building was exposed as were several lateral walls (8 m) built of stones bonded with mortar. Only the foundations of the building were exposed; it appears that its upper part was damaged during work conducted at the site prior to the excavation. All that remained of the southern building were the foundations of two of its walls (lengths 4 m, 8 m) and the entrance threshold. East of these buildings was a pool (3.50 × 5.00 m, depth 1.95 m) that was built of ashlar stones. The lower course of the pool’s eastern wall was built of two rows of column drums (Fig. 10). The walls and bottom of the pool were not treated with plaster; thus it seems that it was built inside the lake, next to the beach, and was used for keeping fish prior to selling them. The spaces between the columns allowed the constant exchange of water without allowing the fish to escape through them.
Evidence of two geologic faults was found in the area (Fig. 11), causing its western side to settle approximately one meter. As a result walls cracked, were shifted from out of place and were tilted on their sides; the southern building was completely destroyed. The fault that passed beneath the southeastern corner of the northern building caused it to sink (Fig. 12). Pottery and bronze vessels that apparently fell at the time of the earthquake were found on the building's floor. These artifacts date to the mighty earthquake that struck on January 18, 749 CE, causing significant destruction to many of the settlements in the country, among them Bet She’an.
The Abbasid period
Occupation in several sections of the area was renewed following the earthquake. Stone-lined septic pits containing artifacts from the Abbasid period were excavated in the northern part of the area. Next to the eastern wall of the northern building a number of installations were constructed, including work surfaces and a stepped pool. A large quantity of pottery vessels characteristic of the period was found in the pool. After the earthquake a large building (length 14 m), whose foundations were excavated into the alluvium that was deposited by the flooding of the lake, was constructed above the southern building.
The Fatimid period
An installation consisting of a pool with a large pithos at its side and treated with two thick layers of plaster is ascribed to the Fatimid period. The pool, constructed from column drums from the Umayyad period, was blocked and a small pool that was treated with thick plaster was built above it.
The excavation area was situated outside the city limitsin the twelfth century CE. A double pool (2.0 × 2.5 m; depth 0.3 m), whose plastered walls covered over potsherds of ‘sugar vessels’.
The excavation area remained outside the precincts of Tiberias until the time of the British Mandate when the hotel was built.