Today for my birthday we drove up to the Sea of Galilee, along the eastern shore until Ein Gev (highway <92>) and then turned off beside a field of banana plants on a road that winds its way onto the Golan. After a number of hairpin turns we reached a parking area and walked to the summit (350 meters above the lake) to the remains of the Byzantine city of Sussita (known as Hippos in its earlier Hellenistic incarnation).
With General Pompey’s conquest of Sussita in 63BCE it became one of the cities of the Decapolis, a group of ten Roman cities on the eastern frontier of the Empire. According to Josephus, Hippos had a mixed population of Christians (eight churches have been discovered), pagans and Jews (but so far no synagogue has been found).
Sussita is a remarkable archaeological site and yet is hardly known and seldom visited. Most of the building and the street paving stones are of black basalt (rather than white limestone) and the main Roman street that runs for a total length of about 500 meters like a spine across the top of the hill is not the usual Cardo but actually the Decumanus.
To the left of the site off the Decumanus is the bath-house with a great view of the lake below.
Here is the view looking west along the Decumanus.
To the north is a large public building with plastered columns and another church (NorthWest Church).
On the south side of the Northwest Church are two rectangular pools, the walls are plastered and there are steps leading down to the bottom. They look like they could be ritual baths (mikve) but actually these basins were used to collect grape juice. Next to the basins is a large area, the treading floor, where the grapes were placed and crushed by the feet of the workers in order to extract their juice.Besides three wine presses in the area there is also an oil press and storage area for agriculture products used by the priests and monks.
In 2009 archaeologists uncovered an Odeon (in Greek, to sing), a semi-circular mini-theater with about 600 seats used for musical shows and poetry reading, the first to be discovered in Israel.
Sussita and Bet Shean, both cities of the Decapolis; small theaters; churches and synagogues; aqueducts; earthquakes that leveled cities until archaeologists re-discovered them – there is much to learn and experience with a guide.
You can read more about the excavations at their website http://hippos.haifa.ac.il or on FB at Hippos-Sussita Excavations Project
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