Discover the Ancient Jewel of Israel: Sussita National Park

Photo: Avishag Ayalon

Situated atop a spur on the Golan Heights, overlooking the Sea of Galilee and picturesque Kibbutz Ein Gev, lies the majestic Sussita (Hippos) National Park. This ancient city, known in Greek as Hippos and in Hebrew as Sussita, boasts a fascinating history and newly accessible pathways designed especially for the modern traveler.

A Glimpse into Sussita’s Past

The city’s intriguing name, which means “horse” in Greek, hints at its connection with that majestic animal. Some believe the city was named for the unique shape of the spur, which resembles a horse’s neck and head. And while its Aramaic name, Sussita, is derived from the Greek name Hippos, its Arabic name translates to “Fortress of the Horse.”

Established during the Hellenistic period (beginning around 300 BCE), Sussita flourished during the Roman–Byzantine eras. In the early Byzantine period (324 CE onward), the city continued the urban design from the Roman era. It remained a regional capital and became the residence of a bishop. A powerful earthquake struck the region and the city in 363 CE, leading to changes in the city’s construction plan. Some public buildings disappeared and were not rebuilt. Renewed public construction took place during the fifth and sixth centuries CE, but it declined during the sixth century CE. During the Islamic conquest in 640 CE, the city remained Christian, and the churches continued to operate until the 749 CE earthquake.

Modern Touches to Ancient Wonders

Recently, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority initiated a comprehensive enhancement of Sussita National Park. These improvements encompass pathways to principal attractions, informative signposts, unveiling hidden mosaics, renovating historical edifices, and a state-of-the-art service center for visitors. This facility boasts a panoramic observation deck, a rest spot, and screenings of films that plunge into the city’s rich tapestry of history within its ancient confines.

Highlights of Sussita:

Unparalleled Views: Enjoy sweeping vistas of the Sea of Galilee and the Lower Galilee.

Ecological Wonders: The park shelters a diverse concentration of flora and fauna, including the intriguing large and small horseshoe bat species.

Architectural and Historical Marvels: Discover a Hellenistic city from the time of the Hasmoneans, Roman ruins including a forum, a central city square, a grand water reservoir, remains of a magnificent basilica, and an odeon, a Roman architectural innovation in the form of a small covered theater, which in Sussita’s case could seat about 400 spectators and was used for performances, poetry readings and lectures.

Notably, Sussita houses eight Byzantine-era churches, offering an unrivaled glimpse into early Christian life near the Sea of Galilee. Two main church complexes, the Northwest and the Northeast, stand out. These churches constructed no earlier than the end of the fifth century CE, served the city’s inhabitants until the devastating earthquake of 749 CE. The Northwestern Church was built directly over the ruins of a Roman temple using stones from earlier Hellenistic and Roman buildings. Meanwhile, the Northeastern Church complex unveiled the sarcophagus of a holy woman buried near the apse and the altar. This church was built in a residential area in the fourth century CE and, perhaps surprisingly, contained a fresco of the goddess Tyche, possibly the city’s patron deity.

The Jesus Connection

The Sea of Galilee and its surroundings, including Sussita, have deep ties with the life of Jesus. As you tour around the Sea of Galilee, adding the newly opened Sussita site to your itinerary is a must. . Your visit is the perfect place to read and ponder Jesus’ words “a city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14), and the dramatic “miracle of the swine” (Matthew 8:28–34), and of course, the strides of early Christian history – the aforementioned eight churches that were excavated in the city.

From September 1, 2023, there is an entrance fee to the site, ensuring its preservation for future generations.

Come explore the mesmerizing beauty, historical depth, and spiritual resonance of Sussita National Park. With its unparalleled landscapes, rich history, and proximity to the iconic Sea of Galilee, a journey to Sussita promises an unforgettable experience for every traveler to Israel.

Sussita (Hippos) National Park