Proposed World Heritage Serial Nomination
Submitted to the World Heritage Center UNESCO
Extract from the Official Dossier (January 2008)
Magdala (Migdal Tarichaea; Migdal Nunia; Majdal)
by Yossi Stepansky
Summary of the description of the Property and its history and development
New Testament reference
- Mary Magdalene out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons is mentioned as one of his followers who ministered him. (Luke, 8:2)
- Mary Magdalene attends the Crucifixion, the burial and the resurrection of Christ (Matt. 27:56-61 , 28:1, Mark 16:9, John 20:1, 18)
Magdala is the hometown of Mary Magdalene, one of the most revered deciples of Jesus whose legendary figure has been consecrated worldwide. Archaeological excavations at the site exposed the best-preserved 1st century C.E. Roman town-center in Eastern Galilee, which complement the descriptions in the scriptures and provide deeper understanding of the cultural context, which within Jesus was acting.
Description of Property
Archaeological site of ancient Magdala spread along the lakeshore, featuring: – 1st century C.E. remains of public and private buildings, well-paved Cardo Maximus (possibly part of the Via Maris road from the time of Jesus), harbor and shore-installations, authentic 1st century fishing boat discovered nearby (on display at The Yigael Alon Museum at nearby kibbutz Ginnosar) – Byzantine monastery remains, with mosaic floor – Remains of an 8th-9th centuries C.E. large building, probably a church Today the site is partly owned by the Franciscan Custodia of the Holy Land (archaeological site), Govt. land (including the salt-water canal and other fallow land) and private property.
History and Development
Large Jewish town since the late Hellenistic period, mentioned numerously in New Testament and Roman-period Jewish sources. 67 C.E. – harsh naval battle offshore between the zealot Jewish militia and the Roman army. Continuous presence into the medieval periods. Reidentified and surveyed in the 19th century.
- 1912, 1970: The Franciscans (Custody of the Holy Land) acquire parts of the site.
- Excavations: 1960′s – first soundings and small salvage excavations; 1971-1976: extensive Franciscan excavations revealing significant and monumental early Roman – late Roman – Byzantine remains; 1986
- Excavation of the 1st century C.E. fishing boat; 1980′s – 2005: further salvage excavations and surveys at different locations within the site; 2006-2007: renewed Franciscan excavations and preservation project
- 1990′s – 2007: Resital camping site on the southern part of the site (without permanent structures)
Detailed description of the Property and its history and development
Name and Identification
Magdala (Migdal in its original semitic form, meaning ‘tower’), the home-town of Mary Magdalene of New Testament fame, has been identified since the 19th century with the site of Majdal, a ruin on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. In ancient Greek and Jewish literary sources the town was also known as Migdal Tarichaea (Tarichaea= Greek for ‘salted fish’; Strabo, XVI, 2, 45) or Migdal Nunia (Nunia = Aramaic for ‘Fish’), hinting at the fishing industry as being the backbone for the economy of the town. Although a specific ‘tower’ on the site is not mentioned in ancient sources (this toponym is quite popular in all regions of the land), it is interesting to note that a 6 m’ high tower-looking structure built above the spring within the site dating to the Late Roman period has survived and is still standing today. The original ‘tower’ may have been a former lighthouse on the shore of the lake; recently, a suggestion was raised that this ‘tower’ could refer to a structure – possibly a light house – that stood in antiquity on top of a large rock, popularly referred to today as the ‘Rock of Ants’ (Hajar en Namla), that protrudes from the lake slightly offshore ca. 500 m’ south of Magdala (map ref. 199050/247150; Galili, Dahari and Sharvit 1991: 161-162).
Description of Magdala at the present time
The ancient site of Magdala is today owned and occupied by several authorities and enterprises:
- The Franciscan Custodians of the Holy Land (since 1912, Block 15351 parcels 1, 2).
See below for a detailed archaeological description of the antiquities exposed here and to its south in the 1970′s, and references.
- Private-property fallow land (covered partly by reeds) north of the Franciscan compound, between the compound and the ‘Hawaii’ guest house site (the latter being mostly north of the ancient settlement’s northern border). Here several limited archaeological trial trenches were dug in 1985, and filled in (Stepansky 1986). To the west of the Franciscan compound is another parcel of private land, partly cultivated; here a small salvage excavation was conducted in wake of a telephone line that was installed near the Tiberias – Migdal road (Abu ‘Uqsa 2001, excavation A).
- Government-owned land leased to private enterprise south of the Franciscan compound, currently in use as an active although non-permanent camping site (‘Resital’ camping). In the 1970′s, before the campsite was laid out, Byzantine-monastery remains were discovered here (Corbo 1974); several additional salvage excavations that were conducted on these grounds in the 1990′s have been filled in with a protective earth-covering (one of them published – Abu ‘Uqsa 2001, excavation B).
- South of the latter along the narrow Lake of Galilee shore and until the offshore ‘Rock of Ants’ at map ref. 199050/247150 is govt. owned land encompassing the southern fringes of the ancient settlement of Magdala. Here the flat-land between the shore-line and the Arbel mountain-slope narrows to a thin strip, and it is unclear exactly where the southern border of the ancient settlement lies.
- Stretched along the north-south length of the site, parallel and to the east of the Tiberias – Migdal modern road, is the Govt. owned National Water Company Salt Water Canal, embedded in the ground since the 1960′s. Within the canal’s excavated channel, opposite the current entrance to the Resital campsite, is an exposed, unexcavated, segment of the Byzantine-monastery wall (other parts of which were excavated within and to the south of the Franciscan compound in the 1970′s). In 2005 a salvage excavation was undertaken along the canal’s route on the southern fringes of Magdala, where building remains from the Hellenistic, early Roman and late Roman periods (2nd century b.C.E. – 4th century C.E.) were discovered (Avshalom-Gorni, forthcoming).
- The lower slope of the Arbel Mountain to the west of the Tiberias – Migdal modern road which seemingly covers unexcavated settlement remains in its northern part and ancient burial remains in its southern part is today mostly uncultivated, fallow land.
- the shoreline of the lake, between the high tide-level elevation of -209 m’ (below sea level) and low-tide level of -212 m’ which contains the ancient shore installations and harbor of Magdala, and the submerged area of the lake itself opposite the land-site of Magdala, is govt. owned property.
The Franciscan compound, surrounded by a protective wall (parcel 5) and fence (parcel 1) is today in use only as an archaeological site and is currently (2007) being excavated, although in the near future there is a plan to employ the small modern building in the compound’s northeastern corner (currently being used as excavation headquarters) as monastery quarters for permanent Franciscan custodian personnel.
The impressive finds of the 1970′s excavations in the eastern part of the compound (parcel 5), including early-Roman, late-Roman and Byzantine architectural remains of private and public structures, roads, canals and installations (see below for specific details), have been recently cleaned after years of neglect and are easily identifiable today with the help of the excavation plan published in the 1970′s. While the remains have not yet undergone restoration and reconstruction (although long-term plans do include those endeavors), preservation work on those remains has recently (2006) commenced, while at the same time further soundings in this part of the compound and new, extensive and potentially rewarding excavations in the western part of the compound (parcel 1) have been inaugurated under the management of Franciscan Archaeologist Fr. Stefano De Luca. Plans for the (near?) future include opening the site to pilgrimage and to the public, similar to the current situation at Capernaum.
At present, save for some burial remains exposed on the open southern fringes of the site to the west of the Tiberias-Migdal road, only the Franciscan compound contains exposed remains of ancient Magdala, while all other salvage excavations have been filled in with a protective earth covering.
History and Development of Magdala
Outline of Archaeological Research and Development at Magdala
Surveys of the site began, like most other biblical sites, in the 19th century, while in the first half of the 20th century discussion was raised on the identification of the site pertaining to several problematic historical sources, resulting in scholarly recognition for identifying it with Migdal Nunia / Tarichaea and with the New Testament town of Magdala. In 1912 a central part of the northern area of the site (Block 15351 parcel 5), north of the small Arab village of Majdal, was purchased by the Franciscan Custodians of the Holy Land and fenced off with a stone wall still visible today; in 1970 parcel 1, adjacent to parcel 5 on its western side, was also acquired by the Custodia, and a small monastery-building was erected in the northeastern corner of the compound. Until the 1970′s only some limited archaeological soundings were undertaken outside of the Franciscan compound, including three in the early 1960′s (one uncovering several sarcophagi in the Roman-period cemetery to the south of the town, an underwater investigation of the shore area, and limited salvage investigations in wake of the construction of a salt-water waste canal), while in the years 1971-1976 extensive excavations were carried out and directed by the Franciscan archaeologist Father V. Corbo within the Franciscan compound, revealing a wide exposure of Roman-period architectural remains. In the 1980′s and 1990′s some further limited investigations and salvage excavations were carried out by the Israel Dept. of Antiquities (since 1990 – The Israel Antiquities Authority) in several spots outside the Franciscan Compound (Stepansky 1986; Abu ‘Uqsa 2001). In the 1980′s the ‘Hawaii’ holiday village was built on the northern border of the antiquity site, seemingly outside the site’s northern limits; in the late 1990′s the ‘Resital’ camping and shore-facilities site was laid out on the southern side of the site, south of the Franciscan compound, which led to several additional trial and salvage excavations; while in 2005 a salvage excavation was conducted adjacent to the camping site in the southern perimeter of the site along the salt water canal route. In 2006 and 2007 a new archaeological venture has been innovated within the Franciscan compound by the Franciscan Custody under the management of Fr. Stefano De Luca, which includes the cleaning, reinvestigation and preservation of the late-Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine remains exposed in the 1970′s, and new, extensive excavations in as yet unexcavated areas of the compound.
The History and Archaeology of Magdala
Excavations and surveys of the site have shown that the town was founded in the late Hellenistic period, late 2nd-early 1st centuries B.C.E. (Leibner 2006b: 238). In the New Testament the site is mentioned only as Mary’s hometown, emphasizing her personality as a symbol of piety and loyalty and not the town itself. However, Magdala is frequently mentioned in other Roman period (1st – 4th centuries C.E.) historical and rabbinic sources as an important city or large town (Manns F. 1976; Liebner 2004: 227-238, 2006a:117). Most significant are the late 1st century C.E. accounts of Josephus Flavius, who portrays it as a city of 40,000 (certainly an exaggeration, 4,000 would be a more realistic figure) with a Hippodrome, and relates the significant role this Jewish settlement played during the first Jewish Revolt in the Galilee in 67 C.E.. Josephus (The Jewish War 2.21; 3.9-10) describes in great detail the harsh naval battle that took place between the zealot Jewish militia and the Roman army commanded by Titus offshore of Tarichaea, when the Sea of Galilee was colored red from the blood that was shed. Tarichaea was conquered (although not destroyed) and a total of 6,500 Jews lost their lives. Nonetheless, the town continued as a Jewish center of learning in the coming 2nd-3rd centuries, as is related in several Talmudical sources. During the Byzantine and early Islamic periods (4th-11th centuries C.E.) archaeological surveys and excavations show for a sharp decrease in the intensity of settlement (Liebner 2006a:117-118). However, the site was revered by Christians during these later periods as is witnessed by the discovery of Byzantine monastery remains and the probable remains of an 8th-9th century church (see below), and by several accounts from the 6th century and on of Christian travelers who mention a church on site. Those traditions refer to the site as to where Mary Magdalene was born and/or healed. In medieval sources, from the 12th century and on, the ‘House of Mary Magdalene’ and a church in demise are occasionally mentioned. However, a gap in the settlement of the town during the Ottoman period (16th – 19th centuries, save for a small squatter’s settlement at the end of that period) seems to have succeeded in obscuring the exact location of that revered site. An Arab Ottoman period white-domed tomb, designated on the old maps as the tomb of Sheikh Muhammad er Razlan (the spelling of that name is from the British Mandate Survey of Palestine 1941 map) is sometimes popularly labeled ‘the tomb of Mary Magdalene’, but this has no authentic Christian tradition.
Soundings in past years and a recent intensive archaeological survey and historical study of the site (Liebner 2004: 150-152, 227-238, 315-318; 2006a: 117-118) have shown that the ancient site of Magdala encompassed during the Roman period (1st century B.C.E. – 3rd century C.E.) an area of ca. 100 dunams at least, stretching north-south for several hundred meters along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, with a necropolis on the eastern slopes of the Arbel mountain on its southern and western sides. The extensive Franciscan excavations of the 1970′s have exposed parts of the town’s center during those centuries, pointing to a well planned settlement with urban characteristics that flourished here, especially during the 1st century C.E.
The earliest level (1st century B.C.E. – 1st century C.E.) features a well-designed 7 X 9 m’ one-room innerstepped building with a U-shaped colonnade of pillars and Doric capitals, and with water canals surrounding the inner walls on three of its sides. This building was identified by the excavator in it’s first stage (1st century b.C.E. – 1st century C.E.) as a ‘mini-synagogue’ (Corbo 1974: 19-32; 1976: 365-371); most scholars, however, believe it to be an adorned public-fountain or ‘nymphaeum’ [nda a large, elaborate public fountain adorned with pagan sculptures; here at Magdala, though, no signs of idolatry were found and thus the term Nymphaeum may be misleading. We employ here the term 'Nymphaeum', found in some of the literature pertaining to the archaeology of Magdala, with the above reservation in mind] from its beginning, utilizing the waters of the nearby spring (Bruno 1977:6; Netzer 1987: ix, 165-172). Slightly west of this building, a group of late-Roman period pools were discovered adjacent to the spring, and in close proximity to a 6 m’ high tower that has survived antiquity.
North of the ‘nymphaeum’ an ‘urban villa’ of the early Roman period was unearthed, with a unique mosaic floor portraying depictions of a boat, fish, bathing and anointing utensils and other objects (Corbo 1978; Raban 1988; Reich 1991); the mosaic has recently undergone preservation and is today on display in Capernaum).
South and south-east of the ‘nymphaeum’ a large building with 24 rooms (including an extremely wellbuilt inner system of water canals, pools and cisterns) and a large 900 m2 piazza adorned with colonnaded pillars (the ‘agora’ or ‘town square’ ?) were uncovered.
Adjacent and flanking these early-Roman grand structures to their west, the well-preserved remains of a 6 meter-wide north-south Cardo Maximus road has been exposed, paved with withered long-treaded pavement stones, on whose western side a Byzantine water aqueduct was later erected (Corbo 1976; 1978). This monumental thoroughfare may be a local urban segment of the famous Via Maris highway that continued north connecting Palestine with Syria. Although Magdala was never proclaimed a Polis, these Roman-period remains demonstrate a high-level of urban sophistication and economic prosperity.
Other main Roman-period elements in Magdala include the as-yet unexcavated remains of a large anchorage and shore-facilities complex on the shore opposite the Roman-period center of the town (Raban 1988: 322-323; Nun 1992: 34-35), and fragmentary remains of private and public buildings and stone-pavements uncovered in several salvage and trial excavations undertaken during the last 25 years to the north, west and south of the Franciscan compound (e.g. Stepansky 1986; Abu ‘Uqsa 2001; Avshalom-Gorni, orthcoming). Today (2007) all remains discovered in the salvage excavations outside the Franciscan compound are covered over, while the anchorage is concealed either under high-tide water or under low-tide vegetation and silt.
The substantial 1st century C.E. remains of the town center, most of which can still be seen today, are a unique witness to an affluent Jewish community at Magdala in eastern Galilee during the time of Jesus. These include impressive private and public buildings and installations: a mosaic-paved villa, a ‘nymphaeum’, a colonnaded piazza, a large multi-roomed water-canalled structure, a monumental road and a well-built promenade and harbor complex whose remains are exposed in low tide. The latter’s 1st century date (Raban 1988: 322) has been strengthened by similarly-dated underwater finds found in different locations on the floor bed of the lake (Fritsch and Ben-Dor 1961: 57-59) and by the discovery of a 1st century C.E. fishing boat that was embedded in the mud on the shore of the lake 1.5 k”m north-east of Magdala (Wachsmann 1990; 1995; see also below, the anchorages of the Sea of Galilee).
Moreover, the recent 2005 excavations along the route of the salt-water canal (Avshalom-Gorni, forthcoming) have proven that 1st century Magdala was in fact a large town, extending hundreds of meters from north to south along the shores of the lake.
From the Byzantine period, during which Magdala witnessed a decline in settlement intensity and even may not have been an inhabited town per say (Liebner 2004: 317-318; 2006a: 117-118), remains of a large (33 X 104 m’) mosaic-paved monastery were found overlying the southern part of the Roman town, extending beyond and south of the Franciscan compound 87 where a bathhouse was also excavated in the 1990′s (Corbo 1974: 7-18; Abu ‘Uqsa 2001:321).
A continuation of presence at the site was also recorded from the Early Islamic period, from which parts of an 8th-9th centuries large building, probably a church, were discovered overlying the bathhouse, while above those remains flimsy Mamluke period (13th-15th centuries) remnants were recorded (Abu ‘Uqsa 2001: 321). Close to ground-level remains of a Moslem cemetery were found, of which the white-domed tomb of Sheikh Muhammad er Razlan adjacent to the modern Tiberias – Migdal road is the only still-visible remnant.