Zippori was a major Roman and Byzantine city, the capital and heart of the Galilee province. It included a network of colonnaded paved streets, markets, residential houses, public buildings, bathhouses, theater, synagogues and churches. The richness of its mosaic floors, architecture and other findings indicate that the city was wealthy. It was a major Jewish town at the Byzantine times, and for some time the center of the Jewish administration in the Holy Land.
According to some scholars, the city (identified as Kitron or Kattah) was part of the region of the tribe of Zebulun, but was not captured. The Mishna tells us it was fortified by a wall during the Israelite conquest. The excavations unearthed findings from the first temple period. The city started to grow during the 2nd C BC and was one of the cities ruled by the Hasmonai King Alexander Janaeus. In 55BC, 8 years after conquered by the Romans, the city was declared as the capital of the Galilee. In 47BC Herod the Great conquered the city and made it his Galilean capital. After Herod’s death in 4BC the Jewish citizens seized the city but the Romans under Verus re-conquered the city, burnt it and sold the Jewish rebels to slavery. Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, rebuilt and fortified the city.
The city spared the destruction during the Great Jewish revolt against the Romans since it refused to take part in the revolt; it surrendered and opened its gates (66AD). This angered the fellow rebelling Galileans, since instead to lead the revolt this central city decided to save itself. After the 2nd Jewish revolt (Bar-Kochva 132-135 AD) the city transferred changed its name to Deocaesarea (=city of Zeus and Caesar) and was ruled by pagans until the 3rd C. It is unknown what was their stand or fate in this revolt, but it caused the change of the city’s leadership for almost 200 years.
The Crusaders rebuilt sections of the city and the fortress, calling it Le Saphorie, preserving the ancient name. On the west side of the hill they built a church, honoring Mary mother of Jesus, who according to tradition was born here to her parents Joachim (a scribe) and Anna (parts of the church still stands there today).
The Crusaders held a major force in the city and used it as a base of their battles with the Arabs. From Le Saphorie the Crusaders armies dispatched their forces to the help of Tiberias against Saladin’s Arab forces on the night of July 2, 1187. On the way to Tiberias they were defeated in the battle of Hittim, which signaled the starting of the end of the Crusaders in the Holy Land.
The Arab town of Suppheriyya preserved the ancient name and existed from the Crusaders times until 1948. In the 18th C, during the Ottoman period, a Bedouin called Daher El-Omar, restored the fortress in 1745 and incorporated some of the ancient stones and sarcophagus that he collected from the ruins.