Perched on top of a hill, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, there you have Susita National Park! The site protects the important archaeological site known as Susita which was an ancient city. The site is also called Hippos, which is the Greek word for “horse.” It is on a flat-topped diamond-shaped foothill near Ein Gev Kibbutz and overlooks the entire area of the Golan and Galilee Region.
Seleucid settlers established the city known as Susita between the 3rd century BCE and the 7th century CE. After seizing the Land of Israel from the Ptolemies; the Seleucids settled in the area and founded the city. During the Roman period, Hippos was part of a region in Roman Jordan known as the Decapolis (Ten Cities). The city controlled two port facilities on the lake and an area of the surrounding countryside. Hippos were protected by thick fortification walls, which can still be seen today.
Susita National Park: History and Archeology
The archaeological site of Susita or Hippos offers a fascinating insight into the history of the ancient city. Situated within the Susita National Park; the site was once a border fortress for the Ptolemies as early as 1 CE. The Seleucid colonists established the ancient city of Hippos in the middle of the second century BCE. Hippos grew into a busy city-state and had a temple; a central market area, and other public structures. The remains of these structures can be seen in the Susita National Park.
Hippos became an independent Jewish kingdom in 142 BCE after the Maccabean revolt. Roman general Pompey conquered Coele-Syria and Judea in 63 BCE, ending the Hasmonean independence. During the Roman and Byzantine era, Christianity flourished in Hippos. Muslims invaded Palestine in the 7th century during the Rashidun period and took over the city. Christians were still allowed to practice under the Umayyad Caliphate.
An earthquake destroyed the city of Hippos in 749 CE and the city was permanently abandoned.
Visiting the Susita National Park
The remains of the ancient city were discovered by German railroad engineer and surveyor Gottlieb Schumacher in the 1880s. Hippos became a National Park in 1964 and the surrounding area was declared a National Reserve in 2004.
The Susita National Park has an array of archaeological ruins from different periods. Interesting remains that can be seen at the site include some segments of the massive fortification wall that once surrounded the city and two Roman bathhouses. There are also remains of a public forum. Colonnades surround the rectangular plaza, which was the main square of the city. There are also remains of two basilica churches from the Byzantine period and a Roman basilica dating back to the end of the 1st century CE.
The Hippos region around the city also has some interesting remains to explore. There is a small Roman-Byzantine fortress named Tal Fortress and a Roman mausoleum on the east side within the necropolis boundaries.
Susita in Christian Tradition
In the New Testament, when Jesus mentions a “city set upon a hill” that “cannot be hidden” (one of the metaphors of Salt and Light in the Sermon on the Mount), he may have been referring to Hippos. In addition, a miracle of Jesus recounted in Mark 5 and Luke 8 may also be related to Hippos (Mark 5, Luke 8). And it might have been true as well since Jesus is preaching on the Northwestern side of the Sea of Galilee.
From there Susita is visible clearly from afar. So at the time of Jesus, this illustration couldn’t be more clear! Because for them there was only one city that is on a hill in this region! And they could see it right from there! Everybody could see it, it was right here on the top of this mountain. In other words, biblical scholars believe is the reference of the illustration Jesus gave of a city of a hill that cannot be hidden refers to Susita!
An Ideal Day to Spend in the Area
On my private tours, I like to include Susita National Park towards the end of the tour. Then you can see the amazing sunsets from there with the Sea of Galilee that serves as the backdrop. It can be a perfect ending to an amazing day exploring the Sea of Galilee region and the Golan. Usually, I take my guests to see the holy sites on the northern side of the Sea of Tiberias. For example Capernaum; Mount of Beatitude; and more. Then a nice lunch and one of the local restaurants in the area or even a winery! And after that, we just circle around the Sea of Galilee stopping here and there for a nice viewpoint and a chat about what we can see.
Another cool stop could be to check out the Jordan River. Yes, I know it’s not where exactly Jesus was Baptized but still it a really nice spot to check out where the Jordan River pours out and makes its way to the Dead Sea. Today there is a nice baptismal site that people go there to get baptized. I just like to stop there and take a deep breath to end the day right! I have written a Sea of Galilee Full Guide that you can read more things to do.