Hamam Suleiman

Hammat Tiberias is an archeological site of thermal baths located in the city of Tiberias (Road 90, between the kilometer marks of 412-413) in Israel. The site consists of the Hamam Suleiman, the Roman ruins of the ancient hot springs and the ruins of a nearby Synagogue.

The name comes from Hebrew word “Ham” which means hot, the first city to be founded in the location was that of Al-Hamma, as it is testified in the Torah and in the later historical sources of the Roman and Byzantine periods. The Roman city, established in 20 AD by Herod Antipas, included Hamma, therefore called Hammat Tiberias.
Jewish regular clients came from Egypt and neighboring countries in the Middle Ages. The assiduous patients of the baths metaphorically called themselves “the dwellers on the coast of Rakkath.”1
In 1920, the expansion of Tiberias Street southward brought to the accidental discovery of Al-Hamma. The site consists of 17 natural springs that can reach a temperature of 60 °C, with a saline concentration of about 36%, made of chloride, salt, sodium, potassium, bromide, and sulfate. The water flows to the site through underground channels, with ventilating holes to release steam pressure.

Hamam Suleiman

During the Islamic period (8th century AD), the public baths were operating. Hamam Suleiman was built in the period of Jezzar in 1780. The patients in the public baths were inhabitants of the nearby area or pilgrims coming especially for the hot waters. The baths were used up until 1944, three days a week for women and three days a week for men. The Hamam has been restored and reconstructed and is now open to visitors and tourists.
Inside the Hamam, a museum displays all the artifacts related to hot water treatment during the Ottoman period.


As written in the photo: "The Tiberias hot springs were famous throughout the ancient world as providing remedies for those suffering from gastric problems, joint pains, skin diseases, gynecological problems and barrenness.
The curing effect of the water on those bathing in them, drinking them and applying Piloma (mud compresses) has been known since ancient times.
Josephus Flavius, in his book "Joseph's Life" mentioned Yochanan of Gush Halav who wrote him a letter in 66 C.E. requesting permission to travel to the Tiberias hot spring to recuperate because his health had deteriorated.
When Rabbi Shimon bas Yochai and his son came out of the cave where they were hiding for 13 years from the Romans, they were sick and their bodies were "covered with rust" (this is the original expression).
Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said, "Let's go down to the hot spring in Tiberias and recuperate", and they had indeed recovered.
The first Christians also bathed in the Tiberias hot springs. in 360 C.E. Anthonius Martirius described the baths in Tiberias and complimented the curing nature of the salt water.
The Syrian historian-scholar Michael, head of the Christian community in Damascus, wrote this in his 12th century book Chronicals: "Those looking for medicines had clay jars arranged skillfully, and each of them had an inscription specifying how many time it activates the stomach of the patient drinking from it, and the patient used to select the jar according to their wish".
Michael the Syrian described the spas, which collapsed in the 749 C.E. earthquake and he stated that according to tradition the spas were built by king Solomon: "The wonderful building collapsed. inside it was a spring cleansing water and beautiful buildings and hotels surrounded it."
Maimonides, residing in Fostat, Egypt, also heard about the hot springs and wrote: "The water of Tiberias has a diarrheic nature". (Commentary to Mishnah, Makhshirin).
The Talmud states that "The first glass softens, the second glass causes diarrhea and the third is emitted as it being drunk."
One may assume that the ancient spas included some kind of pharmacy where visitors acquired medicines, potions, cremes, ointments and perfumes, and probably candles as well, along with eating utensils, jars, pots and pans, etc.
The display includes ancient items (from the first century B.C.E to the 11th century C.E.), most of which are found in archaeological excavations in Hamat and Tiberias, as well as items from the Lehman collection.


Pottery and tools used for bathing.

Popular culture

The sages of the Hebrew religion were to decide whether it was possible to bathe in the hot springs on the Sabbath. "So they forbade the hot springs of Tiberias, but permitted cold water. But when they saw that this [restriction] could not stand, they permitted the hot springs of Tiberias, while sweating remained forbidden." They decided that the steam baths had to be ruled, unlike the hot baths, because they weaken the body, which needs rest on the Sabbath.2
There are some testimonies of this decision. One comes from a rabbi from the Land of Israel that, in the fourteenth century, addressed himself to the famous Spanish scholar, Rabbi Nissim ben Reuben Gerondi, asking whether sweating was possible in the hot springs of Tiberias on the Sabbath, he answered “Sweating is altogether forbidden, even in the baths of Tiberias.”. Although another testimony, from the eighteenth-century, reports that some rabbis authorized steam baths in the town of Teplitz, in Bohemia, because it was permitted in Tiberias.3
The rabbinic literature of the Middle Ages testifies the applying of the Hebrew name for the “Hot Baths fo Tiberias” for any source of hot water or washroom. In fact, in the seventeenth century, a rabbi from Germany spoke of a man who purchased a house that included a washroom: “Within the house there are Hamei Tevereya”, which is the Hebrew for “Hot Baths of Tiberias”.4

The creation of the baths

There is a popular explanation about the creation of the baths and the nature of the hot springs.
It is said that some sick people came to the King Solomon and, also referring to the Temple he built in Jerusalem, asked for a way of curing their illnesses. King Solomon is said to have commanded a troop of demons in order to send them to Tiberias and heat a cold fountain. To do so they had to go to the very source of the water and stay there heating it. Knowing that his death would have been an excuse to set themselves free, Solomon made the demons deaf, so that they could not hear the news of his passing away, in fact, the demons continued to heat the water. The Arabs, therefore, call the hot springs of Tiberias, Hammam Malikna Suleiman, the Baths of Our King Solomon.5

  • Main text and photos by Angelo Battista moc.liamg|088atsittab#| and Elias Abu Warda moc.liamg|adrawubasaile#| (December 2018), information courtesy of Camil Sari.

- Zev Vilnay, Legends of Galilee, Jordan and Sinai, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1978, pp. 170.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License