Photo Credit: Tzfat Municipality
An archaeology site inthe heart of Tzfat.

A shopping center and water well from the 16th century, archaeological finds from the 17th-19th centuries, and the first terror tunnel dug in Israel during the 1948 War of Independence were recently discovered during construction work in the northern city of Tzfat.

The findings were chanced upon, as in many previous important archaeological findings in Israel, during a survey of the site conducted ahead of a construction project.


The survey exposed unprecedented archaeological finds that were located on a timeline from the 16th century until 1948.

Oren Zingboim, of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), explained that “there are four layers of buildings here: a 20th-century building from the British Mandate that sits on a 19th-century building which flooring can be seen, beneath which is an older structure from the earthquake of 1837, and the wall at the edge is from the 17th century, even older. All of this covers an opening of an amazing water cistern and a 16th-century water reservoir.”

“In addition, there is the tunnel from the Muslim Quarter to this area that was excavated by the Muslims for the purpose of attack in 1948, ” Zingboim added.

The base structure is from the 16th century and includes a water well and a complex of shops that were part of the ancient shopping center in Tzfat, the capital of the Galilee.

It is estimated that this was the heart of the town in the 16th century, a period which is considered a high point in the city’s history, during the reign of the Ottoman Empire in which the community and economy in Safed developed considerably and these structures greatly contributed to this development.

These was the period during which Jews expelled from Spain arrived in Tzfat where there were normal relations between Jews and the Muslims and a rule that was relatively comfortable in comparison with that in Jerusalem.

Tzfat was considered a major city for commercial and cultural activities with ties to the Jewish communities in Damascus, Aleppo and all Mediterranean cities.

Investigators also discovered that during the battle for the liberation of the city in 1948, the Arabs tried to dig a terror tunnel to reach the Ashtam building where the Israeli fighting force was based.

These findings are consistent with the description of Benjamin Geiger, one of the elders of Tzfat, who wrote that during the War of Independence he heard “a muffled monotonous noise similar to the sound of a hoe digging.” A similar complaint was recently raised by Israel’s northern residents, of underground digging sounds coming from the direction of Lebanon, which turned out to be Hezbollah terror tunnels.

The Tzfat Municipality is now initiating an extensive project to preserve the historic-archaeological site and turn it into a significant tourist attraction in the Galilee.

Tzfat’s Mayor Shuki Ohana stated that “this is a fascinating and exciting find that unfolds an extensive history of the city and a kind of time tunnel of different periods in the history of the capital of the Galilee.”

He shared that he personally has a connection to the finds from the War of Independence, as he is named after his uncle who was killed by a sniper during the war while standing on the Ashtam building.


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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.