The Excavations in the Roman Theater in Tiberias In Memory of Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amir Drori ז"ל, Founder of the Israel Antiquities Authority (5/3/2009)

Excavations are currently being conducted in the Roman theater in Tiberias, directed by Dr. Walid Atrash and Avner Hillman, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The excavations, in memory of Amir Drori, are being carried out within the framework of the national project to establish an archaeological park for the purpose of “resurrecting” the Roman city and turning it into a center of attraction that will draw tourists from both Israel and overseas. The project, conceived by Tiberias’ mayor, Zohar Oved, is being implemented together with the Israel Antiquities Authority and has the personal backing of the Prime Minister, Mr. Ehud Olmert. Twenty two million NIS have been allocated for the project within the framework of the government’s program to reinforce the North.

The first signs of a monumental structure hidden underground were discovered in the early 1980’s by Yossi Stepansky, an archaeologist with what was then the Department of Antiquities. In a survey he performed there he discerned three cornice stones that were poking out from among the soil and debris. In 1990 intensive excavations commenced in this region at the initiative of Amir Drori, who had just assumed the role as director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and which were headed by Professor Yizhar Hirschfeld, on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Already at the start of the excavations archaeologist Edna Amos noticed a curved wall… and immediately everyone realized that this was none other than the Roman theater of the city of Tiberias. The theater is more than 1,700 years old and it was preserved thanks to the mountains of quarrying debris and refuse that covered it and protected it from being completely destroyed. The theater’s structure is enormous. Today we know that it is c. 80 m in diameter and it had a seating capacity for approximately 7,000 people. The seats in the theater face north so that during performances the sun would shine on the back of the spectators. We envision that the theater will once again soon be used for giant performances.

Amir Drori  considered Tiberias to be among the most important antiquities sites in the entire country and a site with tremendous potential. From the Roman theater in Tiberias one can see the mountains of the Golan Heights and the Hermon and therefore the Israel Antiquities Authority thought it an appropriate tribute to the memory of Amir Drori , in symbolizing his great achievement in defending the country and establishing the IAA. On March 5, 2009 an emotional ceremony was held marking the commencement of the archaeological excavations and the laying of the cornerstone of the Roman theater in Tiberias, in memory of Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amir Drori. The ceremony took place in the presence of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Mayor of Tiberias, Zohar Oved; director-general of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Shuka Dorfman; director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ra’anan Dinor; director the Prime Minister’s Office in the North, David Benyamini; Tsilla Drori and the Drori family, members of the city council, Israel Antiquities Authority administration, public officials and those who cherish Amir’s memory. The prime minister personally knew Amir Drori, and in his speech he emphasized Drori’s magnificent achievement and how very important it is to preserve Tiberias’ glorious past. Prime Minister Olmert praised the staff of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is continuing Drori’s tradition, and the mayor of the city who labored so hard to see this project implemented. At the conclusion of the ceremony the theater’s cornerstone was unveiled.

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amir Drori  was a graduate of the IDF Junior Command Preparatory School. He was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces and served in a variety of duties in the Golani Brigade. In 1960 Drori was awarded the Medal of Courage for his role in the Taufiq reprisal raid. In the Yom Kippur War Amir was the Golani Brigade commander. He commanded the two attempts to retake the Hermon outpost and was even wounded in the second one. In 1981 Amir was promoted to general in charge of the IDF Northern Command and served in this role during the Peace of Galilee War and until 1983. In 1988 Amir was appointed director of the Department of Antiquities and in 1990 to the directorship of the Israel Antiquities Authority, a position he held until 2000. Amir Drori passed away in 2005.

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