The ruins of the ancient city of Susita (“Hippos” – horse in ancient Greek) is an important archaeological heritage site that allows a glimpse of Greek and Roman empires history in Israel, dating back more than 2,000 years. Susita is located on a hill on the slopes of the Golan Heights, surrounded by cliffs. Its strategic location provides a breathtaking view of the Sea of Galilee.
The city was established on the mountain plateau and founded as a state city (polis) in the first half of the 2nd century BC by the Seleucid (Greek) Kingdom.
Like any polis, the city had temples, open and closed markets, a theater, a colonnaded street, baths, fortifications, and other public buildings. The Hellenistic city that evolved from Greek to Roman, from pagan to Jewish and then to Christian, from Byzantine to Muslim, was an economic and military center that went through many incarnations but largely kept its independence.
Two earthquakes (in 363 and 749) destroyed the city and led to its abandonment, but ancient elements were preserved in a surprising and exciting way.
In the past twenty years, extensive archaeological excavations have been conducted. They revealed the rich layers of culture, lifestyle and people who lived in Susita. Our role as landscape architects of the site, was to make it accessible to the public and tell the story of the place.
The main challenge of the project was to find the balance between development of the site for the benefit of the visitors and between preserving the historical findings. That, including arrangement of the appropriate infrastructures, while keeping the feel and experience of the unique place and landscape, known as the spirit of the place, (genius loci).
Our goal was to make place for the various forces and to create a clear design language that respects both users and values of the site.
A lot of attention was given to the choice of materials and the design of details that would adjust to the special characteristics of the site while distinguishing the old from the new.
For example, the walking paths to the city were paved with smooth and simple concrete, while the completion of the Decumanus Maximus (the main street of the city) was done by local basalt stones that match the proportions and material of the original stones, but have a different and distinct processing. In addition, railings and fences that border steep and complex areas were designed to have minimum presence, ensuring they did not block the expansive views in any way.
Susita is in an exposed area with a hot climate (mainly in the months of May-October) which created another design challenge – creating shaded viewpoints that allow gathering and sitting without interrupting the view. Modern pergolas were placed at specific viewpoints, overlooking the Sea of Galilee and the Antiquities in order to allow group visits and tours. Their location was also important for groups of pilgrims who visit the place for prayer and observation of the holy sites where Jesus passed and performed miracles. Therefore, they were located at a certain distance from the central axis in order to allow privacy and seclusion. In addition, clusters of local trees were planted around the public reception areas, making sure they won’t harm any underground antiques, enhancing the landscape with a green, shaded environment.
Due to the area’s complex topography, access and accessibility were one of our top priorities, both in terms of arriving by car, and for walking or accessing in a cart. As part of the project, the rising and winding road to Susita was rebuilt and improved from a scenic point of view according to accepted standards, implementing appropriate infrastructure along the road and on-site, to minimize its impact. Three parking lots for cars and buses were arranged to provide convenient access to significant points of interest.
In collaboration with conservation architects, historical military buildings on the site were renovated and repurposed as public facilities, including a café, restrooms, and an information center for the archeological and historical site.
All works were done from a conservation and reconstruction concept that respects the original, natural and inanimate historical values, and assimilate the new development in it. The new design tries to blend in with the area but at the same time be distinct and stable. The project leaves open ends for future archaeological excavations and gives a platform for the historical and magnificent power of Susita’s spirit.
Susita was a “Sleeping Beauty” for many years, we had the privilege and honor to take the role of the “Prince Charming” and to wake her up.
Architecture offices involved in the design: ORR Archiects
Location: Susita Ruins, Golan Heights (above the Sea of Galilee), Israel
Year Completed: 2023