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Excavations to uncover the ancient city of Tiberias began this week, as part of a project to reconstruct the old city and operate an archaeological park on the site.

The city hopes that Tiberias of the Talmudic era can become a major tourist attraction and lift modern Tiberias out of its socioeconomic doldrums.

The excavations on the site of Talmudic Tiberias, which existed in the Roman period some 1,800 years ago, are expected to take 10 to 15 years.

Some 35 students of the Amichai pre-army academy have started cleaning up the 250-dunam compound close to the southern shore of Lake Kinneret, which is now covered with mounds of garbage and a sewage plant. Dozens of European and American students are to join them next week, as well as students from a religious girls school in Be'er Sheva.

Professor Yizhar Hirschfeld, the archaeologist in charge, said that the excavations will focus on the bath house, the cardo and the marketplace of the ancient city. Later, the diggers will advance to the eastern part of the old city, toward the Kinneret. That is the site of the Basilica, where the Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court of the time) is believed to have sat.

"We hope to find evidence of the Sanhedrin's activity there," Hirschfeld said.

Tiberias was founded in 20 C.E. and its Jewish community survived until the 11th century.