Northern Israel Library Now Boasts a 2,000-year-old Roman Column

In a complex operation, the 10.5-meter column was lowered through the roof of the Tel-Hai Academic College's library, in order to make it accessible to the wider public.

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Workers positioning the column at the center of the Tel Hai library.
Workers positioning the column at the center of the Tel Hai library. Credit: Gil Eliyahu
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

A 2,000-year-old Roman column was moved into the library of an Upper Galilee college last week, following a complex engineering operation.

The column was found during archaeological excavations at Omrit, in the northeastern part of the Hula Valley. The site is 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Tel-Hai Academic College where the column now stands.

The column is 10.5-meters (34-feet) tall and was reconstructed in 14 parts, 12 of which were brought into the building using a crane through an opening in the library roof.

The column, which weighs 20 tons, was placed in the center of the library and has steps going around it.

According to Prof. Tziona Grossmark, the head of the college’s MA program for Galilee Studies, this is the first-such project in Israel. “We wanted to give the findings in Omrit a home in Tel-Hai, making them accessible to the wider public,” she said.

She believes that sensitive objects from the dig, which require special treatment that means they can’t remain on site, should stay in the Galilee, rather than be stored in Antiquities Authority warehouses in Jerusalem.

Grossmark said the column will be the centerpiece of an exhibition along with other objects found at the site. A column capital with a width and height of 1.4 meters is already in place. A telescope is planned for the top floor, which will enable users to view Omrit.

Omrit contains three temples that were built one on top of the other. The earliest is dated to 40 B.C.E., while the second is believed to be the temple King Herod built at Banias, as mentioned in the writings of Flavius Josephus. The most recent temple, from which the Tel-Hai column was taken, dates from 100 C.E.

According to Grossmark, a priest called Thompson roamed the country in the 19th century and identified temples in the region, but these weren’t excavated. In the 1970s, Prof. Gideon Foerster from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem conducted a survey to map the site, but went no further than that.

In 1998, a fire broke out at the site, exposing a wall of one of the temples. Excavations have been ongoing there since 1999, conducted by students from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, headed by Prof. Andrew Overman.

The architect overseeing the column’s reconstruction, Avi Or, admitted that the entire process had proved complicated. First came the bureaucratic side related to removing the column from the site, followed by the preservation and reconstruction steps.

Because the college straddles the Great Rift Valley, the column was strengthened by extra internal joints, as well as by fastening it to the wall.