Kursi National Park is an archaeological site in Northern Israel enclosing the ruins of a Byzantine monastery. This monastery is identified by tradition as the site of Jesus’ “Miracle of the Swine”, in which Jesus is said to have performed an exorcism on a man possessed by demons. The demons then entered a herd of swine, which ran into the lake and drowned themselves. Kursi is located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The site is named after the town with the same name mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments.
Uncovering History at Kursi
The priceless Kursi carved slab
In December 2015, Haifa University conducted excavations at the site unearthed a marble slab carved with Hebrew text – a total of 8 lines – seeming to indicate that the area had been a Judeo-Christian settlement as early as 1,600 years ago. The inscription was found at the entrance to an inner room of a building that probably served as a synagogue. The inscribed slab testifies to the Jewish roots of the settlement, something that had never been confirmed before. To date, no comparable artifact has ever been found in Israel. Part of the national park is an ancient breakwater discovered in the 1960s, and its accompanying ancient harbor and pier.
How to get to Kursi
Car: Kursi is situated off Road 92 along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, 5 km north of Ein Gev. It is a sparsely populated area and therefore not on many regular bus routes.
Buses: It is possible to get to Kursi National Park via public transport, although it is not the easiest or most common route. Bus numbers 836 and 825 travel through the Galilee from Tel Aviv Central Bus Station to Tiberias. You can then take bus line 51 from Tiberias’ central station to Kursi. From Jerusalem, line 966 goes directly to Kursi.
Tours to Kursi
Arguably the best and easiest way to explore Kursi is with a tour. Getting to Kursi on your own can be complicated and confusing due to its remote location. With our Highlights Around the Sea of Galilee Tour, your travel arrangements are handled and a knowledgeable, licensed guide will walk you through all the points of interest.
Religious Sites at Kursi
The Byzantine monastery complex at Kursi is the largest in Israel. Behind the monastery sit the remains of an earlier chapel, which was built into a cave overlooking a huge boulder that is enclosed by a stone wall. This is identified as the place where the miracle of the swine occurred. The monastery was built in the 5th century and covered 1.8 hectares. The whole complex was enclosed by a defensive stone wall with a watchtower. At the center stood a large church and courtyard. The church was divided by two rows of stone columns, a nave, and two side aisles. The skeletons of 30 monks were found buried in a crypt below the central chapel in 2002, and a large oil press suggests that production of olive oil could have been a major source of income for the monastery.
As well as living quarters for the monks, archaeologists have uncovered a guesthouse and bath complex for pilgrims, as well as a paved road leading from the monastery to the harbour where pilgrims would have arrived. In 2002, excavations under the direction of the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies unearthed this extensive 100 square meter bath complex in the northern part of the site with both cold and hot pools – something very unique to the time period. The bath house dates back to the 5th-7th century and is the only one found inside a monastery so far.
Mosaic floor at Kursi
The floor of the church was paved with intricate mosaics depicting animal and plant life: Roosters, geese, doves, fish, grapes, figs, pomegranates, watermelon, and bananas have all been spotted. After being damaged by fire and earthquakes and invaded by Persians and Muslims, the monastery was abandoned in the early 8th century, whereafter it was used by local Arabs as housing and to house their animals. During that time, all of the precious animal mosaics were obliterated, presumably to comply with the Islamic prohibition against human or animal artistic representations.
As Kursi continues to be excavated, who knows what great discoveries might lie ahead!
During the summer, the park’s opening hours are:
Sunday–Thursday & Saturday: 17:00 – 08:00
Friday & holiday eves: 16:00 – 08:00
In the winter, opening hours are:
Sunday–Thursday & Saturday: 16:00 – 08:00
Friday & holiday eves: 15:00 – 08:00
Tickets cost 14 NIS (approx $4) for adults and 7 NIS (approx $2) for children.