About 100 km north of Jerusalem lies the largest freshwater lake in Israel. The Sea of Galilee is fed primarily by the Jordan River, but also by underground springs. It was also called the Sea of Gennesaret (by Jews) and the Sea of Tiberias (by Romans). Its elevation is well below sea level (220 meters), surrounded by steep hills rising into the fertile mountains of the Golan heights. These sharp changes in elevations made for strong winds that could quickly stir up storms on the water. Yet despite the steep slopes and unpredictable weather, cities flourished on its shore.
On the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee was the Galilean town of Gennesaret, also called Kinnereth or Chinnereth. The surrounding land had rich, fertile soil in a plain extending from the sea. Although it was previously a fortified city in the region of Naphtali, remains of Gennesaret haven’t survived to this day.
Tiberias, on the other hand, was a wealthy city just south of Gennesaret that still has both ancient ruins and modern inhabitants. Tradition holds that it was originally the Hebrew village of Rakkat, also in the region of Naphtali. Just a few years before Jesus’ visit to Tiberias, Herod Antipas founded the city there and named it in honor of the Roman emperor at the time, Tiberius. However, the city was reportedly built on a graveyard, so it was considered unclean by Jews, who refused to enter the city. Because Tiberias was situated on rocky cliffs with a view of the sea and had numerous hot springs in the area, it was a popular lakeside resort for Romans.
Fishing around the Sea of Galilee was a thriving industry, with hundreds of boats working the lake daily. The warm waters supported a wide variety of fish, particularly tilapia (pictured below), a 1-2 pound cichlid found throughout lakes in the Middle East and Africa.