Tiberias 1936

David Watt Torrance M.D., O.B.E.

"The Galilee Doctor" and famous son of Airdrie, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee
How it was in 1936

        Three solid stone structures form some of the finest and most prominent objects round the shore of the lake known as the Sea of Galilee.  They stand almost in line upon a slight elevation overlooking the town of Tiberias.  The first and lowest, next to the town, is the mission hospital constructed in 1894 by Dr. David Watt Torrance, a Scot.  In the center is the original Doctor's house which later became the maternity and children's ward; and the third, close to the boundary wall, was the manse of the clerical missionary and later the Doctor's House after the conversion of the second.  All are of black basalt rock, have flat roofs, large front verandas and balconies, marble floors, and give the impression of great strength combined with cool, airy spaciousness.  The ground slopes down to the shore-wall in a series of gardened terraces, but unfortunately the road leading out of the town cuts the lower part in two, requiring the construction of two walls and two gates.  Through the gates and beyond the second wall lies the lake; long, oval and transparent blue.  Beyond the lake and clearly visible from the verandas of the mission rises Mount Hermon, snow capped throughout the year. 

     Tiberias is an ancient city and surrounding it in those days was the ruins of the city wall mistakenly call the ‘Crusader walls' (they were actually built by a Turkish Sultan during the middle ages).  Directly east of the mission on the waters edge are the remains of two stoutly built round stone towers one on each corner of the property.  To the north, and forming a boundary of the mission compound, was another of the walls and directly behind on the hill were the ruins of the "Crusader's" castle.  The road in front of the compound led to Safed and then on to Damascus, the road behind led off through the hills to Nazareth. 

     Scattered, like so many rocks throughout the compound are relics of ancient Roman ruins.  These are artifacts from the prosperous Roman town and spa which was built on the shores of the Lake some 2,000 years ago.  But perhaps the most notable feature of the Mission are its beautiful gardens which tumble town the many stone terraced walls.  It is a lush green oasis, watered by an ingenious system of aquifers pulling water from the Lake and installed by Dr. Torrance so many years ago.  Off to one side are the orchards filled with orange and grapefruit trees and towering above them all graceful Lebanon cedars.

     Off  to one side of the compound and also directly on the water's edge stood the Lido.  Owned by the Grossmans, a German family who also owned the Tiberias Hotel, the Lido was the center of social life for many of the Europeans, soldiers and policemen in the area. The Lido was  built of stone covered with brilliant white stucco.  It had a flat roof and housed a restaurant and bar.  There were billiards tables and darts for the enjoyment of the guests and on the veranda was a rather large circular dance floor surrounded by a string of electric lights.  The Lido also provided tennis courts and bath houses where guests could change before bathing in the crystal clear waters of the Lake.  A small dock was available for patrons who owned boats and it was here that Dr. Torrance himself kept a small rowboat for his own enjoyment.

     But Tiberias was no Garden of Eden.  In the summer time the heat was stifling, often reaching 120F degrees.  The town's glorious Roman and Crusader history was long past and it was often joked the "King of the Fleas" and his dominions infested Tiberias.  For three months in the summer the Doctor and his staff would move to Safed in the mountains to escape the overpowering heat and stench.  The village itself was unkept and dirty by modern standards but by 1936 was much improved from its condition in the 1890s.  Dr. Torrance's influence, in ridding the town of pestilence and his insistence on sanitary improvements, had a remarkable effect. 

According to the Palestine Census of 1931

      "Tiberias had 8,601 inhabitants, of whom there were 2,645 Moslems, 5,381 Jews, 565 Christians, 3 Druses and 7 Bahais.  The number of occupied houses was 2,066.  In addition to Tiberias City the official report gives the figures for Tiberias suburbs: Houses 67, inhabitants 363, of whom 306 are Moslems, Jews 10, Christians 41, Druses 6.

     The town boasts of 12 Synagogues, 2 Mosques and 3 Churches.   There are Post, Telegraph and Telephone Offices which have recently been transferred to a new building close to the Public Park.  The two Banks are the Anglo-Palestine Bank and Klier's Bank.

     There are 8 Doctors, including the Government Doctor and the Representative of the Scottish Medical Mission (our Doctor Torrance).  There are two chemists and several dentists.

     Considering that Tiberias is only a small town, it is remarkable that all the necessities of life can be bought locally, even films can be obtained in the pharmacy opposite the "Hotel Tiberias".

     173.5 km to Jerusalem, 136.5 km to Damascus by road.  12 km by road to Samakh, Railway Station and formerly an Aerodrome of the Imperial Airways.   197 km by rail to Damascus (7 hours).  87 km by rail to Haifa (three hours).  73 km by road to Haifa (one and half or two hours' drive).  208 m (682 feet) below the level of the Mediterranean Sea."

Click here to see a view of the Hospital


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