The Sea of Galilee, or lake Kinneret is the largest freshwater lake in Israel, and it is approximately 53 km (33 mi) in circumference, about 21 km (13 mi) long, and 13 km (8.1 mi) wide. The lake has a total area of 166.7 km2 (64.4 sq mi) at its fullest, and a maximum depth of approximately 43 m (141 feet). At levels between 215 metres (705 ft) and 209 metres (686 ft) below sea level it is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake overall (after the Dead Sea). The lake is fed partly by underground springs although its main source is the Jordan River which flows through it from north to south.
The Sea of Galilee is situated in northeast Israel, near the Golan Heights, in the Jordan Rift Valley, the valley caused by the separation of the African and Arabian Plates. Consequently the area is subject to earthquakes and, in the past, volcanic activity. This is evident by the abundant basalt and other igneous rocks that define the geology of the eastern Galilee region.
Much of the ministry of Jesus occurred on the shores of Lake Galilee. In those days, there was a continuous ribbon development of settlements and villages around the lake and plenty of trade and ferrying by boat. The Synoptic gospels of Mark (1:14–20), Matthew (4:18–22), and Luke (5:1–11) describe how Jesus recruited four of his apostles from the shores of Lake Galilee: the fishermen Simon and his brother Andrew and the brothers John and James. One of Jesus’ famous teaching episodes, the Sermon on the Mount, is supposed to have been given on a hill overlooking the lake. Many of his miracles are also said to have occurred here including his walking on water, calming the storm, the disciples and the boatload of fish, and his feeding five thousand people (in Tabgha).
In 1909, Jewish pioneers established the first cooperative farming village (kibbutz), Kvutzat Kinneret in the immediate vicinity of the lake. The settlement trained Jewish immigrants in farming and agriculture. Later, Kvutzat Kinneret pioneers established Kibbutz Degania Alef. The Kvutzat Kinneret is considered the cradle of the kibbutz culture of early Zionism and is the birthplace of Naomi Shemer and the burial site of Rachel—two of the most prominent Israeli poets.
Today, tourism is the Sea of Galilee’s most important economic activity with the entire region being a popular holiday destination. The many historical and spiritual sites around the lake, especially its main town Tiberias, are visited by millions of local and foreign tourists annually, among them many Christian pilgrims.
In April 2011, Israel unveiled a 40-mile (64 km) hiking trail in the Galilee for Christian pilgrims, called the “Jesus Trail”. It includes a network of footpaths, roads and bicycle paths linking sites central to the lives of Jesus and his disciples. It ends at Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus espoused his teachings.
Another key attraction is the site where the Sea of Galilee’s water flows into the Jordan River, to which thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to be baptized every year – Yardenit.
The beaches that surround the entire lake attracts many tourist. some of the Kineret’s beaches have soft sand, while others are rocky; some beaches are narrow while others are very wide. Among the best beaches are Hukuk Beach, located in the northern part of the Sea of Galilee, about three kilometers to the north of Kibbutz Ginosar on road number 90, Gofra Beach, located about two kilometers north of Ein Gev (on road number 92), Berniki Beach, located in the western part of the Sea of Galilee near Tiberias and Ha’On Beach, which spreads over about a kilometer south of Kibbutz Ha’On.