Caesarea – the city that Herod built
We were about to meet Caesarea, an ancient port built by King Herod and now located about 40 km from Tel Aviv. As soon as you enter the territory of Caesarea National Park, it becomes clear that this is not just separate archaeological excavations, but a real city where you can walk for more than one day. No wonder tourists are offered several routes. From a very quick acquaintance for one or two hours to a long walk lasting 6 hours with an examination of the numerous historical and archaeological sights of this wonderful place.
Situated on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea from the bays between the mouths of the Crocodile Stream and the Hadera River, the city was undoubtedly once incredibly beautiful.
Its history began during the Persian rule, when the Phoenicians built a small settlement here. It was first mentioned in 259 BC under the name Tower of Straton. In 103 BC the coast was annexed to the Hasmonean kingdom, but 40 years later conquered by Rome. Roman Caesar Augustus gave these lands to King Herod, who built a great beautiful city and named it Caesarea in honor of the Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus. Herod had big plans, he hoped to make Caesarea the center of Greco-Roman culture. The most impressive buildings from the time of Herod are well preserved. For example, a two-tier theater with 4 thousand seats. It has been restored, and today it is successfully used for concerts and performances.
The amphitheater is striking with an arena length of more than 250 meters and a width of about 50. This huge building served the Romans to hold their favorite show in it – chariot competitions, as well as other sports competitions. Initially, the amphitheater was designed for 10 thousand spectators. The bed of Herod himself was located on the side, and for good reason: after all, the most acute moments of the races took place precisely at the turn. In general, with the entertainment centers in Caesarea, everything was in order. There was another amphitheater for gladiatorial fights and games of animals and a huge hippodrome, which was decorated with giant marble sculptures. Looking at this photo you can imagine their sizes.
The city was adorned with a magnificent palace (“Palace on the Reef”) and a temple built in honor of Rome and Augustus. But little has been preserved from these structures.
To ensure communication with Rome, Herod decided to build a port, but there was no natural harbor on the coast, and the king created a grandiose artificial structure with docks, a warehouse and a lighthouse. Over time, this unique engineering creation turned out to be buried under the water column. However, archaeologists have found and explored the port of Herod. In 1993, an underwater archaeological museum was opened in Caesarea. With him there is a diving school, so that lovers can get acquainted with historical finds directly under water.
The complex of public bath houses with a very exquisite mosaic finish is also well preserved. True, these are the remains of a later Byzantine period.
After the suppression of the Jewish rebellion, this land became a Roman province, and Caesarea became its most significant city and the residence of Roman procurators. By the way, it is possible that Pontius Pilate visited Caesarea. Here is a limestone slab on which a dedication to the emperor Tiberius is stamped, signed “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.” This stone is considered the only material evidence of the existence of the most famous procurator of Judea.
In the northern part of the city, an aqueduct was perfectly preserved, through which water flowed from the mountain peaks of Carmel to the ancient city. The place is very romantic. Israelis love to enjoy the surrounding landscape, sitting on the aqueduct with a bottle of wine and a slice of cheese.
Caesarea would continue to flourish, but in 1101 the crusaders captured the city, then they were ruled by Sultan Saladin, and in 1191 the crusaders led by Richard the Lionheart again came here. The Crusaders must be given their due: they revived the city and port, built a temple in which, according to legend, a valuable relic was stored – the Holy Grail. But in 1265, Caesarea was again captured by the Mamelukes, destroyed by them and then abandoned. So until the end of the XIX century the city remained in ruins until the Turkish authorities settled refugees from Bosnia here. Only then did a living settlement form on the ruins of the city of crusaders. Today it is a national park.
In order to consecutively imagine the whole history of Caesarea, tourists are offered to watch a small, but very competently and logically built multimedia film. All historical periods of the city’s development are “laid out on the shelves”. It is interesting for both adults and children.
It is pleasant to spend the whole day in the park, combining historical excursions with simple life’s pleasures: swimming in the sea and a delicious lunch.