Caesarea Tourist Attractions
Situation and characteristicsThe site of the ancient city of Caesarea, half way between Tel Aviv and Haifa, offers not only its fascinating ancient remains but also a variety of holiday and recreational facilities. In summer concerts are given in the restored Roman theater as part of the Israel Festival. The principal sights of Caesarea are the Crusader city and the Roman theater, both of which are now included in a National Park (single admission ticket for both sites). The remains of the ancient aqueduct on the beach to the north can be seen without a ticket; it is reached by way of a select residential area with beautiful gardens.HistoryThe site was first occupied by the Phoenicians, who built a harbor here in the fourth century B.C.; it is believed that their settlement lay to the north of the Crusader city, round Strato's Tower. After the conquest of the country by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. the site was occupied by Greeks. In 22 B.C. Herod the Great began the construction of a large city which he named Caesarea in honor of Augustus. With its temple of Augustus, theater, hippodrome and excellent water supply Caesarea developed into a considerable town with a busy harbor, occupied by both Jews and non-Jews. When Judaea became a Roman province Caesarea was from A.D. 6 the residence of the Roman procurators, including Pontius Pilate (A.D. 26-36), during whose term of office Christ was crucified, and Felix (52-60), who held the Apostle Paul prisoner here for two years (Acts 23,35). About A.D. 35, probably in the time of Pilate, Peter baptized the centurion Cornelius in Caesarea (Acts 10) - upsetting the "apostles and brethren" in Judaea, since this was the first time a non-Jew had been baptized (Acts 11,1-18). Strife between the Jewish and the Greek population of the town led to the Jewish rising of 66, which was ruthlessly repressed by Vespasian and his son Titus in 70. In 69 Vespasian was proclaimed Emperor in Caesarea and granted the town the status of a Roman colony. After the repression of the second Jewish rising led by Bar Kochba its spiritual leader, Ben Akiba, was tortured to death in Caesarea in 135.In the first century the Apostle Philip established a Christian community in the town, and by the end of the second century it was the see of a bishop. In the third century the theologian and spiritual writer Origen, a native of Alexandria, taught in Caesarea and founded his famous library. From 313 to 340 Eusebius, the first ecclesiastical historian, was bishop of Caesarea, of which he was probably a native. Around 500 Procopius, the historian of the age of Justinian, was born in the town. This era ended with the Arab conquest in 637, and thereafter the harbor lost all importance. The Crusaders occupied Caesarea in 1101, but it was not until 1254 that the French king Louis IX re-fortified the town - though the new walls enclosed only a fraction of the area of the ancient city. Only 21 years later the Mameluke Sultan Baibars captured the town, whose harbor now became completely silted up. At the end of the 19th century the Turkish authorities resettled Muslim refugees from Bosnia on the site of the Crusader city. Further Jewish settlement began in 1940 with the establishment of the kibbutz of Sedot Yam. Archeological investigation of the site began in 1951 and is still continuing. A number of important finds, including a figure of Artemis of the third century B.C. and an important Byzantine mosaic, are now in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
The site of Caesarea is reached on a side road which turns left off the Tel Aviv-Haifa road. The first thing to be seen on entering the site of the Herodian town (on left) is the hippodrome, which was 230m/250yds long by 80m/90yds across and could accommodate 20,000 spectators. It is overgrown with vegetation and has not been excavated.
200m/220yds past the Hippodrome in Caesarea, on the left, can be seen the remains of a Byzantine street of shops. A flight of steps on the north side leads up to a forecourt, with a mosaic containing a Greek inscription recording that the complex was built by Flavius Strategus during the governorship of Flavius Entolius. The entrance, flanked by columns, was later walled up. Behind this are two headless statues (second-third century), one of white marble and the other of porphyry; the latter at least, because of the "purple" material used, is likely to be the figure of an Emperor, perhaps Hadrian (117-138).
Beyond the street of shops in Caesarea is the Crusader city, which was protected by stout walls and projecting bastions within a deep moat. These fortifications, enclosing a rectangular area with one side running along the sea, were built by Louis IX on a unified plan and completed in a very short time in 1254. The entrance is on the east side, through a gateway with 13th century groined vaulting. To the left can be seen the remains of houses containing cisterns with marble spouts. On the ground nearby are the shafts of columns and other fragments, closely packed together, showing how the Crusaders used materials from ancient buildings to provide bottoming for their streets and foundations for their buildings. A passage roofed by pointed arches leads to the southeast corner of the site, where it is possible to climb on to the walls and get an excellent general view of the area.Within the fortified area the ground rises. Here can be seen remains of the ancient water supply and drainage system and the Herodian temple of Augustus. Nearby is the Crusader cathedral, with its three semicircular apses still standing. Dedicated to St Paul, it was built on the site of a Byzantine monastic church. This was probably the source of a famous trophy carried off by King Baldwin I when the Crusaders took the city in 1101. William of Tyre, the chronicler of the first Crusade, describes it as a shallow circular dish carved from a huge emerald and asserts that it was the Holy Grail, the chalice used at the Last Supper. Baldwin claimed to be descended from Lohengrin and thus to be following in the tradition of the knights of the Grail. He was obliged, however, to cede the precious object to the Genoese in payment for their help in providing ships for the Crusade. It is now preserved in the church of San Lorenzo in Genoa (though it has been shown to be a Roman glass dish).On the seaward side of the cathedral can be seen a mosque built by Bosnian settlers at the end of the 19th century and the warehouses on the Old Harbor. Here there are various restaurants and souvenir shops. The Old Harbor in its present form dates from the time of the Crusaders. The shafts of columns - remains of ancient Caesarea, used by the Crusaders to strengthen their breakwater - can be seen projecting from the harbor wall, eroded by the action of the sea. The Crusader citadel, with a keep (now totally destroyed) covering an area 19m/62ft square, stood on the tongue of land which projects into the sea; the site is now occupied by a restaurant.
To the south of the Crusader city in Caesarea, close to the Herodian south wall, is the Roman theater. At the entrance to the area are various fragments of sculpture found here and a reproduction of a stone which bears the only inscription mentioning the name of Pontius Pilate, procurator from 26 to 36: "Tiberieum (Pon)tius Pilatus (praef)ectus Juda(eae)". The theater, recently restored, is so designed that spectators have a view of the sea over the orchestra and the remains of the stage building. An unusual feature is that at some time after the original construction, and after the removal of the original stage wall, a second semicircular area was added to the semicircular orchestra, thus producing an elliptical arena, similar to that of an amphitheater, suitable for fights with animals and gladiatorial contests.
A relic of the Herodian period, at the northern tip of the site of Caesarea, is an aqueduct (now partly buried in drift sand) which brought water from a spring 6km/4mi north of the town. There are two water conduits, and it can be seen at the broken south end that the right-hand channel was constructed first and the left-hand one added later. A second aqueduct was built some 100m/120yds farther inland.