I have not been to Caesarea since I was a student in Israel in 1970 when one could enter the park, sleep on the beach, pick up shards of Roman glass or ancient Roman coins occasionally. Now the park is totally developed with an event space for weddings, lots of shops and restaurants scattered among the ruins. So a bit about what Caesarea was.
The original fortified town called Strato’s Tower served as a desirable anchorage starting in 259 BCE. Herod the Great built a port here in approximately 25 BCE called Caesarea Maritime, in honor of the emperor. Remarkably the entire town and port were completed in 12 years. Herod was a mixed bag as a ruler but one thing he excelled in what playing all sides to his advantage. It served as the administrative center for the Roman control of Palestine. It subsequently became an important Byzantine center and was a very prosperous trading center. Eventually it was taken over by Arabs around 630 and they controlled it until the Crusades came to these shores in the 11th century, and even Louis IX came along “for the ride.” It eventually fell into obscurity after a series of earthquakes and is now a national park with active archaeological excavations to this day.
To me the most striking thing is the aqueduct that runs along the shoreline.
Today it’s a popular beach for swimming and kayaking though the Mediterranean is always rough.
Old city port fortifications from Crusader times. You can see the walls and a moat below. These were last reconstructed by Louis IX in 1251.
The entrance is distinctly Frankish.
Some of the first ruins you see are called vaults and part of a long term restoration project. Many stones were removed and used at other sites so it’s a challenge to figure out what belongs where.
This is a perfect example of how archaeologists do their work. You can see the strata of dirt that has to be removed to unearth what is behind.
Diagram that shows the excavation process.
These are the main buildings of the port. The water came right up to the steps you see partially restored. Since ancient times this has filled in and the actual sea is now about 500 feet away.
This helps to get a sense of what these structures looked like in Herod’s day.
A nymphaeum (fountain) that leaves a little less to the imagination than the one we saw in Bet Shean. Here the infinity pool gives you the sense of how it may have looked and the statue is a reproduction.
Adjacent to the fountain is the bema (raised platform of the synagogue), all that is left as Caesarea was primarily a non-Jewish city.
Looking out to sea where the entrance to the ancient port was.
One side of the breakwater- excavations in the distance. Just to give you an idea of this port, stone blocks were lowered into the sea at a depth of 20 fathoms. Most were 50 ft. long, 9 ft. high, and 10 ft. wide, some even larger. On top of this seawalls were built and the harbor structures which are now 80 meters inland from the water.
Southern side of the breakwater, now a popular snorkeling spot. There are 17 shipwrecks sunken in the former harbor.
Once again a main thoroughfare with shops on both sides. The Cardo boasted an extensive sewer system under the road.
Once again a main thoroughfare with shops on both sides.
Identified as a tavern on one side of the road.
A mosaic floor across the road.
The main bathhouse
A small segment on mosaic floor randomly placed near the bathhouse.
The bathhouse floor, half still visible, the other half destroyed.
The outside bath area. Nice location overlooking the sea. Three of the many columns are now in Venice.
Emperors private bath
Crusader gate to enter the hippodrome.
Chariot races held in the most amazing setting.
Bronze reproduction of a 1st century ceramic oil lamp showing a 5 horse race that would have taken place in the Hippodrome.
Hippodrome built in the 2nd century for equestrian sports. It was used for 100 years.
This diagram shows you the flow of the hippodrome which was done counterclockwise ending in front of the dignitaries. Pretty tight turns show the skill of the charioteers.
Tiered seating for the spectators of the chariot races.
Complex on the east side of the hippodrome added after the hippodrome was no longer in use. Races held there every 5 years.
Descending the stairs to the hippodrome.
Looking north to the Cardo (main street for commerce).
Could not identify the purpose of these niches.
Mosaic of Ibexes
Working on cleaning mosaics still works in progress.
Entrance to the Roman Theatre, displaying portions of sculptures found on the site or reproductions. First Roman theater built in the country, accommodated 4000 viewers.
They were preparing for a concert later the day we were there so we couldn’t go inside. During Byzantine times the back of the stage was fortified to become part of the defenses towards the sea.
Reconstruction of how the theatre would have looked. You can see how it would be similar to the one in Orange, France which still has it’s stage wall.
Portions of the theatre found and nicely displayed. Mostly cornices and portions of arches.
An unusual lion capital.
A garden for relaxation between the theatre and the hippodrome. The columns are reproductions.
Near the theatre a slab with an inscriptions identifying the notorious Pontius Pilate of crucifixion fame.
The inscription reads: Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, made and dedicated the Tiberieum to the Divine Augustus.