Located on the West of Israel, along the coast of Mediterranean sea is Caesarea – a port city built by King Herod (37-4 BCE) who was also rebuilt the third temple for the Jewish people, the temple during Jesus’ time. The construction wonder of this port which started in 67 BC and was finished in 25 BC was an artificial city. The sea has no natural deep waters and Herod built massive breakwaters to enclose an area big enough to achieve the required depth.
During Jesus’ time, Israel was under the rule of the Romans and King Herod, also known as King Herod the Great, was the King of Judea under the Roman King Augustus Caesar. Caesarea was named in honour of King Augustus. When Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70, Caesarea became the capital of Judea. During the Byzantine period (4th-6th century) Casarea was the port of entry for many pilgrims coming to israel. The Jewish community grew and also religious activities and education. In 1187, Saladin conquered and destroyed the walls. The fortications that still standing now were built by French King Louis IX. This ancient city stands as a witness to the changes of history in this region.
A huge earthquake destroyed the city in 1200s and it was abandoned until 1961 when it was rediscovered and excavations continued to this day.
Entrance fees for adult is 40NIS (about USD 10.50) which includes a documentary that tells of the history of Caesarea.
THE HERODIAN AMPHITHEATRE
One of the things you have got to do when at Caesarea – singing or speaking at the stage area of the amphitheatre to experience its acoustics. The amplification and resonance of voices filling up the huge amphitheatre demonstrates the excellence in engineering even before modern technology. Very impressive!
THE GOVERNOR’S PALACE
The remains of the Governor’s Palace although almost levelled, its former glory can still be felt. Walking through the remains of the palace’s pillars and foundations, the wide space and beauty of the sea brought my imagination back to the vibrant days of this ancient port.
Pontius Pilate who was the Roman prefect who presided over the trial of Jesus (Matthew 27:11-26) was a resident in this palace as shown in a stone with his name engraved on it.
This area was hit by earthquake in the 1200s and much of the palace has now sunken below the waters. For the divers out there, you can scuba diving in the submerged port, which is now an underwater archaeological park. Depending on your skill and the route, you might be able to spy a Herodian pavement or a late Roman shipwreck. Perhaps it is time for me to get my diver’s license to be a full-fledged adventure explorer!
Another highlight that cannot be missed is the Hippodrome. A hippodrome is a Greek ancient stadium for horse and chariot racing. It is an impressive arena even with what was left of its former grandeur. I got up the chariot sculpture at one end of the hippodrome and for that moment, I time-travelled to the adrenaline-driven and highly-charged atmosphere of a horse chariot race. The shouts and screams from the audience at the grand stand with many other chariots waiting for the race to start was invigorating.
There are a lot more to explore in Caesarea, like the Aqueduct and the Crusader’s City with a recently opened Crusader’s museum. We watched the Caesarea Harbour Experience Show which gives clarity to the historical and architectural background to this ancient port city. One can spend half a day in Caesarea for in depth understanding as its history span over many centuries and across many empires. So I will leave you to explore the remaining attractions in Caesarea yourself!