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Caesarea

Caesarea National Park is a costal city in northern Israel famous for its ancient Hellenistic ruins of an ancient Roman city.

Located between Tel Aviv and Haifa, it was first founded as a small Phoenician port city, and was became a part of the Hasmonean kingdom in 90 BCE.

Then, during the Roman Period, Augustus Caesar gifted the town to Herod who he named the city in honor Augustus.

Get it? Caesar so Caesar-ea? It seriously took me too long to figure that out.

Herod went on to built a major port, numerous recreational facilities, bathhouses, and temples.

After Herod’s death and burial at Heroduim, the Romans moved the capital from Jerusalem to Caesarea.

The population in the city was mixed, and the lifestyle completely foreign to the Land of Israel.

In 1101, the Crusaders conquered Caesarea. It was temporarily captured Saladin in 1187 but was retaken by Richard the Lion Heart a few years later.

Caesarea was fortified with a thick wall surrounded by a moat that you can still cross today and enter the restored Crusader city.

The theater

The theater was commissioned by King Herod and is the earliest of the Roman entertainment facilities built in his kingdom.

The theater faces the sea and has thousands of seats resting on a semi-circular structure of vaults.

The semi-circular floor of the orchestra, first paved in painted plaster, was later paved with marble.

People from the highest and lowest walks of life came here to enjoy dramas and comedies.

Being a port city, which hosted sailors and seamen, it was important to provide them with places of entertainment in order to encourage them to return to the city.

It is still used as a theater today with hosting some of Israel’s top artists and performers.

The Amphitheater

The amphitheater, was used for racing horses and chariots and was, in fact, a hippodrome.

When first built in the Herodian period, it seated about 8,000 spectators.

In the first century CE seating areas were added, increasing its capacity to 15,000.

During the second century, the amphitheater was rebuilt and adapted for use as a more standard type of amphitheater.

The Aqueduct

The Aqueduct, which provided an abundant supply of water, was built in the Herodian period and was later enlarged to a double channel, when the city grew.

The upper aqueduct begins at the springs located some nine kilometers northeast of Caesarea, at the foot of Mount Carmel.

In some portions, the aqueduct was supported by rows of arches.

Entering the city, the water flowed through a network of pipes to collecting pools and fountains throughout the city.

Roman Mosaic

A rare, colorful mosaic dating from the 2nd-3rd century CE was uncovered near a Crusader bridge.

It contains the image of three male figures wearing togas, geometric patterns, as well as a largely damaged inscription in Greek.

It is one of the few extant examples of mosaics from that specific time period in Israel.

The Obelisk

The spectacular obelisk is 35 feet or 10.5 meters tall and weights 84 tons.

According to archeologists, the obelisk was erected in 300 CE and survived the Byzantine assault.

It later fell and broke into two pieces.

The obelisk, which originated in Egypt, was adopted by the Romans, who made it a common and fashionable addition to buildings that hosted chariot races.

The old city of Caesarea has two obelisks, one of which is believed to have been built by Herod and erected south of the port.

The second, is this one, which is currently re-erected next to the site of the ruins.

The Bathhouse

Remains of several large buildings were exposed, among them an elaborate 4th century renovated bathhouse.

It consisted of groups of courtyards and rooms with benches along the walls.

Most of them were paved with mosaics and in the caldarium (hot-room) area were several rooms with a heating system.

Some particularly elegant rooms were paved in marble and had mosaic decorations on the walls. One depicts a female with the words “pretty woman” next to it.

These bathhouses were a tremendous source of pride for city residents.

Before bathers entered the bathhouses, they would enter the Pilaster, where they would exercise.

After immersing in the bathhouses, the bathers would again enter the Pilaster to receive massages.

The bathhouse was built long after performances were stopped at Herod’s amphitheater.

The Synagogue

Remains of a 5th century synagogue were found on the seashore north of the harbor that faces towards Jerusalem.

Architectural details were found in its ruins, including capitals with carved menorot, a column inscribed shalom, and parts of a Hebrew inscription listing the twenty-four priestly courses in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The largest remains is the mosaic floor.

The synagogue is mentioned in Josephus’ book The Jewish War.

According to the writing, this was the site where the fire that burned all of Judea in the Revolt against the Romans was started.

During the late Roman Era, many Jews lived in Caesarea.

Though it appears that there were many conflicts with the foreign neighbors in the city, there is also evidence of good neighborly relations.

The Crusader gate 

The north-eastern entrance into Caesarea is through the Crusader gate.

This gate is part of a system of fortifications built by the Crusaders which included a moat and glacis, a high wall and sophisticated indirect access gates.

Standing inside the gate and looking upward, one can see a cross-shaped stone at the center of the arch.

Near By

Near by is in impressive mosaic which was once the floor of a house.

It features animals that existed in Israel at the time such as elephants, as well as fruit.

Also not far is Aqueduct Beach, which is as it sounds, a beach with an aqueduct on it.

I this is one of my favorite beaches in Israel.

Visit Caesarea

See the Caesarea website for visiting hours and ticket prices.

There are cultural events on weekends, festivals and holidays.

This includes folklore, equestrian displays (Pesach), street plays on ancient Caesarea (Succot), Olympic Games in the spirit of the period (Purim) and more.

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