On the site of what was once a Phoenician town, Strato’s Tower, King Herod 37-4 B.C.) built a resplendent city and named it Caesarea in honor of his patron, Augustus Caesar. It served as a port city and the maritime gateway to his kingdom.
The monumental harbor allowed the city and its citizens to develop business and trade relations with cities of the Empire and other lands beyond.
The inhabitants- Romans, Samaritans and Jews- enjoyed the pleasures of the Roman world; water in plentiful supply, bathhouses and places of entertainment.
In 6 A.D., Caesarea became the seat of the Roman governors. The status of the city’s Jews deteriorated, and in 66 A.D. they rebelled against the Romans. When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., Caesarea became the Roman provincial capital of Judea.
The city reached the height of its prosperity in the Byzantine (fourth to six centuries A.D.) It retained its status as an important center of Christian scholarship and its harbor became the gateway to the Holy Land for thousands of pilgrims. The Jewish community grew, and religious academies, where famous sages taught, were founded in the city. Communities developed alongside the important Christian center in the heart of the city.
After the Moslems conquered the land in the seventh century, Caesarea’s status diminished. In 1101, the Crusaders captured the town. Eighty-six years later, Saladin conquered it and destroyed its walls. Its ruins provided building material for later settlements. The present fortifications were built in 1251 by the French King Louis IX.
Following the Mameluke conquest in 1265, the city was abandoned. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman authorities settled a group of Bosnian Moslem refugees there.
From the early 1950’s, more and more of Caesarea has been revealed. The joy of discovery and treasures that surface never cease to surprise.
EDITOR’S NOTES. Much has changed since I first visited Caesarea in 2007. What was beach sand-dunes have been removed to reveal the chariot race track, the auditorium, the prison (where Paul was held) and much more. The Israeli’s have also added many modern visitor’s facilities and buildings.
The theatre of Beth Shean (Scythopolis) which had about 7,000 seats divided in three seating areas, is the best preserved ancient theatre discovered in Israel. It was built at the end of the second century A.D. on the remains of a first century theatre.
In the period of the early Islamic occupation, the whole area of the theatre was apparently turned into a ribat (a fortress was erected for the purpose of the Jihad or “Holy War”) surrounded by agricultural fields.
The chariot track, hippodrome and auditorium must have been the center of entertainment with the horses and chariots racing along the Mediteranian seashore.
The modern-day Caesarea is built inland from this historical beach-front city. Today’s occupants have all of the current luxuries of life and the residents are considered some of Israel’s wealthiest residents.