Historical Sites

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Caesarea Print version

King Herodís Dream: Caesarea on the Sea
Along the coast Herod discovered a city that was in ruins. . . . This he rebuilt entirely in marble and ornamented with a most splendid palace. . . . The King conquered nature herself, constructing a harbor larger than the Piraeus, and providing deep anchorages in its innermost recesses. (Josephus, Jewish War 1.408-410)



erod the Great, King of the Jews, founded Caesarea on the coast of Judea over 2000 years ago in the 1st century of the medieval world. He chose the site of a small Phoenician port called Stratton's Tower and laid out a classical Greek city, complete with amphitheatre and stadium. In 22 B.C.E., he began construction of a deep-sea harbor and built storerooms, markets, wide roads, baths, temples and luxurious public buildings. Every five years the city hosted major sports competitions, gladiator games, and theatrical productions. Caesarea was named for Herodís Roman patron, Augustus Caesar. The cityís temple, also dedicated to Augustus Caesar, was built on a high podium facing the harbor. A broad flight of steps led from the pier to the temple. Public buildings and elaborate entertainment facilities in the imperial tradition were erected. King Herodís palace was built in the southern part of the city.
Capital of the Roman province of Palestine and one of the great cities of the ancient Mediterranean, Caesarea features aqueducts, theaters, temples, churches, fortifications, and many other characteristic features of the ancient and medieval world.



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aesarea constitutes an important site in Christian history. This was where Simon Peter converted the Roman Cornelius, the first non-Jew to believe in Jesus. Paul was also imprisoned for two years in Caesarea, Acts 10:1-5, 25-28

Byzantine Caesarea
uring this period, the Roman inner harbor was blocked and buildings were constructed on what had become dry land. A row of vaults serving as shops was built against the podium wall facing the port. The main church was the Martyrion of the Holy Procopius, built in the 6th century upon the remains of the Roman temple on the podium. The octagonal, 39 m.-wide church stood within a square precinct measuring 50 x 50 m., surrounded by rooms along its walls. The floor was paved with marble slabs in a variety of patterns. On the rows of columns in the building, several Corinthian capitals were found, decorated with crosses. A very large and elaborate building, which included numerous courtyards and rooms spread over the area of an entire insula (block of buildings) surrounded by the main streets of the city, constituted the government headquarters. Its entrance was from the cardo (north-south main street) and its western side was supported by a row of vaults, which had once served as port warehouses. One such vault facing the decumanus (east-west main street) was plastered and decorated with red and black wall paintings, including depictions of Jesus and the twelve apostles.


The aqueduct, originally built by Herod in the first century BCE, was repaired and expanded by the Romans in the second century CE. It conveyed water to the city from springs at the foot of Mt. Carmel over 10 kilometers away.
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he palace was built on a rock promontory jutting out into the sea in the southern part of the Roman city. Excavations have revealed a large architectural complex, measuring 110 x 60 m., with a decorative pool, surrounded by porticoes. This elegant structure in its unique location was identified as Herodís palace (Antiquities, XV, 332). The palace was in use throughout the Roman period, as attested to by two columns with Greek and Latin dedicatory inscriptions naming governors of the province of Judea.

he theater is located in the cityís southern tip. It was commissioned by King Herod and was the earliest Roman entertainment facility built in his kingdom. The theater faces the sea and accommodates thousands of seats resting upon a semi-circular structure of vaults. The semi-circular floor of the orchestra, initially paved in painted plaster, was subsequently paved with marble. 



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Arab Caesarea
n 639, Caesarea was conquered by the Arabs and its importance, as well as its population, dwindled. Urban areas were abandoned and replaced by agricultural terraces. In the 10th century, this Arab town was surrounded by a 3 m.-thick wall, remains of which were found during the excavations.



Caesarea of the Crusaders
he Crusaders captured
Caesarea during the First Crusade. Godfrey of Bouillon imposed heavy taxes on the residents, who soon rose up in protest. Baldwin I's response in 1101 was to pillage the city and slaughter its residents. In 1251, Louis IV fortified the city.
Because of the growing Muslim threat, Louis IX, King of France (who was later canonized), restored and fortified
Caesarea in 1251-52. A magnificent 4 m.-thick wall, some 1.6 km. long, surrounded the city which covered an area of about 40 acres. It was also protected by a glacis, towers and a 10 m.-deep and 15 m.-wide moat.


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Caesarea was captured by Saladin in 1187 after only a short siege. It was retaken in 1191 by Richard the Lion Heart, King of England, who exiled the Muslim inhabitants.
The end of Crusader Caesarea came in 1265, when the Mamluk Sultan Baybars attacked the city. After a short siege, the Crusader defenders gave up hope and evacuated the city. The conquering Mamluks, fearing a return of the Crusaders, razed the cityís fortifications to the ground.



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he French king ordered the construction of high walls (parts of which are still standing) and a deep moat. However strong the walls were, they could not keep out the royal sultan Baybars, who hatched a brilliant scheme for how to take the city. He knew that the few soldiers on patrol could not properly guard the entire length of the walls, and thus he ordered his troops to scale the walls in a number of places at the very same time, thus enabling them to penetrate the city