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No tour to Israel is complete without a visit to Caesarea. King Herod the Great established the city at the turn of the first century. It developed into a major city in Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader times. Today, as a national park, Caesare is an impressive archaeological site, presenting a wealth of finds from both classical and medieval periods. Its main Attractions include –

Caesarea’s Theatre

caesarea shutterstockCaesarea’s southern entry leads to a restored Roman theatre. Originally designed to accommodate 9,000 spectators, Israel partially restored it for summer concerts. In the 1960s, archaeologists found an inscription mentioning Pontius Pilate in the theatre’s stairway.

Herod’s Palace by the Sea

Herod’s palace in Caesarea, erected on a protruding cliff over the sea, had a daring design. Mosaic floors, a pool, and a heating system under its halls attest to its grandeur 2,000 years ago. It is possible that Paul appeared here several times, questioned by the governor, Agrippa II, and Berenike (Acts 23-25).

Paul’s Prison in Caesarea?

Two inscriptions near Herod’s palace’s western entrance suggest it had a prison. Some suggest that Paul may have been imprisoned here, and perhaps wrote some of his epistles.

Caesarea’s Hippo-Stadium

Herod’s palace faces the turning point of the city’s Hippodrome – a Roman racetrack for horses. Surprisingly, the excavations indicated that hippodrome functioned also as a stadium, and later as an amphitheater. Being so, the archaeologists labeled it as a Hippo-Stadium.

Caesarea’s Public Latrine

Once the Hippo-Stadium went out of use, the city built a public latrine in its former southern entry. A water channel under the rows of seats cleared the waste, and people used sponges to clean themselves..

Caesarea’s Bath House

Once the Hippo-Stadium went out of use, the Roman built Bathouse over part of it. It had several sauna rooms (caldarium), a gymnasium, and even a laundry service. Despite its size, it may have been a private property belonging to a wealthy individual.

Caesarea’s Byzantine Praetorium

The regional administrative center in the Byzantine period consisted of a Governor’s Hall, a tax archive, a public latrine, warehouses, and a private bath. Its mosaic floors included Greek inscriptions thanking lawyers and accountants and quotes from the New Testament to encourage citizens to pay their taxes.

Herod’s Port

caesarea aerial shutterstock 800 600Here, some 2,000 years ago, Herod defied nature and made maximum use of Roman technology. He formed a port accommodating 100 Roman cargo boats with cement blocks sunk into predestined spots. At the time, it was the biggest man-made port in the entire Roman empire at the time.  Herod designed a Roman temple on an elevated hill facing the harbor to honor Augustus and Rome. Centuries later, the temple turned into a church, then again into a mosque, and finally into a cathedral.

Caesarea’s New Visitor Center

Opened in 2019, the new visitor center is set in one of the port’s warehouses. Various artifacts discovered in Caesarea and its vicinity are exhibited in two arched halls. The display is followed by a 15-minute video presentation of Herod’s vision to form Caesarea and its harbor while executing his family members.

The Christian Legacy of Caesarea

Caesarea is also an essential site in the history of Christianity. In a sense, it is where Christianity started spreading to the West, into the Roman Empire. The Book of Acts records two significant events in Caesarea.

Acts chapter 10 records Peter visiting Caesarea and a Roman officer named Cornelius approaching him, asking to be baptized. Cornelius is the first non-Jew who wishes to join Christianity, which makes Peter and his entourage question whether to accept him to their group of faith. Never before had a non-Jew joined them. Never before had an uncircumcised man been a member of their community, needless to say, a Roman soldier. The issue is settled by a miraculous appearance of the Holy Spirit, who enabled all to understand Peters’ sermon (probably said in Aramaic).

The result was that “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.  To this, Peter responds“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have…So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 10:45-48). Being so, Caesarea is the first place where non-Jews baptized and joined the believers of Jesus as Christ. This event has a fundamental impact on the history of Christianity, as it enabled it to reach all humans, and not just the Jews (contra Jesus’ statement, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,“ Mat. 15:24).

Paul’s Prison in Caesarea?

Caesarea is also where the Romans imprisoned Paul for two years (Acts 23:35). Later, Acts 8:40 indicates that Philip, one of the disciples, settled in Caesarea. Could any of these sites be identified by archaeological means? So far,  some circumstantial evidence has been uncovered for Paul’s prison.

A presentation on Caesarea and the New Testament by Danny “the Digger” Herman, on “The Watchman” show –

To review Caesarea’s main attractions we recommend booking a day tour to Caesarea.

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