Walking through the Crusader city of Caesarea is like walking back through time in history. Located at the northern tip of the Sharon Plain, Caesarea is packed with Roman, Byzantine and Crusader ruins. Despite the tremendous heat in August, its a great place to visit for tourists: a Roman theater, a Crusader city, and Roman-Byzantine remains that include a mosaic floored bathhouse, a Herodian amphitheater, parts of Herod’s port and an ancient aqueduct. Herod’s theaters were the first of their kind in the Middle East. The theater today seats 3,600 and is a spectacular venue for summer concerts. There is also a Herodian amphitheater which is a huge elongated horseshoe shaped hippodrome.
Herod the Great gave Caesarea its name dedicating the magnificent Roman city he built to his patron Augustus Caesar. It was the Roman emperor who had crowned Herod King of the Jews around 30 BC. Construction began in 22 BC and included palaces, temples, a theater, a marketplace, a hippodrome and water and sewage systems. In 6 AD after Herod died, Caesarea became the seat of Roman procurators one of whom was Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea when Jesus Christ was crucified. With Jerusalem predominantly Jewish, the Romans preferred the Hellenistic Caesarea as the seat of their administration. After much turmoil, Caesarea became a Roman colony and the local Roman capital of Palestine for 600 years. It was here that Peter converted the Roman centurion Cornelius to Christianity and Paul preached and was imprisoned for two years.
The walls that surround the Crusader city were built by King Louis IX of France. They enclose the remains of the Herodian port and the Crusader city itself which was actually only one-third the size of Herod’s original city. Most of what we saw dates from 1251 when the French king actually spent a year restoring the existing fortifications. The Crusaders first seiged and conquered Caesarea in 1101 after it had been ruled for nearly 500 years by Arabs who had allowed the port to remain fallow.
The port construction at Caesarea was an unprecedented challenge. Archaelogists were stunned to discover concrete blocks near the breakwater offshore indicating the highly sophisticated use of hydraulic concrete which hardens underwater. Historians knew that the Romans had developed such techniques but before the discoveries at Caesarea they never knew hydraulic concrete to have been used on such a massive scale. The main ingredient in the concrete, volcanic ash, was probably imported from Mount Vesuvius in Italy.
Just outside the city there is a Roman aqueduct on the beach. During Roman times, the demand for a steady water supply was considerable but the source was a spring about 8 miles away in the foothills of Mount Carmel. Workers had to cut a channel approximately 4 miles long through solid rock before the water was piped into the aqueduct whose arches spanned that entire length.