The coastline of the Caesarea National Park repeatedly has pictures drawn on it and then erased by the waves. The sound of the water crashing against the sand and the sea breeze which romantically caresses Caesarea’s archeological remains create a special setting for a special place.
In history lessons we are told that King Herod the Great built Caesarea in honor of Caesar Augustus more than 2,000 years ago. This it true, although he was preceded by a few fishermen who built here a small village a long time before that which was known by the name of Straton's Tower. But Herod being Herod, with his complex personality he aspired to build bigger and more impressive and magnificent. And so he did. It started with the harbor that he constructed and was already then the top of technology. He then later on added a temple – so that people could thank the gods, and means of entertainment – a theater and a hippodrome.
King Herod’s main interest in this was, as it is usually the case today, money. Merchants who sailed the trade routes along the coast needed a place in which to anchor in harsh conditions and storms. The route from Egypt to the north all the way to Europe was filled with trading vessels and each stop provided great payments to the city’s coffers. The harbor services were good, the city provided food and entertainment, the sailors were satisfied and the citizens of the city earned good wages. Troubles began when the harbor started collapsing – as with all due respect to its builders, the engineering profession was only at its beginning. All of the reconstruction attempts eventually failed and a few hundreds of years later nothing remained of it. Some parts have sunk, other parts crumbled and today only a few remains of it can still be seen.
The great city has also changed multiple hands throughout its existence and left behind it testimonies to the grandeur which was a part of it in its early days. The theater, for example, is one of the most special ones that remained because it faces the west as opposed to other theaters which face the east (due to the dazzling sunlight). One can also see here some of the original seats which remained intact, sophisticated architecture and most important of all, as this was its main purpose, performances in front of live audiences started being performed here again, although somewhat fashionably late, about 1,500 years later.
The hippodrome was also a center of attention for people who came here and many audiences found themselves drawn to the horse and chariot races which took place here. At one point it became less popular as the people asked for a different form of entertainment, and preferably one with blood, a lot of blood. Then the hippodrome was turned into an amphitheater. A few adjustments were made (such as the raising of the height of the arena’s walls) and fights between men and beasts took place here. This was a bloody time which ended with the empire’s conversion to Christianity and the come back of the value of life. In recent years the hippodrome is going through a revival and horse shows and competitions take place here again which bring life into it once more.
Past and present richness
Roman Caesarea was magnificent, with palaces, bath houses, fountains and luxurious structures, and its importance has not disappeared in the Byzantine period either. Then storehouses were added to it, lavish villas, public toilets and a lot of elaborate mosaic floors. The Byzantine city spreads from the edge of the hippodrome toward the harbor and one can stroll in it and be impressed by the luxuries left by the Romans for those who came after them. The richness which ruled the city during these periods bears a resemblance to the richness which emanates from it in modern times, which is seen in such as its huge villas, estates and luxurious cars – perhaps it is a matter of tradition.
The harbor which has disappeared from the view was replaced in the Crusaders period by fortresses, towers, walls, impressive gates and a deep defensive moat. The beautiful chiseled stones connect us, even if just a little, to the city’s rich past and decorate today’s harbor with a modern twist. On the ruins of the Crusaders city, between and inside the ancient structures, boutique stores and up to date prestigious restaurants have opened and in a few of them one can see historic displays which tell the tale and depict the atmosphere of those times. On Saturdays this complex is filled with action, tourists and travelers, and sometimes activities for the whole family take place here as well.