A Journey to Caesarea

Caesarea is a city which combines spectacular beaches, an ancient harbor and some vivid Jewish history.

Elad Benari, Canada ,

The Caesarea aqueduct
The Caesarea aqueduct
Israel News photo: Wikimedia Commons

The summer coming to an end is a good opportunity to visit a city which combines spectacular beaches, an ancient harbor and Jewish history from Roman times: Caesarea.

All this can be done while you stroll along the beach, amid the ancient city which illustrates how close by history really is. The Caesarea harbor and the remains of the ancient city which was discovered 2,000 years ago have been impressively restored.

Caesarea’s antiquities are spread out over a wide area and include many sites such as King Herod’s ancient port (located underwater), a pier, an esplanade, a hippodrome, a theater, and much more. Along each path there is signage, explanations, accessibility points for disabled persons, and above all – innovative and technologically up-to-date displays, which allow one to stand for over an hour and “talk” with Rabbi Akiva or King Herod, to ask hard questions and receive answers.

According to Josephus in his book “The Jewish War”, King Herod chose Caesarea, a seemingly lost port city, because it had “beautiful scenery” and it was appropriate that it be honored.

Josephus details the construction and development of Caesarea by King Herod, who turned it from a small failed Phoenician town into a major seaport. In 90 B.C.E., Caesarea had been conquered by the Hasmonean king, Alexander Yanai, who began to develop its shipping industry. Herod continued this policy and gave the city the status of a free city, in which the shipping and maritime trade industries were developed.

Herod built the city in honor of his patron Emperor Augustus Caesar (hence the name Caesarea) and during the Roman conquest it served as the capital of the country. It was originally built to be a pagan city and therefore had facilities for sports, bathhouses and idol worship, leading the Jewish sages to say that if Jerusalem is ascendant, Caesarea falls and vice-versa. The great rebellion against Rome began in Caesaria in the year 66 C.E. when the Jews protested against a pagan ceremony held there.

The city was situated on a crossroads that led to the Jezreel Valley and from there to the Galilee and to the Jordan Valley. Caesarea was essentially a link to the sea for the communities in Samaria and Jerusalem.

In addition to soldiers in Herod’s army, Samaritans and other Roman citizens, Caesarea had a flourishing Jewish community. During the rule of Septimius Severus, who was sympathetic to the Jews, at the end of the 2nd century, a large Jewish community with study centers developed in Caesarea. Rabbi Abahu, the Talmudic sage who ruled that three types of shofar blasts are to be sounded on Rosh Hashanah,  served as the city’s rabbi during its glory days in the late 3rd to early 4th century. 

When visiting Caesarea, one can enter the Time Tower, which overlooks the magical landscape of Caesarea. Through three-dimensional computer animation, visitors can see Herod’s impressive construction in the city, from the establishment of the port to the building of the entire city.

Upon leaving the Old City, don’t forget the aqueduct. Convenient parking, a beach, golden sand and a small family picnic are a wonderful end to the visit. Also, don’t forget to visit the nearby city of Or Akiva. The city was given its name because of its location next to Caesarea, where Rabbi Akiva was executed as one the Ten Martyrs (a group of ten rabbis living during the era of the Mishnah who were martyred by the Romans for studying Torah in the period after the destruction of the second Temple, and whose memory is evoked in the Yom Kippur prayers).

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)