The city of Caesarea was founded in 63 BC by the Roman governor Herod. However, the place has been populated for a long time. A permanent settlement developed as early as 1500 BC. Around 1200 BC the Phoenicians lived here, who traveled the entire Mediterranean through sea trade. The Persians founded the city of Straton here in 587 BC. In 152 BC the king of Judah Alexander Jannäus conquered the port city.
The Roman period begins with the conquest of Judea by the Romans 63 BC. The Roman governor Herod builds a new capital for the Roman province of Judea. He names it after the Roman emperor Augustus, who was Caesar Divus Julius. Since there were other cities with the name Caesarea, the city was given the addition Maritima. Caesarea Maritima was not a completely new city, the port already existed but was significantly expanded under Herod. The port was the link to Rome and thus his reinsurance if he needed more troops to subdue the population. The sea trip to Rome then took around 10 days. The port city of Caesarea Maritima was therefore more suitable than Jerusalem. Caesarea flourished under the Romans, theaters, palaces and thermal baths were built. The city grows to around 100,000 residents.
The Byzantine period begins 324 AD, during this time Caesarea 555 AD is destroyed by the Samaritans. Emperor Justinian crushes the Samaritan uprising. The city wall is placed further outside. Caesarea reaches its greatest extent.
Muslims and crusaders
The Muslims conquered the city in 640, but had little interest in maritime trade, the city was only a small military post. The crusaders conquer Jerusalem and take 1101 Caesarea. King Baldwin I expands the port city. Genoa settlers built houses, a cathedral and a new city wall. After the crusaders' defeat in 1187 in the Battle of Hattin, Caesarea was also conquered by the Saladin. All residents were killed or sold as slaves. At the sixth crusade in 1251, Caesarea was conquered by Louis IX. rebuilt. Fourteen years later, the city was again conquered by the Muslims and completely destroyed in 1291. Since then the city has not been populated. In the Ottoman Empire around 1880 Muslims from Bosnia were settled here, who built a mosque but did not stay long. Since then, Caesarea has been a ruined city.
The main entrance to Caesarea National Park is in the city wall from the time of the Crusaders. At the box office you can buy two tickets, one for the Crusader City and one for the ancient Caesarea Maritima.
The crusaders conquered the city several times and expanded the port as a strategic location on the coast. In addition to the city wall, many other structures were built. The cathedral was built on the remains of earlier temples. Muslims and Christians have repeatedly destroyed the houses of worship of the respective other religion, so there is not much left of the Christian church. But there are other buildings that show the Gothic architecture of the Europeans, like here in this corridor at the east gate with ribbed vaults.
Not much was left of the crusader city after the Muslim conquest. A few restaurants and tourist shops have been built at the old harbor. You should quench your hunger and thirst here, because there are no refreshments in the ancient Caesarea archaelogical site.
The Roman Nymphaeum is located in the ruins of the Crusader city. The Nymphaeum was a public fountain right in the center of Caesarea, where the Cardo intersects with the Decumanus. Statues stood in the alcoves. The wall supported the plateau on which the main temple of the Roman city was located. The cathedral was later built here.
The hippodrome from the time of Herod, is located directly on the beach and is protected by a concrete wall from being destroyed by the waves of the Mediterranean. The hippodrome served as a venue for horse and chariot races. The hippodrome was 300 m long and 50 m wide, it had space for around 15,000 spectators. A new hippodrome was later built a little further from the coast. The old hippodrome was converted into an arena for gladiator fights.
Herod had his palace built on a ledge in the south of Caesarea Maritima. Ceramic fragments found here date from the same period as comparable finds in Masada. The Masada desert fortress was also built by Herod. There was also a palace of the Roman governor. The palace's rooms were grouped around a central courtyard with a shallow pool. The water basin can still be seen, but the surrounding structures were destroyed and then removed by the sea. Burn marks on the mosaics indicate destruction of the palace.
The Roman theater was one of the first buildings in Caesarea Maritima built by Herod. Herod wanted to attract as many people as possible to come to his new capital and organized games, competitions and theater performances that attracted visitors from other parts of the empire. The theater is well preserved but has been rebuilt several times. The three-part stage facade in the Hellenistic style is gone. The Caesarea Theater is still used for festivals today.
The bath house of Caesarea, like other thermal buildings in the Roman Empire, was equipped with frigidarium (cold water) and caldarium (warm water). In the middle was the palaestra, a partially covered courtyard. Only remains of the bathhouse have been preserved, but you can see the former splendor by the artistically designed mosaics.