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Caesarea Maritima

This ancient port sits lies on the Mediterranean some 66 miles northwest of Jerusalem. In the first century, Augustus Caesar conquered this Phoenician harbor, once called Stratoís Tower, and granted it to King Herod. In exchange for the gift, Herod named it Caesarea. Between 25 and 13 BC, Herod built a city here, transforming the once tiny harbor. He created a huge harbor by making an artificial breakwater with stones that were 50 foot long by18 feet wide. Once complete, ships from abroad could easily sail here Ė and the long journey from Rome became a quick 10-day voyage.

Herod's Caesarea
Herodís new city spread across 165 acres. It quickly became the cultural and business heart of the area. Water was supplied from Mount Carmel via a seven-mile-long aqueduct. Herod made a theatre with a marble floor that seated 4,000. (In later centuries, the orchestra area was flooded to create canals and aqueducts so they mock battle games could be held. Most recently, people gather here to see ballet and concerts.)

Just east of the theatre, an archway leads to a hippodrome. This racetrack was built to hold some 30,000 spectators. There is also a promontory palace that juts into the sea. New discoveries lead archeologists to believe that this was Herodís palace, and subsequently the palace of the governors. If this is true, then Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea from 26 to 36 CE, would have lived here.

In fact, in 1961, a stone with an inscription mentioning Pontius Pilate was found in the Roman theater here. Josephus Flavius tells us that Pontius Pilate had placed images of Caesar on the Temple Mount. In response, Jews from Jerusalem lay here for five days begging Pontius Pilate to take them away. It is also believed that Pontius Pilate ordered the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem from here.

Caesarea and the Life of Jesus
During the life of Jesus and early Christianity, many stories from the gospel took place in Caesarea. After Philip baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch, he was taken to Ashkelon and then on to Caesarea. Along the way, according to Acts 8:40, he is known to have evangelized.

Believers, fearing Paul would be killed for proclaiming Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, brought Paul from to Caesarea so he could sail to safety in Tarsus (Acts, 9:28, 29).

Peter was called to Caesarea by the Roman centurion Cornelius. Peter came from his home and preached Gospel to the Gentiles in Caesarea.

And, Paul, en route from his second and third missionary journeys, landed in Caesarea. The bible tells us that he stayed with Philip and then traveled to Jerusalem (Acts 21:9-16). The Romans also sent Paul to Caesarea to be on trial for giving his bold witness to Christ. Paul remained in Caesarea under house arrest for two years.

Caesarea had a population of 50,000 with mostly pagans, Samaritans and Jews living here, although not always peaceably. After the Second temple was destroyed in 70 CE, there was a celebration in Caesarea and thousands of Jews were slaughtered in the amphitheater.

Caesarea and Early Christianity
In the third century, Caesarea was a major hub for Christianity. Origen built a school and library in Caesarea that attracted Christian scholars from afar. And Eusebius, a native of Caesarea and later Bishop of Caesarea, proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the empire. The following centuries brought unrest; Arabs conquered the area in 634 CE and during the Crusades, the city changed hands four times.

When King Baldwin I won the city back in 1101, it is said that he found a goblet, deemed the Holy Grail, here in a mosque. However, the cityís Christians were all slaughtered by the army of Salah al-Din in 1187 and churches were razed. Louis IX tried to restore the city and refortify its walls but was unsuccessful -- the city was lost to Sultan Beybars in 1265. From that conquest, Caesarea lay in ruins.

Today, Caesarea has been beautifully restored and is one of Israelís finest archaeological sites complete with a high-tech visitor center. Fine restaurants and lush gardens are set amidst the ruins, fronting the sparkling Mediterranean.


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