You may wish to see an introductory page to this section with a map first.
We came to Caesarea, mentioned by the antients, as sixty-two miles
distant from Jerusalem, thirty from Joppa, and thirty-six from Acre. A city was afterwards built here by Herod, and called
Caesarea, in honour of Augustus, and it was named Caesarea of Palestine,
to distinguish it from Caesarea Philippi, which was
at the rise of the river Jordan; it was made a Roman colony by Vespasian, and called the Flavian colony, from his family.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745.
Maps of Caesarea and its harbour from "The survey of western Palestine" by Claude Reignier Conder - 1883
The existing ruins are of two periods - 1st, the Roman town, with walls, theatre, hippodrome, the mole, the temple, the aqueducts; 2nd, the Crusading town, with walls, castle, cathedral, a northern church, and harbour. (..) The length north and south of the space enclosed by the Roman walls is 1,600 yards, and the breadth east and
west 900. The line of the walls is traceable, except towards the south-west end; in other parts it is represented by a mound raised above the general level. Conder
Pompey made them (the maritime cities) subject to him (..) Gaza and Joppa and that which was anciently called Strato's Tower, but was afterward rebuilt with the most magnificent edifices, and had its name changed to Caesarea by King Herod (..) who observed that there was a city by the sea-side that was much decayed, but that the place, by the happiness of its situation, was capable of great improvements from his liberality, he rebuilt it all with white stone, and adorned it with several most splendid palaces; for the case was this, that all the sea-shore between Dora (a Phoenician port south of Mount Carmel) and Joppa, in the middle, between which this city is situated, had no good haven, insomuch that every one that sailed from Phoenicia for Egypt was obliged to lie in the stormy sea, by reason of the south winds that threatened them. (..) The king, by the expenses he was at, and the liberal disposal of them, overcame nature, and built a haven larger than was the Piraeus at Athens.
Flavius Josephus - The Wars of the Jews - Translation by Samuel Burder
Josephus was the leader of the First Jewish Revolt in Galilee and in 67 AD he was captured by Vespasian who became emperor two years later. He was eventually freed and, consistent with Roman usage, he added the "surname" of his patrons (gens Flavia) to his name. He then wrote several books (in Greek) on the history of the Jews which were meant for a Roman audience, but nonetheless are the main source of information for archaeologists on many events and locations.
Crusader fortress which protected the medieval harbour of Caesarea
From the south
west corner of the walls is the point of land where
there are ruins of a very strong castle, which seems to have been built at
the same time as the walls, and is full of fragments of very fine marble pillars, some of which are of granite, cippolino, and a beautiful
grey alabaster. Pococke
The harbour of Caesarea measures 180 yards across, and on the south a long reef runs into the sea for 160 yards from the shore. This appears to be the mole mentioned by Josephus. The buildings are mostly Crusading, but the general plan, half break-water, half occupied by a tower is still maintained. Under the present tower two columns of red granite lie fallen; also a fine block of the same stone. These are possibly remains of the stela which stood on the mole. Conder
Capitals (one of which with a small cross) and lintels in a large commercial area inside the archaeological park; the Latin inscription indicates the name of the donor (CleopATRA) of a portico and part of the full Roman name of the town "Colonia Prima Flavia Augusta Caesarea"
The Temple, built by Herod in honour of Caesar and of Rome,
stood on an eminence near the harbour, and was of white stone. (..) The town within the medieval walls stood on two eminences, and on
the southern was the cathedral. Conder
Capitals, lintels, inscriptions and sarcophagi can be seen in the commercial area near the castle.
rising ground to the south, where I suppose the amphitheatre was built,
seems to have been the site of a castle in later ages, and to have had a
square tower at each corner. Pococke
The Theatre at the south-west corner of the Roman town appears subsequently to have been converted into a fortress. The remains consist of a mound and ditch reaching to the beach on either side, and enclosing an area in form of the segment of a circle. In the mound is a semicircular building of masonry. (..) The building in the mound is apparently a theatre, and has a diameter of 188 feet. Conder
The Roman theatre is a highly publicised attraction of Caesarea. Unfortunately only a small section of the theatre has been preserved. A private organisation has developed around the archaeological area one of the most upscale residential communities of Israel for which the theatre is an amenity.
Marbles at the theatre area: (above) a white marble lintel; (centre) grey and pink Egyptian granite columns; (below) a red marble column, perhaps from Simitthus in Tunisia
The whole is much overgrown, and requires
excavation. In the hollow which represents the arena are some fallen
column shafts of granite. A fragment of limestone cornice, with two or
three letters in bold Roman character, was found lying in the ditch on the
south of the mound near the beach. Conder
The image used as a background for this page shows the head of a Gorgon on a sarcophagus in the commercial area, you may wish to see a similar decoration in a sarcophagus in the Museum of Antalya.
King Herod also built the other edifices, the amphitheatre, and theatre, and market-place, in a manner agreeable to that denomination (Caesarea); and appointed games every fifth year, and called them, in like manner, Caesar's Games; and he first himself proposed the largest prizes upon the hundred ninety-second olympiad; in which not only the victors themselves, but those that came next to them, and even those that came in the third place, were partakers of his royal bounty. Flavius Josephus
At Jerusalem King Herod showed his allegiance to Jewish religion by redesigning the Temple, but at Caesarea, a new town without a historical Jewish background, he entirely displayed his desire to introduce the ceremonies and the way of living of the Greco-Roman world in his kingdom.
The origin of the town caused a quarrel between its Jewish and Hellenised inhabitants: The Jews pretended that the city was theirs, and said that he who built it was a Jew, meaning King Herod. The Syrians confessed also that its builder was a Jew; but they still said, however, that the city was a Grecian city; for that he who set up statues and temples in it could not design it for Jews. Flavius Josephus.
The ground is
so much overgrown with briars and thistles, that it was impossible to go
to any part, where there was not a beaten path; it is a remarkable resort
for wild boars, which abound also in the neighbouring plain. Pococke
Eventually Caesarea became the residence of the Roman governor of the Province of Judea and some of the buildings erected by Herod were modified or entirely replaced. A facility along the seaside was most likely the first hippodrome of Caesarea. At one point it was turned into an amphitheatre and a large hippodrome was built in an area which is outside the archaeological park.
|Other ancient amphitheatres in this web site:|
The Colosseo of Rome
The Amphitheatre of Albano
The Amphitheatre of Capua
The Amphitheatre of Verona
The Amphitheatre of Cassino
The Amphitheatre of Pompeii
The Amphitheatre of Catania
The Amphitheatre of Syracuse
The Amphitheatre of Sutri
The Amphitheatre of Alba Fucens
The Amphitheatre of Urbs Salvia (Urbisaglia)
The Amphitheatre of Pola in Istria
The Amphitheatre of Salona in Dalmatia
The Amphitheatre of Arles in France
The Amphitheatre of Bordeaux in France
The Amphitheatre of Nîmes in France
The Amphitheatre of Périgueux in France
The Amphitheatre of Saintes in France
The Amphitheatre of Toulouse in France
The Amphitheatre(s) of Carnuntum in Austria
The Amphitheatre of Trier in Germany
The Amphitheatre of London
The Amphitheatre of Caerleon in Wales
The Amphitheatre of Italica in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Merida in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Tarragona in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Carthage
The Amphitheatre of Mactaris (Makhtar) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thapsus in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thysdrus (El Djem) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Uthina (Oudna) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Leptis Magna in Libya
(above) Palace on the promontory; (below) pool or small harbour at its end
A long reef here runs
out into the sea. The northern tower also stands on a projecting jut of rock.
Between these towers there is another low projecting reef, and on it is
a square foundation sunk in the rock, and the remains of a wall, showing
that a small building, about 30 feet wide, here projected into the sea.
Remains of a paved jetty are visible south of this building. (..)
The enclosure thus described is almost entirely artificial in character
but the site is carefully chosen between two projections of the coast. Conder
The Roman emperors, especially those of the "First Dynasty" loved to live by the sea, to swim in it, but not to sunbathe and they built artificial caves to stay in the shade. Tiberius had villas at Capri and at Sperlonga and Nero at Antium. We do not know the name of the Roman or local personage who lived on a residence built on a small promontory between the theatre and the amphitheatre of Caesarea.
South of the Crusading town are a row of mounds probably formed
by the accumulation of sand blown over the buildings, and extending to the
theatre at the south-west corner of the town.
The whole enceinte is scattered with fragments of masonry and pillar-shafts, cisterns, and corner walls of buildings. Conder
Excavations in the mounds noticed by Conder led to unearthing many ancient buildings. A large complex of baths was built behind the amphitheatre in the IInd or early IIIrd century AD. It was supported by vaulted structures which perhaps were used as warehouses. The walls of the main halls have vanished. Their bricks and stones were most likely removed in the XIIIth century to build the Crusader town.
Public Baths: hall with cipollino columns
The size and luxury of the baths were important for the citizens of a town of the Roman Empire as the size and decoration of the cathedral was for the inhabitants of a European medieval town. The baths of Caesarea were decorated with marbles coming from very remote locations of the Empire. Their design was widely similar to other baths. A regular visitor of the baths of Roman Carthage or Sabratha would have found himself at home at the baths of Caesarea.
Public Baths: (left) Hypocaust, the underfloor heating system of Roman baths; (right) latrines of the baths
The precondition for the existence of such a large bath complex was the availability of water. An imposing aqueduct carried water to the town to supply monumental fountains and public baths and eventually to drain out the waste through sewers.
Public Baths: "Opus Sectile" ("made with sections"), a marble inlay technique
Initially the marble inlays which decorated many Roman buildings were the by-products of columns which broke during transportation. In the late IInd and IIIrd century their presence indicated the reuse of earlier building material, known as spolia. A much popular combination of coloured marbles was based on the use of green, red and grey slabs (you may wish to see the baths of Villa dei Quintili or some marble inlays at Villa Adriana, both near Rome).
Several floor mosaics have been found at the baths and in nearby buildings. Caesarea was a prosperous town at least until the mid of the VIth century, when most of its population was Christian and the Byzantine emperors had passed bills to destroy all references to the ancient gods. This explains why the mosaics which have survived to the present time do not portray pagan gods or heroes. Mosaics depicting a grapevine growing from a kantharos, a cup used for drinking wine were associated to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine-making, but the Christians turned them into a symbol of life (e.g. at the Baptistery of Bellator at Sufetula in Tunisia).
Mosaic where trees replaced "kantharos"; (inset) a detail showing an Arabian oryx
In a local variation of the kantharos theme, the cups were replaced by trees and an additional local touch was given by the depiction of a pair of oryxes, an Arabian antelope which today is almost extinct in nature. You may wish to see an interesting collection of Christian floor mosaics at Beiteddine Palace in Lebanon.
Those who wanted to decorate public or private buildings with mosaics could choose from a large catalogue of geometric patterns, which can be found throughout the whole Roman Empire, thus showing that the makers of floor mosaics shared their cartoons. Mosaics with an optical effect similar to those at Caesarea can be seen at Villa dei Volusii near Rome.
Josephus particularly describes the extraordinary port made by Herod. A mole is mentioned, as carried out two
hundred feet into the sea. Pococke
Harbour: Two kinds of pillars are found: some are of red granite, others of grey; and in addition, a few shafts of grey marble occur. Conder
In the VIIth century Caesarea was conquered by the Arabs and it soon lost importance as a trading centre. Without proper maintenance its harbour silted. It was conquered by the Crusaders in 1101; in 1187 Saladin seized it after having conquered Jerusalem, but in 1191 the Crusaders managed to return to Caesarea.
(left) Medieval walls; (right) a hall inside them; see a section on the fortresses of the Crusaders
King Louis IX of France was the very unfortunate leader of the Seventh Crusade. In 1249 he landed at Damietta with the objective of conquering Egypt and then move towards the Holy Land, but in the following year his army was defeated and he was taken prisoner. Released after the payment of a huge ransom, he proceeded to Acre, the main remaining Crusader possession in the Holy Land. He promoted the strengthening of the fortifications of Acre and Caesarea before returning to France in 1254.
In 1265 Mameluke Sultan Baibars overcame the small garrison after a short siege. In 1291 he decided to raze the town to the ground. The site was abandoned until 1884 when the Ottomans built a small village for Muslim refugees from Bosnia inside the medieval walls.
Go to page two: Caesarea outside the medieval walls or move to:
Ancient Synagogues: Introduction, Korazim, Capernaum and Hamat Teverya
Ancient Synagogues: Bet Alpha, Diocaesarea and Ein Gedi
Necropolis of Bet She'arim
Scythopolis (Bet She'an)