Last week, en route to an army meeting I had, some members of my family and I stopped off at the iconic Caesarea, a place I’ve never been to in the four plus years I’ve lived here in Israel. Caesarea, named such by Herod in tribute of the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar, was originally built some 2,100 years ago. The ruins that are seen today are mostly from the Roman, Byzantine and Crusader eras (as are much of Israel’s antiquities). We started our tour at the ancient Roman aqueduct which supplied water to the city’s inhabitants from springs at the foot of Mount Carmel to the north.
The aqueduct can be visited for free, unlike the rest of the Caesarea National Park, and is found on the beach just north of the park. When we were there it was hard to get pictures without people in them as there were tons of people sunbathing in the sand and picnicking in the arches.
After the aqueduct we continued on to the actual park. Since we have a family park pass, only I had to be paid for and I had my uniform on so we got a discount. The first ancient building we walked into had a magnificent ceiling. Turns out that this particular structure was built by the Crusaders – Louis IX, King of France, of the Sixth Crusade, to be exact – and is called “Gothic-European military architecture.”
And this is the building from the outside, nowhere near as impressive looking:
As we walked along the rows of ruins, we were somewhat taken back by the over-abundance of commercialism. There were so many restaurants and the like, most built to look like period buildings, that it felt weird as an archaeological site. One interesting site, which wasn’t very old – Ottoman era (late 1800s), is the Bosnian mosque minaret:
Just south of the minaret we crossed through a gate in the Crusader fortified wall and walked the bridge over the moat – all this fortified by King Louis IX of the Sixth Crusade. The area we stepped into was the Roman area, the city ruins, the huge arena of King Herod’s Hippodrome and more. After passing a marble tub, where some family members posed, we came across a “Mithraeum” which is described as a vault turned into a house of worship for the cult of Mithras. This particular vault had a hole in the ceiling which let a sunbeam down onto an altar, contributing to Mithraic beliefs of an “unconquered sun.”
Alongside the “Mithraeum” were other, unassociated vaults and at the far end of one was a colony of roosting fruit bats. The tunnel was long and dark and flash wouldn’t have helped so I tried my best by stabilizing the camera. Here is the best I got of the bats:
At another dark tunnel I was able to enter from the back and thereby a nice photo opportunity was handed to me; the Mediterranean Sea through the Roman ruins:
Before long we were walking the sandy grounds of the Hippodrome where Romans and locals, nobles and farmers, would gather to watch horse and chariot races. Here is a shot of the circular section of the Hippodrome from Herod’s Palace at the far end of the arena:
And a depth shot, illustrating the length and showing how close the Mediterranean Sea was. It is said that for re-enacting naval sequences they would flood the Hippodrome…
At the end of Herod’s Palace there is a large rectangular cut-out in the stone, this was a decorative pool he had made. This is my new dream pool!
After Herod’s Palace we went over to the Roman Amphitheatre which looked like it was being set up for a concert (lots of high-profile concerts are, in fact, held at this amphitheatre). Not dwelling too long on the amphitheatre, and needing to get to my meeting, we wrapped up our visit and were on our way.