Caesarea on the Sea or Caesarea Maritima is located on the Mediterranean coast some 60 kilometers north of Jaffa. The site is very large and there is quite a distance to cover between one end and the other. Be aware that there are several exits from the Crusader section and co-ordinate well with the bus driver! There are several periods of history represented at the site, the main ones being the Second Temple Period (Roman period), the Byzantine or early Christian Period, and the time of the Crusaders. It is the place where the Apostle Paul was brought for trial (Acts 23-25) and where the Apostle Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius (Acts 10). This was a critical turning point for the gospel and represents the first gentile family to receive the Good news, repent and be baptized. It occurred after the important vision that Peter received from God in Jaffa. (See Ancient Jaffa.)
Near to the entrance there is a model which is very useful if you are not showing the group the entire site.
History and Archaeology:
King Herod saw great potential here for a strategically located port. In 30 BC he began building a port city and an artificial harbor using very sophisticated engineering techniques. The port was named after the first emperor Caesar Augustus: ‘Caesarea’ and Maritama after the sea, since there is also one inland in the Golan Heights. In the Roman era Caesarea was the capital of the province of Judea, and during the Roman-Byzantine (early Christian) period it was an important and prosperous port city.
Surrounding the theatre on the outside, there is Byzantine Period construction; we are not sure what its function was. In front of the theatre and near to the entrance there are Byzantine sculptures. There were several important figures here who were church fathers; not least the Bishop of Caesarea, Eusibius. He wrote what we could perhaps entitle the first tour guides manual to the Holy Land. He details all of the important sites, giving Biblical references for them. There was an important and large library that the church fathers such as he and Origin would have used, but fascinatingly, many important rabbis also came there. If it was necessary to have a Bishop in Caesarea, we could surmise that the Christian community was large and flourishing here at this time.
The Roman era theater on the site built in Caesarea entertained travelers and merchants. It was essentially a propaganda tool, rather like the TV and internet today. It was used to indoctrinate people to accept the Roman way of life, culture and gods. The size of the theatre is astonishing in itself. In the theatre, a stone with a dedicatory inscription mentioning the name of Pontius Pilate “the prefect of Judea” was found. This inscription, in which Pilate makes a dedication to the emperor Augustus, is so important because it is an independent piece of archaeological evidence of Pilate as a historical figure. Rather oddly, it was found in the orchestra of the theatre, and yet the copy is located at the entrance to the palace. Today, the original is located in the Israel Musuem.
There are archeological gardens located between the theatre and the palace. The archaeological findings include many artifacts, remains of storage houses, ceramic, sculptures, pillars and columns. There are several orders of columns represented, including Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. In addition, a large sarcophagus can be seen with a dedication to a deacon from the early church.
A magnificent Reef Palace protruding into the sea was also built in Caesarea and was most likely built by Herod himself. This is the area in which it is likely that Paul was imprisoned. There is a big pit that people can look down, which was later used as a “good luck” charm, activated by throwing coins in. This is a good place to explain about King Herod’s fortress palaces, the magnificence and extravagance of all his architectural undertakings, and his extreme paranoia. It is also possible to explain about the lineage of his family, compared to the lineage of the Hasmonean Dynasty and how he may have felt illegitimate as ruler. It is also important to explain the paradox/hypocrisy; in Caesarea building a Pagan, Roman City to honor Rome, and in Jerusalem building a magnificent Temple for the Jews.
Another source of entertainment was a hippodrome for racing horse drawn chariots. Hippo means horse and dromos means running. This was unfortunately not the only use of the enormous sand filled arena located north east of the palace. Over time its usage changed at least four times, between amphitheatre (amphi means two, i.e. two sides of seating, not just one like the theatre.) In an amphitheatre, gladiatorial games took place. This could mean animals or people fighting to the death for sport with the sand being used to absorb the blood. There was a little shrine where people would pray, hoping that they would be lucky and survive.
However, this is not the worst use of the amphitheatre. Exemplifying the clash between Roman and Jewish culture, Titus, wishing to give a fitting birthday present to his brother, slaughtered several thousand Jews here. In response his brother said it was not enough dead Jews. The clash between the Pagans and Jews and in fact the history of anti-Semitism could be said to have begun in the Hellenistic (Greek) period. God has called the Jewish people to be set apart from the other nations and to be a light. Simply put this meant not eating with pagans and not worshipping their gods. This was always unacceptable for the pluralistic pagans, who in essence said “we will worship your gods and add them to our pantheon if you will do the same. Of course neither the Jews, nor later their younger brother the Christians could do this. Furthermore they could not bow to an emperor who decided to set himself as a god. Thus many thousands of Jews and Christians were murdered in Roman amphitheatres.
The two Jewish revolts against the Romans in 66-72 AD and 135 AD are believed to have been as bigger tragedy for the Jewish people as was the Holocaust/ Shoa. Rabbi Akiva was tortured and murdered by the Romans in Caesarea, and it was from here that the Great Revolt began in 66 AD
Another subject that could be discussed here is the development of Rabbinic Judaism, versus the development of Christianity, and the eventual exclusion of “Messianic Jews” from both. The movement that Jesus, Yeshua began so rudely severed from its roots. Simultaneously, those of the religion that he came to fulfill, rejected the One who fulfilled all the law and the prophets.
There is a fine example of a Roman Bath house complex above the amphitheatre. It was a very important part of Roman culture and all were able to use it for hygienic and medicinal purposes, as well as some more salacious ones.
Towards the Crusader site, there are Byzantine Period storehouse and other installations.
Remains of a later Crusader period city are also visible on the site and visitors can enter through the gate of the Crusaders’ city. The most important point to mention on this side of the site is that we can see the very steps from where Paul would have embarked when going on his missionary journeys. There is a mosque on the site which looks very out of place. It was built by Bosnian Muslims who had fled persecution in their country and sought refuge in this part of the then Ottoman Empire. The British spy ring named Nili was exposed here after one of their carrier pigeons landed on the minaret of the mosque.
At both sides of the site there is an option to view a cinematic reconstruction of Caesarea and the port through its different periods of history. Virtual “meetings” with prominent historical figures who visited Caesarea such as Herod and Paul give visitors further insight into Caesarea’s history through the eyes of those who lived and worked in and visited the city.
Many groups also like to visit the aqueduct of Caesarea to learn about how Herod, Hadrian and the Crusaders brought water to Caesarea and to enjoy putting their feet in the sea! (Do not let them swim anywhere that there is not a life guard!) If they want to learn more, it is possible to take them to the Nahal Taninim National park where there was once a vast reservoir.
The site is much larger than the area of the National Park. It is also possible to visit the synagogue, the other hippodrome etc; in general groups only see a tiny portion of what is available.
- Philip stopped here at the end of his preaching journey. (Acts 8 v 40.)
- Paul brought here when Grecian Jews try to kill him. (Acts 9 v 29, 30)
- Paul is brought to Caesarea. (Acts 23 v 23-35)
- Paul’s trial before Felix. (Acts 24)
- Paul imprisoned (Acts 24 v 27, 25 v 4.)
- Paul’s trial Before Festus. (Acts 25 v 1 – 12)
- Paul’s speech to Agrippa. (Acts 25 v 23 – 26, 32)
- Peter shares the gospel with Cornelius who had received a vision from God. (Acts 10)
- Herod Agrippa is eaten by worms and dies (Acts 12 v 19-23)
- Paul’s missionary journeys begin here (Acts 18 v 22 and Acts 21 v 8)
- Paul stays at the home of Philip the evangelist. (Acts 21 v 8)
- Paul sails under guard to Rome (Acts 27 v 1-2.)
Sign up to receive updates when we add new locations so our already large library of locations to learn about.