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Background: Caesarea Maritima (Caesarea of the Sea), and also known as Caesarea Palaestina, was a Roman city named after the Caesar and built by King Herod the Great at the end of the 1st century BCE. It served as the capital for the Roman province Judaea and at its time was more important than Jerusalem. Later, Caesarea was known to be the place where Peter baptized Cornelius the centurion, and where Paul preached, sought refuge, and was imprisoned.

Now a national park, Caesarea sits on the coast of the Mediterranean about half way between Tel Aviv and Haifa. The park includes an aqueduct system, an ancient harbor (where you can go diving to see underwater ruins), and a Roman theater (still used today), as well as the ruins of the ancient city and a palace jutting into the sea. The Hippodrome (circus), is probably the most impressive site: a long race track on the coast home to chariot races and fights. A mosque and Crusader fortress also stand just outside the ancient city, and farther away outside the park sits the statues square, home two statues (red and white). Interestingly, all the statues found in Caesarea are headless.

Impressions: Before visiting, I had heard a lot about Caesarea. Many people told me how amazing it is, how it’s Israel’s “Rome,” and it was one of the highlights of the country, but I’ve been here for almost eight months now and have come to realize that Israelis tend to exaggerate a lot. Caesarea isn’t Rome but nevertheless, it was interesting and one of the most well kept ruins in the country. We started at the high aqueduct (I think this was the best part due to the lack of tourists) and walked along the beach which was peppered with ruins, until we reached the main park. The ruins are distinctly Roman and you forget you’re in Israel, except that the palm trees and the Mediterranean give the ruins a Middle Eastern flavor. I had never seen a hippodrome (the large track in the photos) before, but I found it hard to imagine what it looked like, or how horses raced on a track so small. The Roman theater is used today as an outdoor auditorium so the plastic seats and modern stadium made the ruins a lot less ancient. I think what was most impressive was the sea itself, and how clear it was. It would have been great to dive into the harbor and see the underwater ruins and archaeology.

~ by jonathanmtsai on May 6, 2011.

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