This rundown town managed to transport me back to Roman times despite its lack of restoration. The ruins were simple and worn down but felt more authentic that way. I should probably clarify that I’m talking about the old city Caesarea. The new Caesarea is like any other modern city you’d expect, not the abandoned tourist trap I’m currently describing.
I first felt the magic of this place a few miles down the road from the Old City, where an ancient sandy colored aqueduct stands proudly on a beach against a bright blue sky. After the mayhem of a rainy Tel Aviv on New Year’s Eve, I welcomed a peaceful walk on the sand, savoring the healing rays of sunshine. These aqueducts built in the first century by King Herod brought running water to the city that was the next stop on our agenda.
Refreshed, we moved onward to the Caesarea National Park, one of Israel’s most impressive archeological sites. This harbor, while destroyed, is actively being rebuilt into its former glory as Herod the Great’s powerful port city around 10 BCE.
Despite being thousands of years old, the city brought my imagination to life. The hippodrome was home to chariot races where horses careened with their carriages down the bumpy path and around sharp curves and men ran for the title of fastest man. The theatre was an impressive size and even more impressive backdrop against the open sea. I sat among the top row of seats, imagining the plays that were put on for special occasions.
This place will always be defined as a harbor, once being the largest artificial harbor developed in open sea. It was built in record time, which is especially impressive considering its complexity. The city was defined by merchants and became an early Christian center with very few Jews living within its walls. King Herod named it Caesarea in honor of Julius Caesar, who was largely responsible for his rise to power. I guess if your father is buddies with the founder of the Roman Empire, it pays off.
One of my favorite photos I took that day captured a statue and its reflection at the nymphaeum, a public fountain that stood at the center of ancient Caesarea as one of the city’s main monuments. A congregation spot, it was the intersection where the city’s main street met the Herodian port.
Caesarea was a short little stop on our way to Haifa, but it was a nice break from city life for a few hours. A quiet town with that old town dazzle, its renovation was still in full swing. Seeing the effort put forth, I know it’ll be an even more impressive site in the near future.