King Herod was a magnificent builder and the Roman seaport of Caesarea stands to this day in testament to his ability to take the small town of Straton’s Tower and turn it into the headquarters of Northern Palestine.
This is where Peter baptized the Roman centurion Cornelius, the first gentile converts to Christianity (Acts 10). It was from this port that Paul set sail to preach in communities all over the Mediterranean, and where he was later imprisoned for two years and made his powerful speech before Felix, Festus, and King Agrippa (Acts 12-25:6).
This Mediterranean gem offers a host of activities. Start at the monumental seacoast theater and imagine the finest Roman drama unfold before you. The theater was so well engineered that it still remains a mystery how it was done without modern technology; you can speak in a normal tone from the center of the theater and thousands sitting in the theater can hear you clearly.
At the sea palace of Pontius Pilate there is a stone-encrypted commemoration of the Roman ruler who the New Testament mentions as sentencing Jesus to crucifixion. Along the beautiful beach is a large hippodrome where you can learn about Roman horse races from the impressive frescos along the walls. This hippodrome was also an amphitheater where history records both Christians and Jews were fed to the lions. A Roman administrative center, bathhouse, and a public toilet facility are clearly distinguishable among the remains. A great crusader moat and fortress built by King Baldwin I, stand out impressively.
One of the most impressive aspects of Caesarea, which can be partly seen today, is the port built by King Herod, which he called “Sebastos.” The Sebastos port was the largest seaport on the eastern Mediterranean and was built with volcanic ash called pozzolana, which kept the breakwater from floating. Aqueducts can be seen along Caesarea’s shore that led water from nearby Tananim stream and Shuni spring to the city. Caesarea is also a site containing ante-Nicean Christian history. The remains of a martyrium church built over an earlier Roman pagan temple can be seen in Caesarea’s main promenade. Christianity’s largest library once stood in Caesarea, where church fathers, like Jerome, used to conduct their theological works.
A few well-designed boutiques, and some of Israel’s finest restaurants alongside the archeological remains, make Caesarea a must visit. The museum offers a visual presentation, bringing all the stones to life.
FROM THE SCRIPTURES
Peter and Cornelius
Acts 10:1-8 (ESV)
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
Acts 25:6-12 (ESV)
After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. When he had arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove. Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”