Caesarea Israel, also known as Caesarea Maritima, is truly a unique example of Roman ruins. It is located on the Mediterranean Sea in Israel, about sixty miles from Jerusalem. The ruins here are one of the country's biggest tourist attractions, and they have a long and interesting history. Part of this Roman stronghold is on land, while the other half is situated in the Caesarea Underwater Park, a unique diving experience that allows you to combine a history lesson with a diving trip in the Mediterranean. Divers are able to explore shipwrecks and different underwater structures that were built to support the port. These two parts of Caesarea Israel help create the unique experience that visitors encounter when visiting the famous archaeological site.
Historians believe that Caesarea was built upon the ruins of what was Stratonospyrgos, meaning Straton's Tower, a settlement that was constructed in the late BC era by Straton I of Sidon. Straton's Tower was then incorporated into the Hasmonean Kingdom and was a Jewish stronghold for many years. The settlement was eventually captured by the Romans in 63 AD, and it was declared an autonomous state. Herod the Great reconstructed the city and renamed the area Caesarea after Caesar Augustus, one of the most famous Roman emperors. He added a deep sea port, aqueducts, temples, and many other magnificent structures. Caesarea Israel served as the capital of the province of Palestine for more than 600 years and didn't meet its demise until the early Middle Ages when the city changed hands between the Muslims and Crusaders several times. The city was nearly destroyed in 1265 when the Baybars of Egypt sacked it and left the site in ruins.
Despite the turbulent history, there are surprisingly many structures and artifacts to see at Caesarea Maritima. The most famous ruin at the archaeological site is the amphitheater, which could hold about 15,000 spectators. The huge semicircular venue is still largely intact and remains the performing center of the site. Concerts, plays and a variety of shows are performed at the amphitheater each year. It is also the main venue for the annual Jazz Festival held at the site. Any seat at the theatre provides guests with sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea and a clear shot of all the happenings on stage.
The hippodrome at Caesarea Israel is also quite a site. It was constructed under the rule of Herod and was an imposing structure in the Roman stronghold. Although not the largest of the hippodromes that the Romans built, the one here could hold at least 20,000 spectators for chariot races and gladiator fights. Another point of interest are the remains of the Crusader fortress walls. The Crusaders constructed the walls during the 1100s, and they were later embellished by King Louis IX of France. The walls are a true testament to the varied past that Caesarea has had despite having a Roman name. Caesarea Maritima is also where excavators found an inscription reading “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea,” giving proof that this infamous ruler did in fact exist. The original artifact can now be found at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
The diving in Caesarea is a very unique aspect of the site and provides visitors with even more insight into the wealth and advancement that flourished in this former Roman settlement. The main diving in Caesarea is concentrated around the port that once saw hundreds of ships of all sizes sail into the harbor. The inner and outer parts of the harbor were constructed by Herod the Great in 21 AD using hydraulic concrete. He created breakwaters in the sea to create a safe, all-weather port. Divers can now see the Herod breakwaters that have sunk underneath the sea. The diving in Caesarea also allows divers to explore shipwrecks and different structures that have been utilized to try and support the harbor. If you’re planning a trip to Israel, this is one of the best sites to add to your itinerary if you’re interested in history, along with attractions such as the Qumran Caves and the Temple Mount.