Caesaria: Roman Port

As promised, I’m doing the Israel recap in chunks. Today: Caesaria. An ancient city built by Herod on the coast of Israel, dedicated to his patron, Caesar Augustus. Archaeologically developed over the last fifty years to reveal many of the original structures, it includes an ancient Roman theater (which many of us would call an amphitheater, but which our guide informed us was really a theater because it was only a semi-circle of seats, not a full circle). This stage and stone seats is still used for concerts today, and apparently holds about 4000 people.

If I’m recalling correctly, Caesaria was our first interaction with a large scale Roman ruin (though assuredly not our last). It provides an interesting view on how ruins in Israel develop, the layering of cultures on top of one another. In order to truly appreciate this, a (very) quick history lesson is probably useful.

The land which we now call Israel was inhabited and ruled by, in succession:

  • The Cannaanite (until roughly 1000 BC)
  • The Israelites (or Jews) (1000 BC – mid 500s BC)
  • The Babylonians
  • The Persians
  • The Greeks
  • The Jews (Hasmonian Dynasty–around 150 BC until a bit before the birth of Jesus)
  • Romans (63 BC – Mid 300s AD)
  • Byzantine Period (Mid 300s – Mid 600s
  • Muslim Rulers (650-ish until the Crusades ~1100)
  • Christian Crusaders (~1100 – ~1250)
  • The Mamluks (~1250 – ~1500)
  • The Ottoman Empire (1500  –  1917)
  • The British Mandate (1917 – 1948)
  • The State of Israel (1948 – Present)

Each of these cultures, (especially from the Romans forward) has their own distinctive architectural styles, but, for the most part, were building on top of the ruins or foundations of what came before. Thus we get walls such as this, in which a carved lintel from an earlier period is integrated into a later wall:

or this, where a wall is composed of various styles, clearly from different periods of construction:

I find the interaction of the various periods fascinating, not least because of the ways in which the different stone finishing techniques catch shadows and light differently.

As you may or may not know, my undergraduate degree is in Classics (Greek and Roman), and therefore I have a certain fondness for the relics and stories of those cultures. One carved stone element, in particular, caught my fancy in this regard: a carved head of a gorgon. If you recall the story, the gaze of the gorgon turns the object of the gaze to stone. However, here it is the head of the gorgon which has been turned to stone.

The layering of cultures is extensive: an ancient Roman city and port, but also the minaret from the 18th or 19th century (built upon a crusader ruin, which you can’t see in this photo:

In the interest of not writing a full travel log, and thoroughly boring you, I will append the rest of the photos as a gallery for browsing as suits your pleasure.

Caesaria, is a walk by the sea, through an ancient town. Like much of Israel, history is present in each step, and somehow feels more alive than in other places, as one sees the edifices of one culture re-purposed for the needs of another. The enduring message, for me, is that everything passes, and our great achievements are only the building blocks for those who come after.

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