Caesarea Maritima! It’s a truly amazing place. Herod the Great planned to build a perfect city as the political capital of the region. From the palace, the hippodrome or the chariot racetrack, the ancient public lavatory, bathhouse, shoreline promenade, Roman theatre, and frescoes, to the magnificent harbour – it was a grand town.
Even though it was a luxury city built along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, there was a problem, there was no fresh water supply. So, when construction began in 22BC, Herod had an aqueduct built to bring fresh water to the city from the mountain springs 16 kms away. Today you can still see a section of the magnificent aqueduct.
But it’s the hippodrome that was the epicentre of this city. It was an exciting place of entertainment for the 30,000 spectators watching the Roman chariots race right here in this hippodrome.
Now the harbour is considered to be a marvel of Roman engineering. Two massive breakwaters that extended about 500m into the Mediterranean Sea were built to protect the ancient trading port.
It may seem unbelievable but even 2000 years ago in Caesarea they had functional toilets. They were in a public place, an open-air row where people could chat together as they sat here. The natural flush system was the saltwater from the sea.
Until the summer of 1961, there was no evidence outside the Bible that Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect who sentenced Jesus to be crucified, ever existed. Then a team of Italian archaeologists excavating the theatre here at Caesarea, unearthed a limestone block from the first century inscribed with a dedication to Tiberius Caesar from Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.
One of the other significant events recorded in the Bible happened here in Caesarea. The Roman centurion, Cornelius met with the apostle Peter, and became the first Gentile or non-Jew, person to believe in Jesus.
But today the city is in ruins. According to Talmud records, much of the harbour and the beautiful coastal city of Caesarea was destroyed by a tsunami in 115AD and today it is a fabulous archaeological site in one of Israel’s National Parks.