Caesarea Maritima , called Caesarea Palaestina from 133 CE onwards, was a city and harbor built by Herod the Great about 2513 BC. Today, its ruins lie on the Mediterranean coast of Israel about halfway between the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa, on the site of Pyrgos Stratonos . Caesarea Maritima should not be confused with other cities named to flatter the Caesar: Caesarea Philippi in the Golan Heights or Caesarea Mazaca in Anatolian Cappadocia. The city was described in detail by the 1st century Roman Jewish historian Josephus .
Herod built his palace on a promontory jutting out into the sea, with a decorative pool surrounded by stoas. In 13 BCE, Caesarea became the civilian and military capital of Judaea, and the official residence of the Roman procurators and governors, Pontius Pilatus, praefectus and Antonius Felix. Remains of the principal buildings erected by Herod and the medieval town are still visible today, including the city walls, the castle and a Crusader cathedral and church.
Archaeological excavations in the 1950s and 1960s uncovered remains from many periods, in particular, a complex of Crusader fortifications and a Roman theatre. Other buildings include a temple dedicated to Caesar; a hippodrome rebuilt in the 2nd century as a more conventional amphitheater; the Tiberieum, which has a limestone block with a dedicatory inscription that is the only secular record of Pontius Pilate; a double aqueduct that brought water from springs at the foot of Mount Carmel; a boundary wall; and a 200 ft (60 m) wide moat protecting the harbour to the south and west. The harbor was the largest on the eastern Mediterranean coast. Caesarea grew rapidly, becoming the largest city in Judea, with an estimated population of 125,000 over an urban area of 3.7 square kilometers.
In 66 CE, a massacre of Jews here and the desecration of the local synagogue led to the disastrous Jewish revolt.
Vespasian declared it a colony and renamed it Colonia Prima Flavia Augusta Caesarea.
Early Christian mentions of Caesarea in the apostolic period follow the acts of Peter who established the church there when he baptized Cornelius the Centurion . The Apostle Paul often sojourned there , and was imprisoned at Caesarea for two years before being taken to Rome .
The Harbor at Caesarea
The Harbor at Caesarea was built by King Herod between 22 BCE and 9 BCE. It was one of the greatest engineering wonders of its time. It was the first major construction project to use concrete that would set under water. The length of the southern break water is . The length of the northern break water is . The largest stone block measures by by 1.25 meters (over ). The largest concrete block measures 11.5 meters by by . The concrete blocks were created by floating a form on the water and filling it with concrete, as it filled up it would sink into place and the concrete would set under water.
After the revolt of Simon bar Kokhba, which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem, Caesarea became the center of Christianity in Palestine; however, there is no record of any bishop of Caesarea until the end of the 2nd century, when a council was held there to regulate the celebration of Easter. In the 3rd century Origen wrote his Hexapla and other exegetic and theological works while living there. Eusebius was one of its archbishops (315 - 318).
The main church, a martyrion (martyr's shrine) to an as yet unknown saint, was built in the 6th century and sited directly upon the podium that had supported the Roman temple, as was a widespread Christian practice. Throughout the Empire, prominently-sited pagan temples were rarely left unconsecrated to the new rites: in time the Martyrion's site was re-occupied, this time by a mosque. The Martyrion was an octagon, richly re-paved and surrounded by small radiating enclosures. Archaeologists have recovered some foliate capitals that included representations of the Cross.
Through Origen and especially the scholarly presbyter Pamphilus of Caesarea, an avid collector of books of Scripture, the theological school of Caesarea won a reputation for having the most extensive ecclesiastical library of the time, containing more than 30,000 manuscripts: Gregory Nazianzus, Basil the Great, Jerome and others came to study there.
An elaborate government structure contained a basilica with an apse, where magistrates would have sat, for the structure was used as a hall of justice, as fragments of inscriptions detailing the fees that court clerks might claim attest.
In the 7th century, the city was captured first by the Persians, then in 638 by the Muslims, and in one or the other upheaval the great library was destroyed. 20,000 Jews and 30,000 Samaritans who lived in the city prior to the Muslim occupation (according to the Persian historian al-Baladhuri) vanished altogether from the historical record.
The walls remained, but within them the population dwindled and agriculture crept in among the ruins. When Baldwin I took the city in 1101/2, during the First Crusade, it was still very rich, nevertheless. A legend grew up that in this city was discovered the Holy Grail around which so much lore accrued in the next two centuries.
Perhaps the Holy Grail was recovered more than once, for the Genoese found a green glass goblet that they identified as the Chalice and expatriated to Genoa, where it was placed in the church of San Lorenzo.
The city was strongly refortified and rebuilt by the Crusaders. A lordship was created there, as was one of the four archbishoprics in the kingdom (see Archbishop of Caesarea).
A list of thirty-six Latin bishops, from 1101 to 1496 has been reassembled by 19th century papal historians; the most famous of these is probably Heraclius. After that the Latin "Bishop of Caesarea" became an empty title.
The bishops did not govern: Saladin retook the city in 1187; it was recaptured by the Crusaders in 1191, and finally lost by them in 1265 this time to the Mamluks, who ensured that there would be no more battling over the site— where the harbor has silted in anyway— by razing the fortifications - in line with their practice in other formerly-Crusader coastal cities.
Caesarea lay in ruins until its resettlement by the Ottomans as Kaisariyeh in 1884, after which the ruins were much damaged. In the 1950s and 60s, modern archaeology uncovered details of Crusader ramparts and the theater of the Roman city. More recent work has filled out the picture .
Caesarea has recently become the site of what bills itself as the world's first underwater museum, where 36 points of interest on four marked underwater trails through the ancient harbor can be explored by divers equipped with waterproof maps.
Jewish Encyclopedia: Caesarea by the Sea
Catholic Encyclopedia: Caesarea Palaestinae