Herod’s ancient port city to undergo major renewal program
Each year, visitors come to the coastal site of Caesarea Maritima in Caesarea National Park—30 miles north of Tel Aviv in Israel—to marvel at the ancient ruins still preserved there.
King Herod the Great built the city to be a major international port and named it after his patron, the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus. Completed between 22 and 10/9 B.C.E., Caesarea Maritima had all the elements of a major Roman city and more, including streets laid out in the standard Roman grid plan, a palace, forum, theater, temple dedicated to Augustus and Roma, and an elaborate harbor complex. Today, visitors can see remnants of the ancient port city—the theater, hippodrome (chariot-racing stadium), aqueduct, palace foundations, Crusader-period fortifications and stone architectural features and statues that once adorned the city.
In a recent joint press conference, the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, Caesarea Development Corporation, Israel Antiquities Authority and Israel Nature and Parks Authority announced that Caesarea National Park will be undergoing a major renewal project. More than NIS 100 million (about $27.5 million USD) will be invested to build “an innovative visitor center, installations for the benefit of visitors, a spectacular archaeological park and an enchanting promenade that will begin at the ancient aqueduct (Aqueduct Beach) and connect to the city wall and fortifications promenade of ancient Caesarea,” according to an IAA press release.
At the press conference, park representatives revealed to the public for the first time several archaeological discoveries and conservation projects. These include a system of vaults that supported the platform upon which the temple to Augustus and Roma was built, a large open-air stone altar in front of the temple reminiscent of Augustus’s Ara Pacis—the altar of peace—in Rome, a Roman-period nymphaeum (fountain), a Byzantine-period synagogue and a Crusader-period market.
Among the small finds presented were a mother-of-pearl tablet inscribed with a seven-branched menorah and a coal pan—Jewish symbols—from the Late Roman–Byzantine period, a statue of a ram that may have been used in the Byzantine-period church, and a bearded figurine head from the Roman period that depicts Asclepius, the god of medicine.
“The joint project is meant to expose, conserve and make use of Caesarea’s secrets for the enjoyment of the general public. To date, only about six percent of Caesarea’s treasures have been discovered, and magnificent finds on a global scale are buried beneath its sand dunes,” said IAA director Israel Hasson. “We consider this project an opportunity for fostering educational activities at the regional and national levels, and invite the public and discharged soldiers to come, work, volunteer and be partners in this creative effort.”
Robert Jehu Bull (1920–2013)
Former excavation director of Caesarea Maritima
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