Sites and Insights: Caesarea’s Archeological treasures

A new column, Dr. Wayne Stiles explores the biblical sites of Israel, the significance behind them and how to make the most of a visit.

March 28, 2011 12:46
3 minute read.

Caesarea 311. (photo credit: Wayne Stiles )


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Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (Caesarea had an immense amphitheater and hippodrome that could accommodate well over 10,000 spectators for sporting events and chariot races (think of the movie Ben Hur). Over the centuries, the Mediterranean has battered the seaside hippodrome so much that the western portion of the complex has completely washed away. Similarly, a storm in December of 2010 did costly damage to Caesarea, a testimony to how the much of the site has crumbled into ruins over the centuries.

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A massive theater for 3500 spectators overlooked the sea. The setting sun over the sea would have provided a marvelous backdrop for theatrical performances. Today’s restored theater still offers a popular venue for concerts in Israel. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, this theater gave stage to the death of Herod Agrippa I (see Josephus, Antiquities XIX.8.2; though some scholars contend that Josephus refers to Agrippa’s death in the hippodrome/amphitheater, rather than in the theater). Agrippa stood to address the throng that gathered there and that hailed him as a god, and the Lord struck him down because he did not give glory to God (see Acts 12:20-23).

During the first Jewish Revolt, the Roman General Titus [who leveled Jerusalem’s temple in AD 70] forced 2500 Jews to combat wild beasts in Caesarea’s amphitheater. During the second Jewish Revolt, Rabbi Akiva was executed in Caesarea along with his disciples and other Jewish captives. The state-of-the-art Visitor’s Center next to the ancient harbor tells Rabbi Akiva’s story.

Caesarea also played a prominent role in the history of Christianity. Philip the Evangelist settled in Caesarea, and the Apostle Peter traveled here to share the message of Jesus’s death and resurrection with a Roman Centurion named Cornelius (see Acts 8:40; 24:8; Acts 10). As mentioned in last week’s post, the Apostle Paul found himself imprisoned here for two years, and from Caesarea’s port Paul embarked on his death-defying sea voyage to Rome (see Acts 26-28).

In the third century, Origen of Alexandria moved to Caesarea and explored biblical sites in order to better understand the Scriptures. Eusebius of Caesarea, a pupil of Origen, wrote the first historical geography of Bible lands. Having lived in what was then called “Palestine” all his life, Eusebius was suited to the task of writing his Onomasticon (“a collection of names”) around A.D. 325. In fact, without this volume, we would not know the location of many biblical sites. Eusebius recognized the value of geography to biblical studies, and he systematized his book - a venerable index and encyclopedia of sites and locations - for Bible students who may never see the land itself. In fact, Eusebius’ Onomasticon did much to set in motion early pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

Even today, Caesarea remains a great place for entertainment, as well as for education.

To Do There:

A lot! Allow 2-3 hours, easily. A high-tech Visitors Center offers a historical perspective, complete with hologram tour guides such as King Herod, Rabbi Akiva, the Apostle Paul, and Saladin, just to name a few. Watch the video called, “The Caesarea Experience,” a film that traces Caesarea’s history on all periods of time—a great introduction to the site. Visitors can walk the seaside sidewalk next to the hippodrome, meander through Crusader ruins, and even enjoy a pop concert in the restored theater. Caesarea National Park enjoys about 1 million visitors annually.

How To Get There:

From Tel Aviv, take Route 2 north 39 km (24 miles) to Caesarea National Park. You’ll know you’re getting close when you see the nearby smokestacks.

Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at

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