A return to glory

Be it ancient or modern Caesarea, the historic city reclaims its status as an impressive place to visit.

jafa port 88 298 (photo credit: )
jafa port 88 298
(photo credit: )
What do King Herod, Hannah Senesh, St. Paul, Rabbi Akiva, Baron de Rothschild and Saladin have in common? They all spent an important part of their lives in Caesarea and left their mark on the city. Why did Herod build a mini-Rome in Caesarea, complete with a temple to Caesar Augustus, a theater and a hippodrome? Now you can ask him yourself. You can also ask Baron de Rothschild what his connection with the area was. These 3-D characters loom up before your eyes as part of the new multimedia experience in Caesarea. But before you get to meet these characters, take a journey through the ages and see Caesarea as it was at the time of Herod, the Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders and Arabs right through to the days of the first Zionist settlers. This helps put the town's multilayered history into perspective. After giving the historical figures the third degree, your next stop is the Time Tower. High above the ruins of ancient Caesarea, you can view through each window the superimposed remnants of various civilizations. With the aid of two giant screens and computerized three-dimensional animation, you'll observe the construction of Herod's magnificent harbor, which turned Caesarea into the hub of commercial life in the region. Constructing a harbor was no easy feat and Herod's engineers had no precedent to copy, so their ingenuity is impressive. You'll watch the chariot races screeching around the hippodrome and cringe at the blood-curdling gladiator fights. You'll witness the magnificent port submerge into the oblivion of the sea and then be rebuilt several times over the years. And you'll see Caesar's temple give way to a Christian church and a Muslim mosque as new conquerors took over the city. From there, you'll be ready to amble through the national park and see what remains of Caesarea's former glory. Stroll along the renovated promenade near the sea, which runs parallel to the hippodrome. Then walk around the ancient streets and commercial and administrative area and take a look at the bathhouse and ruins of a Byzantine synagogue. When you reach the promontory and the pillars that are all that remain of the ancient temple, you can envision how impressive the edifice once was. One of the most impressive remains is the theater, which to this day is used for shows and musical performances. As you wander around the park you'll see parts of Roman pillars and sarcophagi, as well as sections of unearthed statues that were so popular among the Caesars of Rome. At the section with an array of restaurants, shops and galleries, you can often see the artists at work in their studios. You can purchase original arts and crafts, Judaica, jewelry and artifacts. A Creative Activities Center is being set up where children can enjoy a variety of crafts connected to the eras and themes of Caesarea. Having "met and spoken to" pre-state heroine-poetess Hannah Senesh, you can find out more about her at the Beit Hannah museum in nearby kibbutz Sdot Yam. The Museum of Caesarean antiquities houses many of the findings unearthed in excavations in the area, such as seals, statues and pottery. You can sail around the coast in a glass-bottom boat and view the remains of Herod's harbor that now lie underwater. If you want to see it from even closer, you can join a team of divers. There are also speedboats, one of which is reputed to be the fastest in the Mediterranean. Modern Caesarea is also a delight to wander around. Home to the affluent, the town has some exquisite private villas. Visit the Ralli Museum of Modern Art. Entrance is free, and it is a pleasure to walk through this spacious building and enjoy the wide selection of modern Latin-American paintings and sculptures. Care to tee off? Enjoy a round at the Caesarea Golf Club, Israel's only full-size 18-hole golf course. For marine sports, try your hand at fishing or take a dip in the Mediterranean off the sandy white beaches.