King Herod is considered to be something of a Biblical villain. He was quite ferocious with those he thought were after his throne, and he did murder some of his wives and children, but he was actually more of a builder. Herod the Great, as he is also known, set out to re-build Judea (as the region was known then) into a showpiece of Judean architecture and engineering.
Wanting to construct a port which rivalled Alexandria, in Egypt, he built the coastal city of Caesarea Palestinae, as it was then called, which today is located between Tel Aviv and Haifa on Israel’s Mediterranean coast.
Today’s Caesarea is slightly different to the city which became capital of Roman Palestine, for today the city boasts luxury hotels and even an 18-hole golf course which, together with the magnificent beaches, do entice visitors to go and stay for a while.
You can still visit the remains of the ancient city, although today they do hide behind a cluster of banana groves.
Even though the archaeological excavations are intriguing, and give you reason to admire Herod’s city, it was a place of great wealth, but also of horrifying brutality. Between the years 60-70AD thousands of people, mainly local Jews who objected to Roman domination, were slain in Caesarea’s amphitheatre. Afterwards, particularly during the 2nd Century AD, the Romans turned their attention to the Christians, and the amphitheatre saw much more bloodshed again.
When once the amphitheatre hosted public massacres, it is still operational but modern crowds roar with appreciation for the various artists who now appear there.
As well as the Byzantines, Caesarea was eventually ruled by just about every local power from the Byzantines to the Arabs and then Crusaders, then Ottomans, and is now very much part of the modern Israel.
In fact, legend has it that the Holy Grail was located at Caesarea before being whisked away.
Today the ancient city is part of the Caesarea National Park, which includes Herod’s manmade harbour.
Also at Caesarea is an underwater museum, where you can dive through the underwater ruins of the ancient city. These tours can be organised through the Old Caesarea Diving Centre who have much experience guiding visitors through the museum.
Whilst there are many lovely beaches near the town, Aqueduct Beach, so named because of the ancient Roman aqueduct that is thousands of years old still runs directly through it, is considered to be one of the most popular.