Caesarea Maritima lies on a sandy shore of the Mediterranean, about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. This most fertile area of ancient Judea is the site of one of the most important cities of the Roman World and the capital of the Roman province of Judaea. Caesarea was founded between 22 and 10 BC by Herod the Great (37-4 BC) as an urban centre and harbour on the site of the earlier Strato’s Tower.
Caesarea was first settled by the Phoenicians who also founded the port cities of Sidon, Tyre and Byblos. In the 4th century BC the Phoenicians founded Strato’s Tower and used the natural bays and the nearby rivers in order to establish a port which provided all the essential services for the ships and their crews. The city changed hands many times before Roman troops entered Palestine in 63 BC, marching South from Syria under the leadership of Pompey the Great. Some three decades later, Augustus confirmed the client rule of Herod the Great in Palestine and designated him as the “King of the Jews”.
In an ambitious construction project lasting some twelve years, Herod turned Strato’s Tower into the main port of his kingdom. He named the city Caesarea in honour of Augustus. Herod’s building program included broad collonaded streets, a palace, a temple, public buildings, a theatre, Hippodrome, an amphitheatre and other entertainment facilities. However, Herod’s port never attained the importance he surely hoped for. Caesarea lost its impact as a royal city when it was absorbed into the Roman Empire. The AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the Antioch earthquake of AD 115 brought tsunami waves to the coast which badly damaged the harbour. The city reached the height of its prosperity when it became the country’s Byzantine administrative capital from the 4th to the 6th century AD. The city was later abandoned after the Arab conquest in the 8th Century AD. Today, it is a large and beautiful national park and a fascinating place to visit while exploring the Holy Land.
A stunning mosaic floor known as the “Bird Mosaic” was uncovered by accident in 1955 on the outskirts of Caeserea, outside the walls of the ancient settlement. During the excavations of 2005 archaeologists determined that the ‘Bird Mosaic’ was part of a Byzantine palace complex dating from the 6th century AD. During the Byzantine period, the harbour city of Caesarea flourished and expanded as much as 800m inland. This palace complex, covering an area of nearly 1 acre (4,000 sq. meters), was probably owned by a reputable and wealthy family. The “Bird Mosaic” adorned the floor of a large open courtyard, the atrium, with a portico along the western and southern sides.