Journey to Israel … Caesarea Maritima

The very first place our Gate1 tour of Israel took us was to Caesarea Maritima. It was very cold, very windy, and very wet, but the weather did not dampen my enthusiasm for the beauty of this spot.

This ancient city was excavated during the 1950s and 1960s. The site became part of the new Caesarea National Park in 2011.

I was awed by the Mediterranean Sea. It was just beautiful. Because of the stormy weather, the sea was really crashing into the shore. I can’t describe the awesome feeling I had standing there watching it hit those rocks, the same as it has for 1000s of years before and will for 1000s of years to come.

Caesarea Maritima was built in the Sharon plain on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea by Herod the Great in honor of Caesar. Built prior to the birth of Jesus, the seaport included a forum, theater, temples, public baths, and paved streets. Perhaps most impressive, at least to me, was the elaborate aqueduct system that brought fresh water to the city’s 50,000 inhabitants from Mt. Carmel.

Magnificient Aqueduct System

Aqueducts, located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, were built by Herod the Great in Caesarea Maritima. Three parts (High Level, Low Level, and a pipeline) formed an elaborate system that provided fresh water to the inhabitants of the seaport city.
I am amazed that the aqueducts, likely built before Christ was born by Herod the Great, still stand on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea today in such good repair!

I was so taken by the area’s beauty today, that I failed to fully appreciate all of its rich history while I was actually touring Israel. If I ever get to return, I will go with a much better understanding of the places that we visit and their historical and Biblical significance. For now, I’m going to do it backward by trying to match the pictures I took to the history I am researching now.

Come along with me!

The Amphitheater

I think one of the most amazing things to me about visiting Caesarea Maritime, aka “By the Sea,” was the condition of the ruins. The city was built during c. 22–10 BC and yet it is easy enough to stand there and imagine the citizens cheering in the amphitheater as they watched chariot races, gladiatorial combats, and theatrical events. The structure, obviously, with many enhancements, is still used today!

Herod’s Amphitheater.
Herod’s amphitheater, built decades before the birth of Christ, once held chariot races and gladiator fights. The structure has been modernized and is in use today.

The Ruins

My video skills are not the best, to say the least, but I couldn’t capture the magnitude of the ruins at Caesarea Maritime with stills. So I tried to make a little video. If you watch the video, you’ll hear how windy it was the day we visited!

Hopefully, this picture helps you see how phenomenal this city was back in its day! I am amazed that so much of it remains today!

First-century Roman Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, said that the harbor built in Caesarea by Herod the Great was as large as the major harbor in Athens, Piraeus. The city grew quickly and was soon the largest city in Judaea.

Stones from some of the remains. Notice the various sizes of stone used.

The sign on the column says, “The Doric Capital appeared first in the 7th Century BCE in Greece. The Doric Order found in Caesarea was very popular until the 1st Century CD. Doric capitals excavated in Caesarea were made out of local limestone only.” The Doric order was the first style of Classical Architecture. It was said to “set the standards for beauty, harmony, and strength for European architecture.” 
Columns and part of the wall. Just from the remains, you can get a feel for how magnificent it all must have been all of those many years ago.
The Roman Well. A sign beside the well told us that 60 lead scroll fragments, dating to the 4th century A.D., had been found in this well. The scrolls had been deliberately thrown into the well as a magical practice.
When dedicating the Holy Sepulchre in 335 A.D., Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, firmly condemned these widespread practices, calling them the “curse tablets of forbidden sorcery.”

Biblical Significance of Caesarea

Herod the Great, whose name was bestowed, not because he was a great leader, but because he was a great builder, including Caesarea, was appointed King of Judea by the Romans in 37 BC. A few years later, when he heard that the “King of the Jews” (Jesus) had been born in Bethlehem, he was consumed with jealousy and was determined to kill the baby.

God warned Joseph and the wise men of Herod’s intentions. They fled Bethlehem before Jesus could be killed. When Herod realized that the baby was no longer in Bethlehem, he ordered that “all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under,” be put to death. (Matthew 2:13-16)

Apostle Paul’s Ministry

Paul, who was called the apostle to the Gentiles, and likely some of the other apostles, preached along the Mediterranean coast, from Joppa (Tel Aviv) to the Roman city of Caesarea. Paul spent two years imprisoned in Caesarea. During that time, he had opportunities to witness about his faith in Christ to Felix, the Governor of Judea, and his wife, Drusilla. (See Acts 24)

Did the apostle Paul stand here when answering claims that he incited a riot?
Apostle Paul was sent to Caesarea to be tried by the governor.

Pilate lived in Caesarea, as did others who ruled the land. (Interestingly, until 1961, there was no archeological evidence that Pontius Pilate ever existed. Needless to say, some people used that fact to say that the Bible was untrue since Pilate played such a pivotal point in the crucifixion of Jesus (see Matthew 27:11-26). However, in the summer of 1961, a team of archeologists uncovered a limestone that read, “To the Divine Augusti Tiberium … Pontius Pilate … perfect of Judea … has dedicated …”)

This is a replica of the Pontius Pilate Stone discovered in June 1961. The original is on display in Jerusalem at the Israel Museum.

The Roman soldier Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea. He was a centurion, which means he had command over one hundred Roman soldiers. The Bible says he was also a generous and God-fearing man whom God chose to be the first Gentile Christian convert. (See Acts 10 – 11)

Home of Philip

Philip the evangelist lived in Caesarea. Paul and his companions stayed at his home “for many days” after finishing a voyage from Tyre. (Acts 21:7-16) It was while Paul was here that the prophet Agabus warns him that he will be imprisoned when his ministry took him to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:26-36)

 

 

Links to the Hope and Survive pages related to my 2019 trip to Israel:
Journey to Israel – The Beginning … Part 1
Journey to Israel – Getting There … and Getting Home … Part 2
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Part 3
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of the Nativity … Part 4
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of Saint Catherine … Part 5
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Shepherds’ Field … Part 6
Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7
Journey to Israel … Caesarea Maritima

 

Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7

We visited Nazareth, the place where Jesus was raised, on the first day of our Gate1 tour. That day dawned and stayed cold and wet! What an interesting start to my very first ever international tour!

Viewing Nazareth from atop Mount Precipice. (As you may be able to tell from the picture, it was very foggy and cold the day we visited.)

Nazareth lies in the center of Galilee in Northern Israel. It is a picturesque, hilly setting. The current city was built on top of the old village. Only a few archaeological remains from the time of Jesus have been discovered.

As of 2017, the population of Nazareth, known as the “Arab capital of Israel,” was over 75,000 people. Nearly 70% of those living in lower Nazareth today are Muslim; about 30% are Christian. The Jewish population lives in Upper Nazareth, known as Natzeret-Illitl.

In Jesus’ day, Nazareth was much smaller. The strongly Jewish population was estimated by American archaeologist James F. Strange as less than 500.

Nazareth is home to a number of Arab-owned high-tech companies, mostly in the field of software development. It is sometimes called the “Silicon Valley of the Arab community.” Another large employer is Israel Military Industries. About 300 people work there manufacturing munitions.

Christmas in Nazareth
Tourist info here. We didn’t stop in.
Souvenir shop. We didn’t take time to shop.
There are a lot of McDonald’s restaurants in Israel. Some are kosher, some are not.
There were times when I wasn’t sure I had ever really left America! McDonalds and Microsoft seemed much the same as here.
Shops like this lined the streets of Nazareth. Vendors called out to tourists, hawking everything from umbrellas to olive wood.

In Biblical Days

Mary, the young virgin betrothed to marry Joseph, of the House of David, lived in Nazareth when the angel Gabriel appeared to her, bringing her the news that God had chosen her to give birth to His Son. Can you imagine her shock?

The Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel

Luke 1: 26-33

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

King Herod was very jealous when he heard that the King of the Jews had been born in Bethlehem. He sought to kill Jesus, but God had directed Joseph to take Mary and the baby to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous plan.

The little family resided in Egypt until it was safe to return home to Nazareth. While not a lot was written about Jesus’ childhood, we know that He spent most of His childhood in the town of Nazareth.

Matthew 2:19-23

The Return to Nazareth

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Basilica of the Annunciation

While we were in Nazareth, we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, aka Church of the Annunciation. It was quite remarkable.

I apparently didn’t get a picture of the main doors through which you enter the church. They are worth a look. I did get some close-ups of some of the door.

The Church of the Annunciation has an interesting history. It was first built by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, in the mid 4th century. It might interest you to know that Helena also built the first Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The original church was destroyed during an Arab invasion in 638 AD. In 1109, Crusaders arrive in Nazareth. They built the second church to honor the hometown of Jesus. Sometime between 1229 and 1263 AD, the church was destroyed again, this time by Mamluks (Azzahir Baibars).

In 1620 AD, the Franciscans purchased the ruins of the Basilica of the Annunciation and built the third church.  In 1730, the church was rebuilt for the fourth time. In 1877, the church was enlarged.

Finally, the church that stands today was built during 1955-1969. Designed by Giovanni Muzio, it is a beautiful structure that features two levels, the Upper Church, which is decorated with mosaics and artwork gifted to the church by nations across the world, and the Lower Church.

The Lower Church enshrines a sunken grotto that contains what is believed to be the home of the Virgin Mary. It is said that it was here that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

Upper Church

Rainy day at the Basilica of the Annunciation. The concrete dome stands 55 meters high. It is in the shape of a Madonna lily, a symbol of the Virgin Mary.
Magnificent upper church. This is the parish church for the Catholic community of Nazareth.
The walls are covered with mosaics given to the church by nations from around the world. At the center is one of the largest murals in the world, depicting the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”.

 

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Spiral staircase leading to the Lower Church

Lower Church

Lower Church
View of the Lower Church
In the background is the home (cave) where it is believed that Mary lived and where Gabriel is said to have announced that she would be the mother of Jesus. The grotto is found on the lower level of the Church of the Annunciation. Flanking the cave are remains from the earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches. The altar inside the cave is inscribed, “Here the Word was made flesh,” in Latin.
Simple altar in front of the cave home of Mary. Tiers of seats surround it on three sides.
The small altar in the Lower Church is situated directly under the Madonna lily-shaped cupola of the church.
Statue of Mary as the young girl to whom the angel Gabriel appeared and announced to her that she was chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah.

 

Links to the Hope and Survive pages related to my 2019 trip to Israel:
Journey to Israel – The Beginning … Part 1
Journey to Israel – Getting There … and Getting Home … Part 2
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Part 3
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of the Nativity … Part 4
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of Saint Catherine … Part 5
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Shepherds’ Field … Part 6
Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7
Journey to Israel … Caesarea Maritima