The Vegas of the Med – Caesarea Maritima

The next handful of posts will be about Israel. I visited Israel for the first time back in August of 2011 when I was 19. The first two weeks I was part of Taglit, Birthright. The next week and a half, I was backpacking around Israel, alone. I am so grateful I was introduced to this amazing adventure of travel and have been hooked since. To hear more about my adventures roaming the land of Milk and Honey, stay tuned.

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Jet lagged, exhausted, and anxious for where we were going, we all fidgitted in our seats on the bus. We ate some food, did some icebreakers, and were off on the bus again for our first stop on our birthright trip. The first place we visited–The Mediterranean Coast, Caesarea Maritima. What a way to start a journey! This place is packed with history and importance, I recommend reading more about it if this posts interests you because it is very interesting.

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This port was built by Herod the Great (74 BCE – 4 BCE) in honor of his patron Augustus Caesarea. It was very popular once completed and everyone wanted to be here. Caesarea is located halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv. There’s at least 2,000 years of history here; you can find a giant theater were all the best shows were preformed, a hippodrome where thousands of Jews were murdered for sport, remains of a royal palace where the high authorities lived, a seaside port for trading routes, forum, temples, public baths and more modern… cafes and shops for the tourists.

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A little about the builder: Herod was once declared King of the Jews. He was raised Jewish and followed most of the beliefs, but wasn’t considered Jewish amongst nationalist Jews, for good reason. He was a Roman client king ruling in Judea. He was very power hungry and would do almost anything to get what he wanted, including killing the woman he married (who is the woman he left his other wife and 3 year old son for) to gain advantage in hopes of getting back his control of Judea.

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As crazy and selfish as Herod sounds, he did happen to build some magnificent things! He taxed the Jews heavily in order to build this Mediterranean port. It is 40 acres large and can accommodate 300 ships. He also is credited to have built the Second Temple ((heard of the Western Wall? This wall is a remnant of the Second Temple (not the original, first temple)! which was unfortunately destroyed in 70 CE)), and the fortress at Masada, among other things.  Caesarea turns out to be a great success though; everyone wanted to come here because this was where it was all happening.

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After Herod died, Caesarea Maritima became the new capital of the Roman province of Judea.

The theater here can seat 3,500 people. The seats are rock hard, so people probably brought cushions to sit on. The theater is pretty cool because it faces the sea! Concerts and productions still happen at this theater. We had a lot of fun running around the seating area, going underneath the theater, standing in its magnificent arches and standing in awe at the ocean behind the stage.

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After running around the theater, we went down to the water. Here we found the Pontius Stone. This stone is of great importance to those biblically conscious. It is the Pontius Pilate stone. Pontius was the prefect of the province. The stone literally says ‘Tiberieum, Pontius Pilatus, prefect of Judea’

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TIBERIEUM, [pon]TIUS PILATUS [praef]ECTUS IUDA[EAE]

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He was a powerful guy during this time, he is also the prefect who ordered Jesus Christ to be crucified. Jesus traveled to Jerusalem for a Passover festival, and Pontius followed after him to order his execution. The fact that there is a stone that shows the name of a person mentioned in the bible is evidence for some that Pontius existed! Because of this, people have more reason to believe that other things from the bible are also true.

Another interesting thing that happened here was the riot that started first Jewish revolt against Rome. The Romans taxed the Jews heavily, disrespected their religion, and even stole silver from their temple. After the thievery from their pious place, the Jews finally had enough and started a riot. It started well…but didn’t end well for the Jews

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The hippodrome could hold 10,000 people. They held chariot races here. After the Jewish revolt, games at the hippodrome became to target Jews. They had animals and combats to kill the Jewish people while others watched.They held games to celebrate Titus in the year 70 CE. Thousands of Jewish captives were taken here to be slaughtered. Tons of people came here to witness it. These shows were incredibly entertaining for most of the people. Caesarea was the Las Vegas of the Mediterranean back then! 2,500 Jews were slaughtered in these Gladiatorial games.

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We all were taken by surprise at how beautiful the water was here in sunny Israel. This was our first time together, a large group of students, experiencing the beginning of this amazing trip that felt like someone-knocked-the-wind-out-of-you-beauty. It was a really great feeling being there all together, with hopes of learning a little more about our roots, our beliefs, and ourselves. I’ve never seen anything like this before; it was my first time really appreciating travel. Our tour guide decided it was time for us to make our first blessing: Shehechiyanu. This blessing is a general blessing that you can use whenever you want for anything you are grateful for.

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“Thank you for making me alive in this moment, I’m so happy I’m alive!”

We all cheered. We had our first taste of wine in the Promise Land.

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