This area has had a long and checkered history. It was initially settled during the Hellenistic period (third century B.C.E.), when the Phoenicians built a small port city that they named Straton`s Tower.
In 90 B.C.E., Alexander Jannaeus captured Straton`s Tower as part of his policy of developing the shipbuilding industry and enlarging the Hasmonean kingdom. Straton`s Tower remained a Jewish city for two generations, until the Roman conquest of 63 B.C.E. when the Romans declared Straton`s Tower an autonomous city.
The city underwent a great number of changes under Herod, who among other things renamed it Caesarea in honor of the emperor. In 22 B.C.E. he began construction of a deep sea harbor and built storerooms, markets, wide roads, baths, temples, and luxurious public buildings. Every five years the city hosted major sports competitions, gladiator games, and theatrical productions.
Caesarea also flourished during the Byzantine period. At the time, much of the land south of the city was used for agriculture. The area continued to be farmed during the early Arabian period as well, apparently until the Crusader conquest in the eleventh century. Over time, this land was buried under the sands shifting along the shores of the Mediterranean.
The Crusaders captured Caesarea during the First Crusade. Godfrey of Bouillon imposed heavy taxes on the residents, who soon rose up in protest. Baldwin I`s response: In 1101 he pillaged the city and slaughtered its residents.
In 1251, Louis IV fortified the city. The French king ordered the construction of high walls (parts of which are still standing) and a deep moat. However strong the walls were, they could not keep out the royal sultan Baybars, who hatched a brilliant scheme for how to take the city. He knew that the few soldiers on patrol could not properly guard the entire length of the walls, and thus he ordered his troops to scale the walls in a number of places at the very same time, thus enabling them to penetrate the city.
Caesarea lay in ruins until the nineteenth century. After a failed attempt by the Circassians to claim the land, a Bosnian settlement was built among the ruins. The village was abandoned during the 1948 War of Independence, but some of the houses and parts of the mosque can still be seen today.
Visitors will want to devote at least an hour to exploring the ruins. The Byzantine-period street lies east of the entrance to the Crusader city, with tamarisk trees all around. In Herod`s day, the Caesarea port was considered one of the most modern in the world. With time, the port sank to a depth of five meters below sea level. Behind the port, Herod constructed arched storehouses, which are quite well preserved.
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