Caesarea: A city where modernity and antiquity exist side by side and are set in front of the bright blue waters of the Mediterranean. It is one of the most gorgeous places I have seen in Israel (and that is saying something), and it is steeped in history like you wouldn't believe. True, most of the places in Israel have fascinating histories that date back from the time of the Old Testament up through Roman Rule, Byzantine Rule, Ottoman Rule, Muslim Rule, British Rule, and so on, however, in most of those cities, restoration and modernity have altered the settings quite a bit. In Caesarea, however, you can stand in the actual ruins of the great Roman city free from the influences of any kind of re-build or restoration.
When I previously stated that Caesarea was a place where modernity and antiquity live side by side, I was not being facetious. Right across the way from the ruins (pictured above) was this gorgeous, sea-view cafe, which, if I might add, had AMAZING food.
When Dana, Russ, and I first entered the ancient city I was awe struck looking at these huge ruined structures surrounded by lush, green grass and various types of trees. The greenery brought life to an utterly lifeless place, and that contrast was so profoundly beautiful. The fact that we were allowed in and on the ruins made the experience different from any that I have had so far, and you have an entirely different experience when you can walk on, touch, and see these places up close and personal as opposed to merely observing them from afar.
As we progressed through the ruined city typical Roman archways and columns became more and more abundant, and, for the most part, were very well preserved. When we reached the middle of the city we came upon the communal bath houses which must have been made up of the most beautiful stone and tile, some of which was still present and in good condition. To think that we were standing on the same floors, altered only by the natural effects of "time", that were once so popular and filled with people was truly incredible. The view of the Mediterranean in front of us wasn't bad either ;-)
After seeing some of the ruins, and eating a delicious lunch, we went to see a film on the history of Caesarea, and were shown a 20 minute presentation on the evolution of the city from the time of the Roman rule to the present. The film went over the different eras that were significant in the shaping of the city (namely the Roman era, Byzantine Era, Muslim era, and the present time), and gave a short presentation on the different types of architecture. During the Roman rule a great temple was erected in honor of the goddess Rome and Caesar, during the Byzantine rule the temple of Rome was destroyed to make way for a great Church, during the Muslim era the church was ruined and in its place was erected a great Mosque, and in the present day, unfortunately, only bits and pieces of rock and stone remain where once stood these incredible structures.
After the presentation we went back to the ruins to see the great Roman theater that was built in the middle of the city. To this day they still use it as an entertainment venue, and you can find concerts and shows being performed in the ancient theater almost weekly. I think when I become a famous American, Jewish, Arabic singer I'll perform there too :-) Hey, might as well dream big! As they say in Israel: "Lama Lo!" (why not).
When we left the theater we walked back past, what we later found out was, an old Bosnian Mosque. Apparently Bosnian Muslims sought refugee in Caesarea during conflicted times in their country, which happened to be during the Muslim period of rule in Caesarea, and they remained there up until the war of independence in 1948. When war broke out they fled back to their country. It was a very fascinating part of Caesarea's history that I had absolutely no idea about.
By this time we had been in the hot sun for 5 hours or more, and we were all tired, sweaty, hot, and ready to head back into Tel Aviv. Being that today is Friday everything closes and stops running early because of Shabbat so we had to make sure we gave ourselves enough time to make the last train back home. Luckily we had Russ with us because our cab driver was Russian, so between the Hebrew that Dana and I know, and Russ's fluency in Russian, we were able to get to where we needed to be just in time! We hopped on the last bus and and hour and a half or so later we were back in Tel Aviv. Going to Caesarea was an amazing way to ring in the Sabbath, and now, due to general exhaustion (caused by extreme heat and lack of decent sleep) I'm going to make full use of the "day of rest" to do just that... rest. I'm down to my last two weeks of ulpan and then I'm making my big move to East Jerusalem! I want to be feeling 100% when that happens.
Until Tomorrow. Masa Il'Cher w Shabbat Shalom <3,