There are actually two cities that share the name of Caesarea. One is located near springs that feed the Jordan River and the other is Caesarea Maritima, that is found along the shores of the Mediterranean. This Caesarea was a port constructed by King Herod the Great. From its earliest times, it was predominantly a Roman settlement with a Gentile majority. In 6AD when the Romans took full control, it eventually became their capital.
Caesarea is a significant site in Christian history because this is where Pontius Pilate governed during the time that Jesus walked on earth. Today it’s known as a town on the Mediterranean coast where you can find the Caesarea National Park. Here, a Roman amphitheater and the remains of Herod’s palace are present, the same place where Paul was kept prisoner for over two years. We will explore a little about Paul, his time in Caesarea and what to expect if visiting modern day Caesarea.
The Apostle Paul
Paul, whose first name was Saul, was a devout Jew who unabashedly persecuted the early followers of Christ. His name was later changed to Paul when he had a revelation that convicted him of the truth of Jesus Christ and from here, spent the rest of his life spreading the news of Christ the Savior; writing various letters to different church congregations around the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Paul in Caesarea
Prior to arriving in Caesarea, Paul traveled to Jerusalem where he was soon arrested by Roman troops and escorted out of the city. Upon landing in Caesarea, he appeared before the Roman governor and was kept under guard for five days at Herod’s Palace where he awaited trial. He was accused by the Jews of public disorder in Jerusalem because he was believed to have brought Gentiles into the inner courts of the temple which was considered a capital offense.
Once trial proceeded, Paul defends himself and admits that he is a follower of Jesus; presenting a powerful speech before Governor Felix, Festus and King Agrippa but still ends up under house arrest by the governor as he felt further evidence was needed. As to what happened over the two years of his imprisonment, many argue over the exact details but it is believed that this is the time when Paul wrote the four epistles.
Outside of Paul’s trial and imprisonment, Caesarea is also the site known for Paul baptizing the Roman centurion Cornelius who was the first gentile to convert to Christianity, as well as being the place where Paul set off to preach the good news in communities all over the Mediterranean region prior to his two years of imprisonment.
Modern Day Caesarea
Modern day Caesarea is a diamond in the rough with much to offer. Its well engineered structures are why sites like the seacoast theater still remain to this day. If you stand in the center of the seacoast theater and speak normally, those sitting in the surrounding seats can still hear you clearly. That’s pretty impressive!
If your visit takes you along the shores of the beach near the sea palace of Pontius Pilate, you will find a hippodrome where one can learn about Roman horse races. Here you will also learn of how this amphitheater was used to feed Christians and Jews to the lions. Some of the unpleasant stories of history’s past. A Roman administrative center, bathhouse, public toilet, moat and fortress are also among the structures that still remain in this area. The most impressive though, is the port built by King Herod called the Sebastos. It was the largest seaport on the eastern Mediterranean made from volcanic ash called pozzolana.
In conclusion, today, modern day Caesarea is a bustling city of upper class community and a popular vacation spot. Boutiques and restaurants nestle themselves amongst the archeological remains, making Caesarea a visual storybook as old stones come to life and tell of times past.