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Modern Caesarea still reflects Herod's reign

AKIKO INOUE
Last updated 07:06 20/09/2013
Israel Landscape
Akiko Inoue

PORT CITY: These ruins are some of the attractions in Caesarea, Israel, where remains date to the reign of Herod, who became King of the Jews in the year 37 BC.

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Caesarea, a small town in central Israel on the Mediterranean Sea known for its upscale neighbourhoods, was built two millenia ago as a port city at the command of Herod the Great, the Rome-appointed king of Judea.

Ruins of the man-made harbour still stand today, and though an earthquake once left most of the breakwater below the water's surface, the remains about 500 meters away reveal the grand scale of the undertaking.

The town's historic park includes the ruins of a palace with beautiful mosaic floors, an amphitheatre and a stadium for chariot races, which offer a taste of the flourishing New Testament era when the city was built.

"It's said that there was once anchorage for 1,000 ships," said Oren Dov, a local tour guide.

Surrounding the harbour, the ruins of the city are a valuable reminder of the legacy of "Herod the Builder."

Born during the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled Judea during the first and second centuries BC, Herod was descended from a people who had been converted to Judaism.

Through strong ties with Rome, Herod made a name for himself as the Hasmonean dynasty faded.

He was elected King of the Jews by the Roman Senate in the year 37 BC and he ruled until his death, after which Rome divided the territory among three of his sons.

Herod is almost universally portrayed as a cruel and jealous king.

Many believe that when he learned of the birth of Jesus, who would become king of the Jews, he ordered all infant boys put to death.

He is also said to have murdered his wife, three sons and mother-in-law during an internal feud. "No Jew would name a child Herod, nor would that name be given to a street or building," Dov said.

But as an architectural visionary, Herod was glorious.

Ruins of the architectural projects he spearheaded are scattered across Israel and the West Bank, which include the Temple in Jerusalem and the fortifications at Masada.

According to Silvia Rozenberg, 64, of the Israel Museum, "[As a builder,] Herod the Great changed the landscape of this area."

Today's Israel was then under the control of the Roman Empire.

Herod distinguished himself as a provincial governor under the Hasmonean dynasty and was heavily indebted to Rome for the establishment of his own power base.

Herod was backed by Octavius, who would become Augustus, the first Roman emperor, and successfully balanced the demands of being both king of the Jews and a Roman citizen.

The influence of Rome is visible - his architectural projects were all executed in the Roman style and the name Caesarea is derived from Augustus' full name.

While Herod needed to maintain favour with Rome, "He probably tried to create employment through construction to win support as a king who served the needs of the people," Rozenberg said.

During Herod's rule of more than 30 years, Judea saw no major wars, and it seems possible that he was trying to clean up his image as a brutal king through such an abundance of magnificent architecture.

Walking among the ruins of Caesarea - its harbour, residences, warehouses, recreational facilities and temples - one gets a sense of a complex city plan featuring structures designed for a variety of functions.

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The port's foundation, which was constructed under water using cement - a first at the time - stands out as a product of practicality and technological innovation. Herod appears to have been bold but flexible in his ideas.

It took 12 years to build Caesarea, and Herod is said to have paid countless visits to construction sites.

One can picture Herod standing before the city as it neared completion, dreaming of glory for the Jews, vowing to leave behind a symbol of his rule.

- The Washington Post

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