Caesarea

Caesarea, a city located on the shore of the Mediterranean halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, combines a rich history with natural beauty. Situated on a series of small bays capable of sheltering fishing boats, Caesarea's story begins in the third century BC, when it was a Phoenician port village named Stratonospyrgos (Straton's Tower, founded by Straton I of the Phoenician city Sidon). The port was a regular supply stopover for maritime traffic running between Egypt to Syria.

In 96 BC the Hasmonean ruler, Alexander Yannai, annexed the village to the Hasmonean Kingdom of Israel (an independent Jewish state that managed to exist in the short "seam" between the decline of the Hellenistic civilization and the rise of ancient Rome; the Hasmonean Kingdom survived for 103 years, 140 - 37 BC, before yielding to the Herodian Dynasty in 37 BC). Thirty-three years later it was incorporated into the Roman province of Syria. A generation later, in 22 BC, Augustus Caesar returned it to Herod the Great, founder of the Herodian dynasty.

Herod (King of Judea, 37 BC to 4 CE) erected his kingdom's main port city along the Mediterranean shore in Caesaria, named in honor of the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar.
Josephus Flavius, in his book "Antiquities of the Jews", records how Herod "planned a magnificent city there, and adorned it with sumptuous places. He built a theatre of stone, and in the south quarter, an amphitheatre holding a vast number." Herod also built a big deep sea harbor that was the second largest port city in the ancient Roman Empire. As clearly shown in aerial photos, the size of the small harbor in Caesarea today is just a fraction of the size of the ancient harbor (approx. 200,000 sq. meters of protected anchorage area), which is now in ruins underwater after sinking 5-7 meters due to nearby geological faults. Herod's majestic city was named Caesarea in honor of the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar.

After Herod's death, Caesarea developed into a Roman town. Continual clashes between the Roman overlords and the influential Jewish community of Caesarea culminated in the revolt of 66 CE, which spread throughout the country. Jerusalem and the Temple fell in 70 CE, when Rome made Caesarea its capital for the province of Judea. Simon Bar Kochba's unavailing rebellion of 132 - 135 CE had its reverberations in Caesarea, where Rabbi Akiva and his companions, supporters of Bar Kochba, were tortured to death in the city's dungeons.

Herod built the first aqueduct in Caesarea which carried water to the city from the springs on the edge of Mount Carmel and Ramot Menashe. The Latin inscriptions found on the aqueduct indicate that the Romans continued its development and maintenance. Part of the aqueduct, which passes over sand dunes, is supported by a line of stone arches and the rest, which passes through hilly terrain, is in an underground tunnel.

As Judea's capital, Caesarea prospered, and in the following centuries Talmudic sages lived in the city side by side with famous Christian scholars. Caesarea was the largest Roman city in the land of Israel from the time of Herod until it was captured by the Muslims in the 7th century CE. It continued to be a large town until King Baldwin of Jerusalem, from the Crusaders, captured it in 1101 and turned it into a fortified citadel. For 165 years it was one of the main Crusader coastal strongholds, with a dry-moat, a huge wall and gates, churches, streets and houses, still visible today. Beybars, the Mameluke sultan, attacked and destroyed the city in 1265, leaving it in ruins.

For nearly 700 years, Caesarea was deserted and its broken aqueducts were creating disease-ridden marshes in the surrounding area. In the last 70 years the situation has changed completely. Kibbutz Sdot Yam was founded there in 1940 and the nearby town of Or Akiva in 1951. Modern Caesarea has developed into one of Israel's most upscale residential communities, where many business tycoons from Israel and abroad maintain villas. Caesarea remains today the only locality in Israel managed by a private organization rather than a municipal government - The Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Development Corporation, the operational arm of the Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Foundation.

Nowadays, Caesarea is a magnet for visitors from Israel and tourists from abroad who stream in to enjoy the sandy beaches, wander through the Crusader town and along the Byzantine market-place with its Greek inscription and porphyry statues, trace the Roman aqueducts, listen to music in the restored Herod's amphitheatre, eat out dinner while enjoying the sunset, play golf in Israel's only 18 hole golf course, visit the Ralli museum of contemporary Latin-American art, or just gaze across the water and picture Herod's harbor, where "on either side of the harbor-mouth rose three colossal statues standing on pillars." (Josephus Flavius, "Wars of the Jews").

The stamp was issued in 2011, one in a series featuring Herod’s building projects. Designers: Meir Eshel, Tuvia Kurtz. The stamp depicts the city and harbor in Herod's time. The stamp's tab shows an aerial photo of the ancient port area today which is part of the Caesaria National Park.

The previous stamp (shown with the Hebrew articles) was issued in 1967, one in a series of 3 stamps featuring the ancient ports of Israel. Design: O. Adler.