Caesarea

Caesarea is a town in Israel on the outskirts of Caesarea Maritima, the ancient port city. It is located mid-way between Tel Aviv and Haifa (45 km), on the Israeli Mediterranean coast near the city of Hadera. Modern Caesarea as of December 2007 has a population of 4,500 people, and is the only Israeli locality managed by a private organization, the Caesarea Development Corporation, and also one the most populous localities not recognized as a local council. It lies under the jurisdiction of the Hof HaCarmel Regional Council.


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Caesarea is believed to have been built on the ruins of Stratonospyrgos (Straton`s Tower), founded by Stratton of Sidon. It was probably an agricultural storehouse in its earliest configuration. In 90 BCE, Alexander Jannaeus captured Stratton’s Tower as part of his policy of developing the shipbuilding industry and enlarging the Hasmonean kingdom. Stratton’s Tower remained a Jewish city for two generations, until the Roman conquest of 63 BCE when the Romans declared it an autonomous city.
The pagan city underwent vast changes under Herod the Great, who renamed it Caesarea in honor of the emperor. In 22 BCE he began construction of a deep sea harbor and built storerooms, markets, wide roads, baths, temples to Rome and Augustus, and imposing public buildings. Every five years the city hosted major sports competitions, gladiator games, and theatrical productions.

Caesarea also flourished during the Byzantine period. In the 3rd century the Jewish sages exempted the city from Jewish commandments as by this time the majority of the inhabitants were non-Jewish. The city was chiefly a commercial centre relying on trade. The area was only seriously farmed during the Rashidun Caliphate period, apparently until the Crusader conquest in the eleventh century. Over time, the farms were buried under the sands shifting along the shores of the Mediterranean.

In 1251, Louis IX 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 sultan Baybars, who ordered his troops to scale the walls in several places simultaneously, enabling them to penetrate the city.

Caesarea lay in ruins until the nineteenth century when the village of Qisarya, that was established in 1884 by Muslim immigrants from Bosnia who built a small fishing village on the ruins of the Crusader fortress on the coast. The kibbutz of Sdot Yam was established 1 km south in 1940. Many of Qisarya`s inhabitants left before 1948, when a railway was built bypassing the port, ruining their livelihood. Qisarya had a population of 960 in 1945. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War part of the population fled for fear of attacks, before it was conquered by Jewish forces in February, after which the remaining inhabitants were expelled and the village houses were demolished.

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