New promenade walls and a 700-year-old Crusader market at the Caesarea Harbor were unveiled on June 10 in the Caesarea National Park, in the presence of Baroness Ariane de Rothschild and representatives from funding and cooperating parties.
The project was excavated and reconstructed over 12 months in cooperation with the Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, with a direct investment of NIS 10 million.
The preservation and renovation of the promenade walls, fortifications, towers and the Crusader market will be open to the public, with a visitor’s center opening within the next few months, housed in an original Herodian structure.
Dr. Peter Gendelman, senior archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and head of the Caesarea excavations told Breaking Israel News, “This is one of the largest and most amazing archaeological sites in Israel if not in the whole eastern Mediterranean, including the discovery two years ago of the foundation of the high altar of the temple that King Herod built in Caesarea.”
He said, “What we have done in the last four years has completely changed our idea of the heart of the old city of Caesarea, which started as the largest artificial harbor in the world when it was built and became the capital of the Judean Provence after Jerusalem fell.”
“Caesarea was connected from its beginnings with Jewish rabbis who lived and worked there. Caesarea is mentioned dozens, if not hundreds of times in Mishnah and Talmud, as well as connections with Christianity,” maintained Gendelman, naming Saint Paul who was imprisoned in Caesarea; Cornelius, the first-recorded Roman convert to Christianity in Caesarea just a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion; King Louis IX of France, who fortified the city and ordered the construction of high walls, still standing today.
Caesarea’s history spans over several periods, from the time of Herod until the thirteenth century Crusader era and including the Roman and Byzantine Empires. In addition to the altar of King Herod’s temple that was built 2,000 years ago, fascinating finds have included a first century public fountain, marble statues, columns and pottery, which according to Israel Antiquities Authority Chairman Israel Hasson “will transform this region to be one of a kind in the world.” This initiative, he maintained, will be a springboard for the revelation of magnificent finds yet to be discovered.
Over the past decade, the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation has invested more than NIS 150 million ($42 million) in tourism development and in archaeological excavations of what were formerly sand-covered ruins. The project is one of the largest conservation projects underway in Israel and seeks to develop the area’s beach and public access as well as excavate and restore the Caesarea port, bringing three million tourists by the year 2030.
The Edmond de Rothschild Foundation Vice Chairman, Guy Swersky, said at the opening, “Caesarea offers a new and fascinating discovery every day. The Foundation’s decision to allocate the considerable amount of over NIS 150 million for restoring, preserving, and providing accessibility to the old city and the port make the project the largest of its kind in Israel – and perhaps even in the world.”
“The newly unveiled wall promenade route begins near the southern gate to the Crusader city and continues to the observation tower overlooking the ancient Roman ‘amusement quarter’ in all its glory – with the theater, the hippodrome, the bathhouse, and the reef palace,” said noted Caesarea Development Corporation spokesperson Tal Rabina. “From there, along the top of the walls and beside them, visitors can learn about the period-typical fortification system, before reaching the Crusaders’ market area, located near a covered street – with its experience-inviting atmosphere.”
According to Rabina, “the market affords a look and a whiff of some of the goods displayed by the merchants, conducting vibrant and colorful trade of food, handicrafts, and exotic accessories that the European Crusaders were first exposed to as they rode their horses into the heart of the city, bags filled with gold coins, some of which were discovered in the archeological excavations at the site.”
“The restoration and accessibility works were designed specifically to enable visitors walking the restored promenade to view illustration aids in order to enjoy a genuine glimpse into the glorious past of a city that united religions, cultures, and multiple rulers and conquerors,” said Caesarea Development Corporation CEO Michael Karsenti.
“Along the tour of the fortifications – the walls, moat, and the Crusaders’ market, all built in 1251, during the visit of Louis IX, King of France, who himself took part in the fortification works, visitors can actually step centuries back in time to the Middle Ages and the Crusades. You can touch reconstructed parts of the walls, peer through the embrasures, and the brave-hearted are invited to descend through the mysterious access tunnel that Crusader knights used to access the moat surrounding the fortifications to bring food and ammunition supplies without risking a breach of the walls,” Karsenti added.
On the quarter’s second level, visitors can take in the residential Crusader-built apartments built, decorated with mosaic floors and marble slabs. The Caesarea Development Corporation will soon hold a variety of period-inspired events on the new promenade in a theatrical atmosphere during day and evening hours, with stalls of oil and wine pitchers, fruits, vegetables, and breads – a culinary experience reminiscent of the Crusader cuisine.
Baroness Ariane de Rothschild, Chair of the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, said at the opening of the new promenade, “Caesarea’s Crusaders’ Wall Promenade is not only a tourist attraction, but also another important element in the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation’s social and economic impact on Caesarea, Or Akiva, Jisser al-Zarqa, and the surrounding towns.”
She continued, “the Baron de Rothschild’s family is determined to continue to pursue, as a central partner to the State of Israel, its contribution to the development of Israel in general and of the Caesarea area in particular. Providing access to the promenade and opening the Crusaders’ market also in the evening hours, will upgrade the Israeli tourism product and provide visitors from all over the world with a ‘Caesarea standard’ experience.”
“But for me,” she maintained, “This is much more than a tourist attraction. The NIS 150 million investment of the foundation in the region over the last decade, is yet another important element in the social and economic ‘impact investments,’ which constitute a multiplier of power for development, employment, tourism, education, and empowerment.”
“Israel draws its strength and national resilience from the diversity it encompasses,” she added, maintaining that the power multipliers will recognize Israel’s diversity, creating pioneering leaders.”