Caesarea (Hebrew: קיסריה) was built by Herod the Great about 25-13 BCE as the port city of Caesarea Maritima. It is located on the Mediterranean coast, between Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Caesarea was originally called Straton’s Tower after its founder Straton. In 96 BCE the city was captured by Alexander Yannai and remained in the Hasmonean kingdom until it became an autonomous city by Pompey.
After being for some time in the possession of Cleopatra, ruler of Egypt, it was returned by Augustus to Herod.
Herod built Caesarea into the grandest city other than Jerusalem in Palestine, with a deep-sea harbor, aqueduct, hippodrome and magnificent amphitheater that remain standing today. Herod renamed the city Caesarea in honor of the emperor. The city remained the capital of Roman and Byzantine Palestine.
The Great Revolt of 66-70 CE started in Caesarea when the Jewish and Syrian communities began fighting over a pagan ceremony conducted on Shabbat near the entrance of a synagogue. The Romans ignored the Jewish protests of this provocation and violence soon spread throughout the country. When the Romans finally quelled the revolt and razed Jerusalem, Caesarea became the capital of Palestine, a status it maintained until the Roman Empire was Christianized by Emperor Constantine in 325 CE.
In 640 CE, Caesarea was the last Palestinian city to fall to the Muslim invaders.
Under the Crusader rule, the Jewish community of Caesarea dwindled until in 1170 only 20 Jews remained. From 1251-1252, the city was entirely reconstructed by Louis IX.
In 1265, Caesarea fell to Baybars, the Mamluk sultan of Egypt, who destroyed the city, which remained in ruins until 1884. In 1884, a small fishing village was established on the remains at Caesarea by Muslim refugees from Bosnia. The city was abandoned by its inhabitants during the War of Independence in 1948.
Today, Caesarea is one of Israel’s major tourist attractions and an increasingly popular place for Israel’s elite to make their homes.