Summer is the time of year when many Jews from the United States and around the world visit Israel. This summer, visitors will have something new to behold.
On June 10, new promenade walls and a 700-year-old Crusader market at the Caesarea Harbor were unveiled in Caesarea National Park in Israel in the presence of Baroness Ariane de Rothschild, and various representatives from funding and cooperating parties.
The project was excavated and reconstructed in the course of 12 months in cooperation with the Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, with a direct investment of about $2.8 million. It seeks to develop the area’s beach and public access, as well as excavate and restore the Caesarea port, bringing 3 million tourists by the year 2030.
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, housed in an original Herodian structure, opening within the next few months.
“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,” said Peter Gendelman, senior archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority and head of the Caesarea excavations.
Caesarea 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,” Gendelman said.
The city’s history spans several periods, from the time of Herod until the 13th-century Crusader era, as well as the Roman and Byzantine Empires. In addition to the altar of King Herod’s temple built 2,000 years ago, fascinating discoveries at the site 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 said, will serve as a springboard for the revelation of magnificent finds yet to be revealed.
The recent opening occurs in the context of a $42 million investment in the past decade by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, with the goal of developing the Caesarea tourism industry and funding archaeological excavations of what were formerly sand-covered ruins.
“These 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.
Caesarea Development Corporation spokesperson Tal Rabina said “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. From there, along the top of the walls and beside them, visitors can learn about the period-typical fortification system before reaching the Crusader market area.”
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.”
Karsenti added that “you can touch reconstructed parts of the walls and 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.”
On the quarter’s second level, visitors can take in the residential Crusader-built apartments, decorated with mosaic floors and marble slabs. The Caesarea Development Corporation will soon hold a variety of period-inspired events on the new promenade.
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.
She added that giving access to the promenade and Crusader market will upgrade Israeli tourism and provide visitors a “Caesarea standard” experience.
“But for me,” she stated, “this is much more than a tourist attraction. The 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.” JN