Caesarea Israel from Roman Gladiators to Peace?

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on January 15, 2013 0 Comments

Caesarea is a small, very well-to-do town and extensive archaeological site on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, located some 50 km north of Tel Aviv and several km north of Hadera. The current population is 4,200. Beyond the ancient remains, Caesarea is a town devoted to tourists and to luxurious living. Some of Israels’ finest homes are located here and it is also home of Israel’s only 18-hole golf course, a luxury hotel, a vacation village, miles of sandy beaches, and a series of attractive restaurants, galleries and boutiques.  And, of course, visitors marvel at its extraordinary archaeological attractions, not least of which is the Roman theatre, where concerts, entertainment extravaganzas and the annual International Opera Festival are held. I love to visit the city which offers ancient Roman ruins and Israel’s only golf course. Golf and jazz are my two favorite hobbies.

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Baron Edmond James de Rothschild purchased much of the land around Caesarea – with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Rothschild family gifted these holdings to the Caesarea Foundation. The Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Development Corporation remains the operational arm of the Rothschild Foundation.

Are you a fan of Roman history? Yes, Caesarea is city that Herod the Great dedicated to Caesar the great two thousand years ago..

Settlement at what became Caesarea, on Israel’s central Mediterranean coast began in the third century BCE by the early Greeks. The population of “Straton’s Tower” remained Jewish until the Romans conquest in 63 BCE, when they granted the city its freedom. King Herod the Great transformed the city beginning in 22 BCE with the construction of its sophisticated port, warehouses, markets, great streets, bathhouses, temples and magnificent public buildings, naming it Caesarea. Every five years the city hosted gladiatorial games, sports competitions and performances.

Caesarea is an important site in Christian history. It was the place where Pontius Pilate governed during the time of Jesus. This was where Simon Peter converted the Roman, Cornelius, the first non-Jew to believe in Jesus.  During the 3rd century, Caesarea was a center of Christian learning. In the 4th century, the site converted to Christianity and became a major center of the Christian Roman Empire.

In 640 CE, Caesarea was the last Palestinian city to fall to the Muslim invaders. After the Muslims swept out of Arabia and across the Middle East, driving out the Romans, Palestine was largely neglected. In 1101, the Crusaders captured the city under the leadership of Baldwin I, only to lose it in 1187 to Saladin. Under the Crusader rule, the Jewish community of Caesaria 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 (1948).

The city that sadly has such a history of suffering and violence is now one of peace and tranquility.

I have been blessed to participate in interfaith activities in Israel by the Catholic Focolare. The Focolare Movement is an international organization that promotes the ideals of unity and universal brotherhood. The Focolare Movement operates in 182 nations and has five million members. It is the largest Catholic outreach movement in the world. Here in the Holy Land, Run4Unity was held May 13 in the natural landscape and archaeology of Caesarea Maritima, with more than 400 boys and girls between 12 to 17 years old, from the Palestinian territories and cities of Israel participating in games to promote peace. Christians, Muslims and Jews enjoyed the beautiful scenery and spirit of brotherhood participating in a variety of games.

Children of different races, cultures and religions will run together, through significant places on the planet, to show their commitment to peace and solidarity.

I was one of the “security guards”. My primary duty was to urge both the kids and their families not to wade into the calm and beautiful Mediterranean waters. I volunteered to be one of the security guards during the period of time prior to the beginning of the organized events. I happened to hear three of the young people communicating with each other in perfect English. They were dressed in the uniforms of the activity. Participation from English speaking countries is rare in this region. I asked them where they were from and they answered in unison and with great pride that “We are Palestinians from Ramallah.” Then they proceeded to tell me that they had lived in Indiana for many years, which explained their wonderful grasp of English. We discussed in length my favorite topic, which of course is food. We all reminisced about Mexican Food, Wendy’s, barbecue spare ribs, and of course McDonald’s burgers.

They proceeded to add this statement; “We have visited Haifa which is a primitive place”. I hesitated and thought it best not to respond. The rules of these activities strongly admonish political discussions. They quickly added to my relief that “You do not have KFC in Haifa”, with great glee. KFC opened a branch in Ramallah in February becoming the first American fast food chain to directly open a location in the Palestinian territories. We proceeded to eat Pizza, drink Coca Cola, and enjoy the wonderful event. Food is indeed the universal language. The youth enjoyed a series of beachfront sports activities, drank Pepsi, ate pizza and most importantly enjoyed the sense of brotherhood. Sadly, since the activity took place fighting once again erupted between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza. Fortunately Ramallah was not involved in the battles, but I now have friends in Gaza as well. I know many Israeli  kids who served during the warfare. How far have we come from the days of the Romans and the gladiators? I feel reassured to know that people from both sides of the border are seeking ways to live in peace through dialogue. Let us hope that they succeed.

About the Author ()

I am a retired American immigrant to Haifa Israel, I worked in the social service field in Colorado, my passion in life is promoting interfaith harmony and eating.

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