You’d think that there’d be no surprises left in a well-trodden archaeological site like Caesarea Port, one of Israel’s most-beloved national parks. Luckily, you’d be wrong.
Extensive renovations at the ancient coastal city that were recently completed not only unearthed new archaeological finds dating back some 2,000 years, but also reconstructed huge underground vaults that serve as the site’s new visitors’ center.
The finds were revealed at the opening ceremony of Caesarea Harbor Visitors Center, which took place on May 29, in the presence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Baroness Ariane de Rothschild, whose Edmond de Rothschild Foundation contributed some $40 million to the extensive, five-year-long renovation.
The port’s vaults were originally constructed by King Herod (74 BCE-4 CE), the king of Judea and founder of the Herodian dynasty, a vassal of the Roman Empire.
Measuring 24 feet high, 69 feet deep and 17 feet wide, the vaults were part of the storage complex at the port and served as the base for the stage of the temple Herod inaugurated in honor of his patron, the Roman Emperor Augustus. The temple was to become the heart of the city, which served as an important East-West junction in the global trade system of the period.
The first find uncovered in the reconstruction digs is a Roman-era mosaic floor, discovered at the site of a bathhouse and relocated to the entrance of the visitor center. The colorful, geometrically patterned mosaic was part of a building that served public or ritual purposes and was probably erected in the 2nd or 3rd century CE.
A second find is a Byzantine-era, fifth century CE mosaic bearing a Greek inscription that reads “He who knows all is saved and blessed.” The inscription was found at the entrance to one of the many warehouses in the port and was probably aimed at warehouse workers and sailors.
At the time the inscription was laid down, Caesarea was one of the biggest ports in the Byzantine Empire. The digs’ findings demonstrate evidence of trade with Greece, Turkey, Italy and even England.
The third find is a treasure of some 500 bronze coins dating to the fourth to sixth century CE, which was unearthed as one of the vaults was uncovered. The treasure was likely buried in a leather bag or some other biodegradable material that dissolved over the centuries. It was situated under the floorboards of what was a Byzantine-era church building.
“It’s possible that the burial of the coins has to do with the construction of the church complex atop the temple stage, since it’s known that at that period the church also took part in the managerial functions of the city,” explain Peter Gendelman and Uzi Ad, who led the dig on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Overall, the renovation at the port included the preservation and renovation of the ancient synagogue on site, the port’s Roman-era aqueduct and the temple’s vaults and stage. Together with the new visitor center, a new promenade was established along the Crusader-era walls.