Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Trip of a Lifetime! (Day 7)

Thursday, May 5th

Today we went west to the Mediterranean Sea.  Our focus shifted to the Apostles Peter and Paul as we visited the seaside town of Caesarea.  Here the Roman centurion, Cornelius, became the first gentile convert to Christianity (Acts 10) and Paul related his account of his vision on the road to Damascus to King Agrippa while imprisoned waiting to be sent to Rome for trial (Acts 25).  Philip the Deacon also ministered here (Acts 8:40).

In 40 BC, the Roman senate pronounced Herod king of Judea - making him just another one of Rome's many client kings.  But Herod was a man of great vision who wanted nothing less than to copy Rome's glory in this tiny Jewish country.  To that end Herod embarked on an extensive building program unparalleled in the known world.

Herod constructed huge fortified palaces, great temples, amphitheaters and aqueducts - but by far his most ambitious project was the creation of a brand new port city he called Caesarea in honor of his Roman masters.  On the Mediterranean coast, half way between modern Tel Aviv and Haifa, the city arose dressed with all the splendor Herod could muster.  It had a temple dedicated to his mentor, Caesar Augustus, an amphitheater, theater (Caesarea's Roman theater still holds concerts for up to 5,000 spectators), hippodrome, and baths - all clad in imported white marble.  Since Caesarea has no springs, Herod built an aqueduct stretching over nine miles to supply the city.

Meanwhile, despite all the difficulties they encountered, Herod's engineers performed near miracles constructing the harbor.  They employed underwater concrete casting centuries ahead of its time, and even created a unique sluicing system that periodically flushed the harbor to prevent a build up of sand: a problem that continued to plague all other Mediterranean ports for generations.  In just over a decade they had built the largest artificial harbor in the ancient world.  The forty-acre harbor would accomodate 300 ships, much larger than the modern harbor existing today.

Unfortunately, the site Herod had chosen for his new maritime center was not only lacking even a natural bay - but he had placed it on an unstable fault of the Mediterranean shore.  As soon as it was finished, the harbor of Caesarea began to sink.  Today, most of what remains is buried under sand beneath the water.

In 6 AD Rome annexed Judea, and Caesarea became the seat of the Roman governor.  The only archaeological evidence of Pontius Pilate came to light here recently when his name was found carved in stone.

Caesarea saw tragedy when its stadium became the stage for the massacres of thousands of Jews who took part in the revolts against Rome.

In ancient times Caesarea was usually referred to as Caesarea of Palestine.  In modern times, to distinguish this city from Caesarea Philippi, it is known as Caesarea Maritima, which means Caesarea by the sea.

The picture below shows the remains of what used to be Herod's swimming pool at his palace on the shores of the city.  It is in the upper right corner.  It was near Olympic in size, and was filled with fresh water.  A statue once stood in the center.  Paul may have been imprisoned on the grounds of this palace (Acts 23:35).  You can also see the remains of the mosaic tile floor.

Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  It was pretty warm standing out in the sun with no shade to be found.  The water was absolutely gorgeous with different shades of turquoise and blue as it went from shallow to deeper waters - so inviting!  Unfortunately there was not time for a swim.

The water was crystal clear and the most beautiful color!

Here you can see the Hippodrome with all its seating to the right.  The higher seating is gone, but it originally seated 5,000 people.  Can't you just picture the magnificent chariot races here?

 Mark walking through the hippodrome... 

Everything where the grass is growing currently would have been part of the ancient harbor... 

Here Mark and I are standing on the actual steps Paul walked down to reach the harbor below.  These are the actual steps his feet touched - no restoration.  Amazing!!

Mark's parents posing on the steps...

This is the aqueduct built by Herod (37 BC to 4 BC) at the time the new city was founded and dedicated to the Roman Caesar Augustus.  It brought water from the springs at the base of Mount Carmel nearly ten miles away.  In order that the water would flow by the pull of gravity, the aqueduct was built on arches and the gradient was carefully measured.  Later Hadrian and the Crusaders would attach additional channels to Herod's aqueduct.  The aqueduct continued to supply water for 1200 years.

We spent about 45 minutes down on the beach here, walking in the water, collecting sea shells, and just enjoying the beauty of the Mediterranean.

 From Caesarea we traveled to Bethlehem.  Bethlehem is located only 5 miles south of Jerusalem.  Just before entering the city we passed the fields (now mostly covered in the housing you see below) where Ruth of the Old Testament recounts the unfolding story of her love with Boaz.  Their son Obed became the grandfather of King David who was born and first anointed in Bethlehem 3,000 years ago (1 Samuel 16:13).
 To the east of Bethlehem is the location of the Shepherds' Field, where the first people on earth received the good news of the birth of Christ.  Even today local shepherds can be seen tending their flocks in this same area (even on Christmas Eve!).

As we were driving into the city of Bethlehem we saw the sign below, declaring that Israeli citizens were not allowed into the city.  Bethlehem belongs to the Palestinians.  A big wall was built years ago to keep terrorists from coming in to bomb Israeli lands.  They say the wall has cut down on much of this.

One of the Palestinian locals of Bethlehem...we saw so many women with this amazing talent!

Another local in her burka...

Here we entered the Church of the Nativity, built over the traditional site of the manger where Jesus Christ was born.  The church was built in 326 AD.  It is the oldest standing church in the Holy Land.

These 12th century mosaics decorate the walls of the church.  On a gold background they portray the forebears of Jesus and the first seven ecumenical councils.

Underneath the present floor are beautiful tile mosaics of the earlier 4th century church.

Also housed in the Church of the Nativity is the Church of St. Catherine which was built in 1881.  Seen around the world every Christmas Eve, the traditional Midnight Mass is broadcast from the Church of St. Catherine. 

When we went downstairs under the church we were met with a series of several caves.  We know from a modern day prophet that this cave (the one with the mural pictured below) is the actual site of Christ's birth.  Many houses in the area are built in front of caves.  A cave could serve a household well by providing shelter for the animals or a place of storage.

The Spirit was so strong as we sang Christmas carols here.

The next two pictures below show two other caves next to the one above.

As we left the caves we came out into a courtyard.  We found a spot to sit and proceeded to sing some more Christmas carols.  As we sang "Silent Night" this group of people stopped to listen, then asked if they could sing it to us in their language.  It was so beautiful and extremely touching!

The picture above is of the wall as we were leaving Bethlehem into Israeli territory.  After leaving here we were on our way to our first glimpse of Jerusalem!  So exciting!  While in Jerusalem we stayed at the beautiful Olive Tree Hotel.

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