This morning we boarded our tour bus and made our way up the coast until we reached Caesarea National Park. Originallly built sometime between 586 -332BCE, this settlement would later be awarded to King Harrod after the Roman Conquest in 30 BCE. King Harrod would take what was a small settlement and turn it into a major complex alongside the harbor and named it Caesarea in honor of his patron Octavian Augustus Caesar. This was a huge city complete with theater, markets, a residential area, a horse racing stadium, and roman baths. It took 12 years to complete. By 6 BCE it would be the main headquarters of the Roman Empire in Palestine. Israel is still working on uncovering parts of this incredible city that was all but lost under the sand over the thousands of years since its heyday. This city is amazing to walk through as you try to fathom a civilization that lived so long ago and yet so much of the city has been preserved.
Along with the city, the Romans also built a long sturdy aqueduct that would bring water to the land from a neighboring spring. The aqueduct stretches for 10 miles and has an almost imperceptible down slope of 20 cm for every kilometer. Today the aqueduct stands overlooking the brilliant blue waters while families play on the beach and seek shade under one of the many arches.
The next place we ventured to was to Tel Megiddo National Park. This is an archeology site where 30 different civilizations built on the ruins of those before them. This spot is along the green furtile land that acts as a crossroads along the only route between Egypt and what was Mesopotamia. So to own this land meant owning the trade route and owning the water that fed the land. Because it was so sought after people having been fighting to claim this land for thousands of years. With each new wave of victors, they would build their city on top of the city of taken until there are the different cities stacked on top of each other. Archeologists have been studying these layers, peeling away a small part of one while still leaving as much of the integrity as possible. But there is another claim to this land, that of being the place of Armageddon. The Bible talks about a great war at the last days where armies will all clash together in a battle marking the end of the world. And with such a history of violence and power over this valley, it’s easy to understand why this would be the place of the final battle bringing with it the end of days. We took the steep winding stairs down to the bottom where the water spring is and then out through a long tunnel. Because water was such a powerful asset to have and that is what made the valley so desirable, civilizations would go to great lengths to protect the water spring by camouflaging the entrance. There are 183 steps that go down however to get back up will only take 77 steps. It was absolutely mind blowing to consider the 30 different civilizations that lived here on this hill, constantly building on top of each other, and how well preserved a history it is.
Our last stop of the day was at a hilltop Jewish town called Safed. Safed was built by the Crusaders in 1168. But the city fell into decline until during the Ottoman Empire, Jews from Europe began coming to this hill top looking to create their own place. It became one of the Four Holy Cities of Judaism. Today Safed is a popular place to visit where people love exploring the winding narrow streets and seeing the different shops and the art displayed along the main thoroughfare. We were disappointed that we could not go in the synagogue there, tucked away in a small corner of the main street as it was. But just getting to walk through the small streets was delightful and beautiful.