Sunday, March 1, 2009

Holy Land Trip Day 7: West Coast of Israel

After spending another night in Nazareth, and picking up our rental car (which we had left parked at the hotel there, which was, incredibly, easier and just as cheap as renting a second car upon our return to Israel), we left early and drove to the west coast, to the town of Akko

Akko is more famous by its earlier name, Acre, and is probably best known as the last stronghold of the Crusaders to withstand Arab conquest. It provided a port through which the Crusaders could communicate with and receive supplies from Europe. Saladin conquered it at one point, but Richard the Lionheart recaptured it and it was the last of the Crusader outposts to fall. It was also important under the Ottomans, and one of its proudest moments came when the Ottoman governor Ahmed Pasha el-Jazzar was able to withstand a vicious siege by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799.

It is a very pleasant city. We spent all of our time in the Old City, which is surounded by high walls. Our main goal was to visit the Crusader city, which preserves remains of the Crusader fortress (heavily restored), including halls of individual orders of knights, as well as a large refectory where it is very likely that Marco Polo at one time dined.


You can also walk quite a long distance through an underground Crusader tunnel, with water rushing past beneath your feet.

We also enjoyed walking along the walls of the Old City, which are the original Cursader walls, rebuilt and further fortified under the Ottomans. There are signs along the way indicating where decisive moments in the defeat of Napoleon took place.

It was also very pleasant to walk along the sea here and imagine what it must have been like to live here during Crusader times, watching for reinforcements and supplies to arrive from Europe.



We also had a great lunch here, at a place that serves nothing but hummus (it's called Humous Sa'eid and is found in the bustling old covered market in the Old City). There was a line out the door. Actually, out two doors, one on either side of the business, but it moved quickly and we ate the best hummus I have ever had in my life, elbow to elbow with tourists, locals, and Israeli soldiers.

From Akko our plan was to drive on down the coast to the site of Roman Caesarea. This entailed passing through Haifa, and although there is much to see in that city, such as Mt. Carmel, we had decided we did not have time to stop. Fate had other plans, however, and as we found ourselves more and more lost and disoriented trying to "pass through," I suddenly looked up from the map and realized that we were passing one of the most important landmarks of the city: the gorgeous Baha'i Temple and Gardens. This is the headquarters of the Baha'i faith. One of our fellow Fellows here at the RCAC is Baha'i, and had suggested that we see it. When we told him we did not think we had time, he was a bit disappointed. So we were happy to pull over, take some photos, and show him when we got back that, like it or not, we had seen the site! It is incredibly beautifully landscaped:

We finally found our way out of Haifa and back onto the main highway south along the coast. We arrived at the site of Caesarea Maritima (Caesarea on the Sea) in plenty of time to get in and look around. We had heard wonderful things about the site from Asa, another Fellow, who has excavated there. We had also eagerly read up on it.


Caesarea was founded by Herod the Great on the site of an earlier Phoenician port, and he built many magnificent buildings there. The most important of his projects was a spectacular harbor (built between approximately 22 and 9 BC), constructed where there was no natural breakwater. It was a marvel of construction, using poured concrete put into place by divers (the Romans had devised a mixture of concrete that could harden underwater). Fun fact: the term for professional divers in Latin was "urinatores" because they spent so much time underwater without bothering to come out that they...well, we'll let you figure the rest out.

The harbor largely sanK over the course of centuries, and although it was described in ancient texts, archaeologists doubted for a long time that the Roman engineers had been capable of executing a feat of its magnitude. Eventually, however, underwater archaeologists did prove that the ancient descriptions were correct. Those with diving certifications can now swim amongst the ruins and check the construction out for themselves.

Famous historical figures who hailed from Caesarea include Eusebius (the historian and friend of Constantine the Great), and one of the most important Church Fathers, Origen. Caesarea also figures prominently in several New Testament passages, including the story of the centurion Cornelius (Acts 10). We also know that Philip the Evangelist lived here for a time (Acts 21), and that it was here where Paul was confined by Herod for awhile before requesting to invoke his right as a Roman citizen to be tried in Rome before the emperor (who had him executed) (Acts 23).

In many ways, the site of Caesarea was very disappointing, though. In recent years it has been made into a "destination" that has nothing to do with archaeology.


Shops, restaurants, bars, and boutiques have been opened amongst the ruins, and trendy Israelis were walking their dogs in the Roman hippodrome:

A tad bit deflated, we made our way back to the main gate to leave and discovered that we were locked in!


Apparently we had missed the exit time, and the staff had closed up shop. There was one young staffer still outside, but she had no keys. Unlike at most sites, there was no revolving gate that will let you out but not back in. We had two choices: walk up the beach for a few miles to the far northern edge of the site, or climb the fence. Climb it was!

Before leaving the site, we drove north along the beach to see one of the other engineering marvels of the site: a dual aquaduct. If you look closely at the pictures, you can see that what looks like one construction is really two. Apparently, Herod constructed the first (on the left), and the emperor Hadrian later doubled its capacity by building a second flush against it. This is not found anywhere else in the Roman world (to my knowledge), and survives here for a great distance, running along a popular beach.


After leaving Caesarea we drove back to Ben Gurion airport to return our car and catch a shuttle to our final destination, Jerusalem! The shuttle ride in was quite interesting. I had always picture arriving to the Old City of Jerusalem as some sort of mystical experience, but suddenly here we were driving in a madly swerving van full of an interesting mix of people -- European tourists, a Hasidic Jew who looked completely traditional and local, but pulled out his cell phone and made a call with a thick New York accent. Barreling through the traffic of modern Jerusalem with Stevie Wonder's "Part-time Lover" blaring on the radio, it was not QUITE what I had always imagined. But once we were finished driving around trying to find the home of the sister of one of the elderly Jewish ladies on the van (she could only remember that her sister's house was "old"!), we were finally dropped off outside the Jaffa Gate, tired and a bit shell-shocked, and walked into the Old City around midnight to find the monastery where we would be staying. Tomorrow we would see Jerusalem!


Anonymous said...

dear Candy, Foy has just caught up on all your blogs. He has really gotten a lot of information. He is wondering what kind of food he might get in Burger King and MacDonald's. I am wondering how you got over the fence. Thankfully you had a big strong guy with you. Love you,nonnie

Candace said...


The food at Burger King is more or less the same here (in Turkey) and in Israel as it is in the States -- we have not been to a MacDonald's believe it or not! The main difference at Burger King is that there is a falafel (chickpea) burger, or sometimes just a "bean burger" on the menu.

Climbing the fence at Caesarea was a neat trick. You can see that it has spikes on the top. We went right beside the main gate, and used the post of the gate to help get up and over. I could barely, BARELY make it!