Saturday, May 3, 2008

Israel Tour 2008 - Part 4

Amphitheater in Ceasarea
This is Part 4 of my account of our tour to Israel with The National Christian Choir.  This entry begins with our visit to Ceasarea by the Sea.  To start at the beginning, click here.  All my Israel pictures and videos are in the photo gallery under Vacations and Trips, then 2008 Israel.

Day 3 - Ceasarea by the Sea

From Joppa, we drove about 30 minutes (if I remember right) to Ceasarea.  It took Peter a day to make the same trip.  I didn't think I'd be one to be terribly fascinated by ruins, but Ceasarea really captured my imagination.  Today it is in ruins, with portions being reconstructed, but from what was still there, I thought you could get a feeling for what the town must have looked and felt like.  And I think it would have been another town that I wouldn't have minded living in - maybe I'm just a sucker for the ocean (or here, technically, the sea).

Back of the amphiteater

Old port

Approaching the palace ruins

As we walked in, we saw the back side of the amphitheater.  You can't really see how tall it is from the back, because the ground level actually lines up with the higher sections of the theater.  But you can see the remnants of the gateways into the theater.  It must have looked so polished and grand. We walked past the theater and along a path towards the sea, passing by several workers who were excavating and reconstructing the area to make it look like it once did in Biblical times.  That would be really neat to see when it's done.  Ceasarea was a port city where ships came and went with people and cargo - we saw an old Phoenician port (in the 2nd picture above - I don't recall how old, somwhere around the Crusades, but obviously a new building was put on top of it). Then we approached the site where King Herod had built a palace.

Herod's Palace

Ruins of the swimming pool in Herod's palace

Walking through the palace ruins

Ruins of Herod's palace

Dave at the palace ruins by the sea

King Herod is known as Herod the Great, not because he was a nice king, but because he was brilliant at engineering; and he liked to show off by building impressive structures in very difficult places.  Masada is the one that blew me away the most, but his palace here in Ceasarea must have been incredible.  The first picture here shows the ruins of the palace swimming pool.  He defied nature, our guide explained, by having a fresh water swimming pool actually jutting out into the saltwater sea - the waves would crash against the palace walls while he relaxed inside.  The room was two stories tall with a walkway around the top overlooking the sea.  How relaxing and beautiful does that sound?  Of course, the whole palace was built with the finest marble and granite, columns all over. I would stay there. By the way, I don't remember if I remarked on this already or not, but the Mediterranean Sea didn't give off near as salty a smell in the air as I expected.  The Caribbean and Atlantic must be much saltier.
Click here to see some short videos dad took of the palace ruins:

Hippodrome ruins, right next to the palace

Hippodrome ruins, right next to the palace

Hippodrome ruins - the entire arena was buried all the way up to the fences you see at the very top of the hill

Right next to the palace, there was a hippodrome, whose ruins are pictured here.  The word is derived from the Greek words hippos, meaning "horse," and dromos, meaning "race" or "course."  The hippodrome is where they would hold chariot races.  It was carved out of the side of a hill.  The seats were not as high as those in the amphitheater, but that was probably because the seating was dispersed all around the race track, while in the theater you'd have to fit the same number of people around a much smaller stage. Gila told us that apparently this hippodrome was only recently discovered, as in within the last several years, even though it had been completely buried for over 1,000 years.

The Amphitheater

Approaching the amphitheater

One side of the amphitheater

Our group gathering in the amphitheater

Ruins of an amphitheater corridor

Dave by one of the side entryways of the amphitheater

From the hippodrome, we went over to the impressive amphitheater, where our entire group of 300 were gathering to hear Harry (the NCC founder/director) talk about Ceasarea.  The steps were noticeably steep and very narrow - several of us remarked that it was even worse than the choir loft at The Moody Church in Chicago, where we gave a concert ealier this season. We weren't the only group there - it was really neat to see groups of pilgrims from literally all over the world.  In fact, Harry heard a choir from New Guinea singing at the Garden Tomb on Easter, and when he went over to chat with their director, he discovered that this other group listens to The National Christian Choir's radio program in New Guinea, so of course they were very excited to meet Harry.

Harry speaks to the group in the amphitheater

Choir president James Dobson sings a solo to demonstrate the amphitheater's natural acoustics

Anyway, once we were all gathered in the amphitheater, Harry talked to us about the story of Cornelius the centurion who had sent for Peter in Joppa, and how the Holy Spirit was first poured on on the Gentiles here in Ceasarea (Acts 10).  The whole group then sang a few hymns in the theater.  Harry then had our choir president, whose name is James Dobson and who has an incredible voice, sing a solo in the theater to demonstrate the natural acoustics of the theater.  There were no microphones in this large theater, and there was no wall behind James, but we could still hear him quite clearly - it was pretty neat.

By the way, the camera crew you see in the picture of James is a professional film crew that was hired by Israel's Ministry of Tourism.  They traveled with us to document The National Christian Choir's tour, for a promotional DVD that Israel plans to produce.

Click here to see some short videos dad took of the amphitheater:


The Aqueduct

Aqueduct ruins at Ceasarea

Aqueduct ruins at Ceasarea

Dave at aqueduct ruins at Ceasarea

Dad at aqueduct ruins at Ceasarea

From the amphitheater, we went to see the remnants of the enormous aqueduct built by Herod to bring fresh water into Ceasarea.  It was right on the beaches of the Mediterranean.  Another impressive structure in a beautiful location.

Click here to see some short videos dad took at the aqueduct:

Israeli military helicopters fly over us in Ceasarea

Ships travel just off the coast of Ceasarea

This was the first place I really noticed any military presence.  Two Israeli military helicopters flew over while we were at the aqueduct.  Over the remainder of the tour, I guess some kind of military aircraft flew over about as frequently as I'm used to here in the DC area.  But throughout the trip, I really never felt unsafe and there certainly wasn't an overwhelming military presence (that we could see, anyway) that I expected.

Other interesting facts about Ceasarea

A few other facts about Ceasarea we learned before we moved on:
  • It is where Paul was imprisoned before he invoked his right to stand trial as a Roman citizen (Acts 23), before being shipped off to Rome
  • King Herod's palace here in Ceasarea was where Pontius Pilate lived and governed during the time of Jesus
  • It is where King Herod ultimately died (Acts 12)
  • It is the city where the Jewish revolt begain in 66 AD, which ultimately led to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, and the drama of Masada in 72 AD
It was really something to be able to stand in and envision the place where all these things happened.  From Ceasarea, we loaded our buses and headed to Mount Carmel (the site where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal), where I'll pick up in my next entry.

Click here to go directly to part 5 of the story.

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