Ruins of Caesarea in danger of falling into the sea

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The ruins of Caesarea, the ancient Roman port that once numbered Pontius Pilate and St Paul among its residents, are in danger of being washed into the sea after sustaining heavy damage in a storm.

A wave crashes into what remains of the breakwater at the outer part of the port of Caesarea Photo: EPA Israeli archaeologists declared a “national disaster” after gale-force winds that battered the coast over the weekend destroyed breakwaters protecting the remains of the city, which was built by Herod the Great shortly before the birth of Christ.

“The damage is tremendous and dramatic,” said Shuka Dorfman, the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority after touring the site. “With the collapse of the breakwater, the antique treasures in the Caesarea National Park are exposed to harm from the Ocean.”

While Roman and crusader fortifications were damaged in the gale, it is the loss of the modern breakwater that has archaeologists most worried.

The barrier affords Caesarea, fragile because of erosion and a lack of natural sand, crucial protection from the waves. Officials warned that further heavy rain could easily cause the excavations to slide into the Mediterranean.

“It is a matter of time until it all collapses,” said Zeev Margalit, the head of preservation at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. “If Israel does not react immediately then a major international heritage site will be lost.”

Archaeologists had been warning for three years. that the breakwater was too weak to survive a substantial storm. They also appealed for artificial sand beaches to be built around the site to protect against erosion.

Only three months ago, preservationists told the government that unless £12 million was allocated to fortify the site, Caesarea could be “damaged beyond repair” by the end of winter, but their appeal was rebuffed.

Caesarea was built by Herod to pay tribute to Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor who allowed him to rule Israel as a client king.

Destroyed during the Crusades, the secrets of Caesarea remained hidden until uncovered by Italian archaeologists in the 1950s.

One of Herod’s palaces, a temple, an amphitheatre, a Crusader fort and an impressive aqueduct are among the treasures that have since been excavated. The only known inscription bearing Pontius Pilate’s name was also discovered.

As capital of Judaea, Caesarea was the official residence of Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, who sentenced Christ to crucifixion. Decades later, the Apostle Paul was held in prison for two years before being sent to Rome for trial.

In one of the most important moments in the New Testament, it was here that the centurion Cornelius became the first gentile convert at the hands of the disciple Peter, an incident that arguably marks the moment that Christianity became the first world religion.


Author: Adrian Blomfield | Source: The Telegraph [December 15, 2010]


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