A city on the Mediterranean coast south of Haifa, was originally known as Straton's Tower.
It was an ancient town and was named after Straton, who ruled Sidon in Lebanon during the fourth century b.c.e. The Hasmonean king, Alexander Yannai, captured it in 104 b.c.e. and incorporated it into the Hasmonean kingdom. However, it did not remain under Jewish rule for very long. The city was captured by the Roman commander Pompey and later fell under the rule of Cleopatra.
Caesarea came under Jewish rule again only when the emperor Augustus returned it to Herod, who greatly enlarged the city and renamed it Caesarea in honor of the emperor (in approximately 13 b.c.e.). Herod surrounded the city with a wall and built a deep sea harbor, and although the population of Caesarea was half gentile and half Jewish, Herod favored the non- Jewish inhabitants and encouraged the city to become a leading center of Hellenistic culture. Later it became the seat of the Roman procurators who ruled Erez Israel.
It was in Caesarea that the clashes between the Jewish and the gentile population sparked the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 c.e. which ended in the destruction of the Temple. During the war, when Vespasian arrived to subdue the country and conquer Jerusalem, he made Caesarea his headquarters, and when he became emperor, raised it to the status of a Roman colony. Some 60 years later, when the Bar Kokhba revolt broke out (131--135 c.e.), the Roman general Severus also made Caesarea his headquarters. After the revolt was suppressed, Rabbi Akiva and other sages were martyred in the city.
During the third century c.e. Caesarea became a center of Christian learning and at the same time, one of the great talmudic centers in Erez Israel. The Jerusalem Talmud speaks frequently of "the sages of Caesarea," and reference is also made to a synagogue there where the prayers were recited in Greek.
When the Byzantines divided Erez Israel into provinces (358--429 c.e.), Caesarea became the capital of the first province (Palaestina Prima) and reached its greatest extent; it was surrounded by a semi-circular wall and was served by two aqueducts. In 640 c.e. it was the last city in the country to fall to the Arabs.
Under Crusader rule, the town again rose to importance. It was splendidly reconstructed with strong fortifications, a new harbor and a beautiful cathedral. However, the Crusaders' presence affected the Jewish community adversely so that by 1170 only 20 Jews remained there. Today Caesarea has become a central tourist attraction with modern hotels and the only golf course in Israel. But the past is still an integral part of the city since there are relics from practically every period of its history. The remains of towers, temples and fortresses as well as statues, mosaics and hundreds of inscriptions are being constantly uncovered in excavations and are helping archaeologists to investigate Caesarea's rich and picturesque past. In fact, the impressive Roman theater has been reconstructed and is used for special concerts and musical recitals.