On warm summer evenings about 2,000 years ago, when Caesarea Maritima was a Roman provincial capital city of a quarter million people, residents would attend performances in the theater on the sea. Leaving the theater, they would stroll north along a thoroughfare 54 feet wide and probably almost a mile long. This main thoroughfare, called the Cardo Maximus, was lined with about 700 columns and was bordered by mosaics.
Now the columns of the Cardo lie broken, by the hundreds, in Caesarea’s harbor and in the sand that covers most of this grand boulevard. Many of the columns are from the Herodian period. Others are from later periods, for the column-lined Cardo continued to be a showcase of Caesarea for hundreds of years after Herod died.
Only a few of these columns have been excavated. But this summer, an ambitious and creative restoration and preservation project will be launched by restoring three columns to their bases on the Cardo Maximus. The Caesarea World Monument project, subject to approval by Israel’s Department of Antiquities, hopes to restore a section of the Cardo. Once again residents of Caesarea, joined by tourists from all over the world, will attend performances in the theater, perhaps concerts given by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and walk along the restored street of columns.
Caesarea World Monument, a nonprofit benefit corporation based in Carmel, California, has raised $5,000 for each of the three columns to be restored this summer. Plaques inscribed with each donor’s name will be fixed to the column bases. Substantially more funds will be needed to complete the project. The corporation’s goals are to reconstruct part of the city of Caesarea excavated from the sand dunes, to establish a world study center there, and to prevent encroachment on the city by a banana plantation, a proposed amusement park, and other intrusions of civilization.
Caesarea World Monument works with an international team of experts committed to preserving the city’s original design and historic integrity. Architectural historian, Professor Lindley Vann of the University of Maryland, has worked with the excavation team at Caesarea for the past four years, researching the city’s original design. Vann coordinates with prominent Israeli architect, Moshe Safdie, to restore ancient Caesarea within a functional 20th century plan. Safdie, well-known for his Habitat apartment complex at the 1967 Montreal Expo, currently directs projects around the world housing in Singapore, an Australian resort, a Hebrew school in Mexico City, and major reconstruction in the Old City of Jerusalem.
One long-range goal of the reconstruction plan is to restore Caesarea’s hippodrome. In the second century, Roman chariot races were held in the 38,000 seat structure. In the 20th century hippodrome, Israel could host world class equestrian and track events.
At the northern terminus of the Cardo Maximus, the Caesarea World Monument project proposes building a large museum and study center, both above and below the ground. Visitors will stroll from the theater in the south, restored over 20 years ago by an Italian excavation team, to this center, built over two ancient Herodian storage vaults. One of these vaults was converted in the third century A.D. to a Mithraeum, a sanctuary for worship of the god Mithra. The other vault contains a fresco showing twelve men seated around a prominent central figure, reminiscent of depictions of the Last Supper.
The study center will house laboratories for modern archaeological study and restoration of coins, pottery and mosaics. There will also be labs for photography, preservation and anthropology, to be used by scholars and excavation volunteers from all over the world. Museum exhibits will constantly change as new finds are unearthed a few feet away by the excavators of the Joint Expedition to Caesarea, directed since 1971 by Dr. Robert Bull of Drew University. Visitors to the study center will even be able to observe the dig in progress, looking over the shoulders of professionals and volunteers as they work.
For the past 11 years nearly 2,000 volunteers have helped the Joint Expedition to Caesarea uncover three acres of a city that at one time covered an area half the size of Manhattan. The excavation will need a legion of volunteers and scholars for years to come. This summer these archaeologists will see the beginning of the restoration of the city they are revealing when three restored columns are erected on Caesarea’s ancient Cardo-Maximus.
For more information about rebuilding and preserving Caesarea write to Caesarea World Monument, Inc., P.O.B. 222522, Carmel, CA 93922. Contributions will be gratefully welcomed.