Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Herod's Great Harbor; Ancient Caesarea, Now Submerged beneath the Mediterranean, Was an Amazing Feat of Engineering

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Herod's Great Harbor; Ancient Caesarea, Now Submerged beneath the Mediterranean, Was an Amazing Feat of Engineering

Article excerpt

Herod's great harbour

'Now King Herod observed a place near the sea, which was very proper for containing a city, and was before called Strato's Tower. ... and what was the greatest and most laborious work of all, he adorned it with a haven that was always free from the waves of the sea. ... The King, by the expenses he was at, and the liberal disposal of them, overcame nature and built the haven larger than at Piraeus and it had towards the city a double station for the ships. It was of excellent workmanship: and this was more remarkable for its being built in a place that of itself was not suitable to such noble structures, but was brought to perfection by materials from other places, and at very great expense. This city is situated in Phoenicia, in the passage to Egypt, between Jaffo and Dor, which are lesser maritime cities and not fit for havens, on account of the impetuous south-west winds that beat upon them, which rolling the sands that come from the sea gainst the shores do not admit of ships lying in their station; but the merchants are generally forced there to ride at their anchors in the sea itself. So Herod endeavoured to rectify this inconveninece, and laid out a compass towards the land as might be sufficient for a haven, wherein the great ships might lie down in safety; and this he effected by letting doen vast stones into twenty fathoms of water, most of them being fifty feet in lenght, and nine in height and ten in breadth, and some still larger. But when the haven was filed up to that length, he enlarged that wall which was thus already extant above the sea, till it was two hundred feet wide; one hundred of which had buildings before it, in order to break the force of the waves; but the rest of the space was under a stone wall that ran around it. On this wall were very large towers. ... There was also a great number of arches where mariners dwelt. There was also before them, a quay (or landing place), which ran round the entire haven, and was a most agreeable walk to such as had a mind to that exercise; but the entrance or mouth of the port was made on the north quarter, on which side was the stillest of the winds of all this place. ... At the mouth of the haven were on each side three great Colossi supported by pillars, where those Collossi that are on your left hand as you sail into the port are supported by a solid tower; but those on the right hand are supported by two upright stones joined together, which stones were larger than that tower which was on the other side of the entrance."

These words were written almost 2,000 years ago by the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius and constitute what may be the most detailed description of an ancient harbour. In 1975 this hidden wonder of ancient hydraulic technology began to be studied by the Centre for Maritime Studies of the University of Haifa, and since 1980 the project has been carried out by the Caesarea Ancient Harbour Excavations Project, with the participation of the universities of Colorado, Maryland and Victoria (British Columbia). Every summer, over one hundred diving volunteers from all over the world, directed by a large staff of marine archaeologists, diving technicians, marine engineers and architects take part in what may be the largest underwater excavation of its kind. …

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