Israel Trip – Day 5 (Galilee, Jordan Valley, Jerusalem)

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We began Day 5 (Friday, June 14, three weeks ago today) boarding our bus with all our luggage for a day of sightseeing and a move to Jerusalem.

Yardenit

Our first stop, a very short one, was at Yardenit, a baptismal site on the Jordan River. No one from our group had requested to be baptized so, after a few photos, we carried on.

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Yardenit baptismal site on the Jordan River. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Posing by the Jordan River in Yardenite. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Nazareth

Our first major stop of the day was Nazareth. Here we went first to the land form just outside the city. The story of Jesus rejected by the religious leaders of the Nazareth synagogue, then taken outside the city where they threatened to push him off the cliff to His death came to life for me (Luke 4:16-30). This is where that would have happened.

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View from the cliff cliff from which the Nazareth townspeople wanted to push Jesus to His death. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Then we drove into town where we toured the Nazareth Village, a sprawled-out village with buildings, animals, and people in costume, similar to what Jesus would have experienced.

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Phyllis and Theo (our children’s ministry puppets) got a moment of attention from two of the locals. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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A vineyard watchtower. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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The sheep-pen. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Phyllis and Theo, eager to see the sheep. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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A donkey, grabbing some lunch. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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The olive press. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Woven basket, used to help strain the olive oil. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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A Nazareth Village vendor (food truck?). (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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They ate vegetables similar to ours, along with herbs like Hyssop. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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The woodworking shop; he might also have been a stone mason, as most of the houses were constructed of wood and stone. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Oven, for baking bread. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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The dining room. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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The spinner and weaver. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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The synagogue. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Beit Shean

Next we drove to Beit Shean. It is the city where the body of King Saul and his sons were nailed to the wall by the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:10).

Our itinerary informed us that curently Beit Shean is “…the largest ongoing archeological dig in the land of Israel.” The dig has unearthed a Roman theatre, colonnaded Roman streets, mosaics, Roman bathhouses, and even a public latrine.

Judean Wilderness

Finally, we made our ascent to Jerusalem through the Judean wilderness.

A Bedouin encampment and settlements along the West Bank. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Jerusalem!

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The first sight of Jerusalem was a thrill. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

We visited the Western Wall late Friday afternoon, just hours before the start of Shabbat (during which we would not have been allowed to take photos). I was especially fascinated by the many Orthodox Jews, men dressed in black suits wearing black hats, yarmulkes, even black fur hats, little boys with yarmulkes and side curls, little girls in their pretty dresses, women all dressed up with turban-type hats pushing babies in strollers, as families made their Friday night visits of the wall together, along with us informally dressed tourists.

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Prayer at the wall is segregated. In the women’s section I witnessed women in fervent petition, many reading from prayer books in Hebrew (and the odd one in English). These were sitting for anyone to use on podium-type tables and on a bookshelf at the back of the prayer area.

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Women sat and prayed, or went up to the wall, to touch it as they prayed fervently, often in tears. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Many tucked folded prayers into the cracks of the wall. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Prayer books were available for anyone to use. Most were in Hebrew.  (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Poster on the wall enclosure, opposite the wall. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Western Wall poster. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

 

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Another poster from the wall enclosure area. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

It was a moving, and slightly unsettling experience as I thought about the prayer fervency I was witnessing and asked myself—what did this fascination with praying at the Western Wall really signify?

Israel Trip – Day 4 (Golan Heights)

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We left Banias, with the road taking us farther up into the Golan Heights. From the bus window I captured these Golan Heights vistas with terraced olive orchards and other gardens—quite beautiful.

Vistas of terraced hillsides in the Golan Heights (Photos © 2019 by V.Nesdoly)

We stopped for a late lunch at Alsultan Restaurant where we had more delicious Droze food—pita with falafel or crunchy chicken, along with a variety of sauces, garnishes, salads and drinks, served family style at a long table in the sunny courtyard.

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A memory of that meal from my sketch journal. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

We drove further into the heights, stopping finally near Israel’s border with Syria, at a spot named the Valley of Tears. Parked on a high spot overlooking the valley before us stood several old tanks—Russian tanks, it turns out, supplied to Syria and deployed against Israel during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

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At the Valley of Tears – Soviet tanks left over from the Yom Kippur War. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Looking over the Valley of Tears. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Our guide, who was active in the army during that time (though on the Egyptian front), told us the moving story of that battle. This place was called the Valley of Tears after it became the site of a major battle (between October 6-9) of the Yom Kippur War.

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Valley of Tears. The settlement in the distance is in Syria. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Our day ended on a lighter note when we made a last stop at an olive manufacturing and market establishment.

Olive manufacturing plant with a painting that shows olives being pressed using donkey power, the large foyer of the facility (top right), and an olive press (bottom right). (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Though the complex was officially closed for the day, the staff had prepared a variety of olive oils for us to sample with bread and seasonings. Then a young woman showed us the cosmetic potential of the olive, inviting us to sample various creams and lotions—much to the amusement of the boys (disguised as men) in our group. Of course the shop was open for our purchases too.

Demonstration of the many uses of the olive. (Photos © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

We made it back to our Tiberias hotel in time for a late dinner.

I loved this spot—its warm, humid climate, pretty décor, and lush plantings.

 

Israel Trip -Day 4 (Capernaum, Caesarea Philippi)

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Capernaum

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 Welcome to Capernaum (Capharnaum).  (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Capernaum (“Capharnaum, The Town of Jesus”) was our next stop. It was to Capernaum Jesus went after his native Nazareth rejected Him (Matthew 4:13). Capernaum was the centre of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the site of many of His miracles.

Again, there were many ruins.

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Capital from the synagogue in Capernaum (note the Jewish menorah middle top). (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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The synagogue where Jesus read scriptures and taught. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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The layout of the town in stone foundations. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Remains of Peter’s house, where his mother-in-law was healed (Matthew 8:14,15) are preserved under glass skylights. The information sign says:

“The traditional house of Peter was close to the lake shore and was flanked to the east by the main north-south road (cardo maximus) of the village. Spacious courtyards with a staircase and terra refractaria fireplaces were shared by several roofed homes.”

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Phyllis, excited to see Peter’s house. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Altar-St Peters Church-Capernaum

St. Peter’s Church (in the same complex as Peter’s house) features a beautiful mosaic altar. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Outside, a statue of St. Peter attracts many visitors and camera moments. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly

Caesarea Philippi

From Capernaum we drove north to the Golan Heights for a stop at Banias, the site of ancient Caesarea Philippi.

This spot, at the foot of Mount Hermon, is one of the sources of the Jordan River. The waterfall was a rare and welcome sight.

A grotto to the god Pan was located here. Mike Mason describes the beliefs about this site:

“In ancient times, it was called Panaes, after Pan, the goat-footed Greek god associated with nature, fertility, and carnal excess. The dark opening in the cliff… was the Cave of Pan, believed to be the doorway to the underworld (Gates of Hades) where fertility gods lived in winter, returning to earth each spring on the subterranean stream that formerly gushed from the cave mouth. To the right of the cave are several niches where pagan statues would have stood. Today this is an archaeological site, but in Jesus’ time it was an active center of pagan worship with a temple, courtyards, and shrines—the focal point of the Romanesque city of Caesarea Philippi” – Mike Mason, Jesus: His Story in Stone (2017), p. 53.

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The cave of Pan, believed to be the Gates of Hades. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Ernie, standing in a section of the ancient worship site honoring Pan. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Niches where pagan idols would have stood. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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More ruins from the Caesarea Philippi worship site. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Artist’s rendering of the sanctuary of Pan. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

It was to this site that Jesus brought His disciples and asked them “’Who do men say that I am… Who do you say that I am?’” – Matthew 16:13.

When Peter replied, “’You are the Christ (Messiah) Son of the living God,’” Jesus answered, “’Blessed are you, Simon, Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build My church and the Gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:17,18)

A huge rock at the site is a wonderful visual, reminding us of Jesus’ words.

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Rock at the site of Pan, reminding us of Jesus’ words to Peter.  (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

 

Israel Trip – Day 4 (Sea of Galilee)

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Day four (June 13th) saw us on the bus bright and early, leaving our Tiberias hotel to experience the Sea of Galilee.

We started our day with a visit to the ancient boat, found preserved some years ago, in the mud of Galilee and now, carefully bolted together, kept in a climate-controlled space at the Kibbutz Ginossar Museum.

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Ancient Galilee boat from the time of Jesus. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Then our entire group went out to the lake.

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Our guide noted how high the water level was, due to a much-appreciated wet winter. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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We boarded the boat Noah for a trip across Galilee. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

It was a beautiful, calm day—hard to imagine the storms described in the gospels disturbing this sparkling surface.

We also gathered on the boat’s prow for a group photo.

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A photo of our 22-member church group, taken on the prow of  the boat Noah, on the Sea of Galilee.

Returning to land, I spotted this little Galilee lizard from the dock!

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Lizard, on the shallows of the Sea of Galilee. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Back on the bus, we enjoyed the beautiful roadside colour of the Galilee region as we drove to the Mount of Beatitudes.

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Bright flowering shrubs line many of the roads in the Galilee region. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

A walkway to the church area  was lined with quotes of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). I took photos of each one with the little puppets our children’s pastor sent with me. (These photos of “Flat Theo” and “Flat Phyllis” will be used by our church’s children’s ministry staff to help the kids relate to the Bible places we visited.)

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The church had a beautiful mosaic floor, striking marble panels and a painting of Jesus teaching.

Then it was on to Tabgha, where we walked on the beach of Galilee.

We also spent a few minutes in the beautiful Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, enjoying the stained-glass windows (along with hundreds of others; it was a very bus-busy day around the Sea of Galilee).

Being here in person sure brings to life the Bible stories of Jesus and His disciples and their the Sea of Galilee experiences!

Inside views of the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes. (Photos © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Israel Trip – Day 3 (Magdala)

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Our last visit of the day was to Magdala. This is the site of an archeological dig which has unearthed an early synagogue as well as more remains of ancient life. It is also famous for being the city that Mary Magdalene was from.

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The oldest synagogue on the Sea of Galilee, thought to be from the first century. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

A beautiful church (Duc In Altum: “Put out into the deep”) on the site commemorates not only Mary Magdalene but other women in Jesus’ life. Our Irish tour guide from the Magdala site (Celine Kelly) was an entertaining and passionate storyteller. She made the visit unforgettable.

She pointed out the church’s many features. The Women’s Atrium dedicated to Jesus’ women disciples has eight pillars. Seven hold inscriptions of women’s names:

Mary Magdalene (John 20:1);

Susanna and Joanna (Luke 8:3);

Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38);

Salome (Matthew 20:20, Mark 15);

Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:15);

Maria Cleophas (John 19:25);

And “Aliae Multae”: “many other women” who supported Jesus – Mark 15:41.

The eighth pillar is unmarked and “stands for women of all time who love God and live by faith. Each woman can spiritually inscribe her name as a poignant reminder of her role in the history of humanity” – Magdala: Walk Where Jesus Taught booklet, p. 6,7.

The cupola includes an image of folded hands that “… signify the importance of women who accompany Jesus in the mission of extending the kingdom through prayer” – Ibid p. 7.

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The church has four beautiful mosaic chapels.

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The Mary Magdalene Chapel. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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The Daughter of Jairus Chapel. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Walking on Water Chapel

And the Fishers of Men Chapel (which I missed photographing).

The main chapel has a boat-shaped altar and rests on beautiful marble (I think she said imported from Norway) that looks a lot like waves of water,

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Boat-shaped Altar. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Imported marble resembles waves of water. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Down some stairs, is the “Encounter Chapel” which “makes use of original stones found in the excavation of the road and marketplaces near the port” – Ibid p. 14.

Here on display is another beautiful painting depicting the woman with the issue of blood touching Jesus’ clothes (Mark 5:25). Our guide told us stories of numerous healings having taken place in this chapel when people came to meditate and pray.

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Painting depicting the woman with an issue of blood, reaching out and touching Jesus’ clothes. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Our visit to Magdala was a wonderful way to end our day of sightseeing.

From Magdala we traveled  by bus to Tiberias and the Kinar Hotel where we checked in, had a delicious buffet dinner, and spent the night.

Israel Trip – Day 3 (Mt. Carmel & Megiddo)

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After Caesarea we left the coast, turning north and ascending Mt. Carmel to Muhraka, the site where Elijah fought the 400 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:30).

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Statue of Elijah at Mr. Carmel (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

At a quiet spot, Sara Lee read the story from the Bible, then we took in the vista seen from a viewing platform above the church on the site. The airspace around was buzzing with helicopters, due to a nearby army training base.

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Panorama shot of the view from the top of Mount Carmel. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

 

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The air space around Mr. Carmel was buzzing with helicopters. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

On our way to our next stop, Megiddo, we passed three cave-graves, one with a round stone cover that moves on a track, similar to the one Jesus is thought to have been buried in.

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Cave burial spots with rock covers, similar to the tomb in which Jesus was buried. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

Before we got to Megiddo, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant run by people of the Druze religion. There we dined on falafel in pita bread, dripping with tahini sauce, and all kinds of salad…so yummy!

While Caesarea didn’t have any of the characteristics needed to build an ancient city, Megiddo apparently had them all. Archeologists have uncovered over 20 civilizations at the Megiddo Tel.

We climbed around in them, realizing that the topmost ones were the most recent, the lower ones ancient.  Megiddo is mentioned in the Bible as one of Solomon’s walled fortified cities (1 Kings 9:15; 10:26). We also visited an underground spring that has supplied the generations of Megiddo residents with water.

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Archeologists have uncovered layer upon layer of civilization at Megiddo. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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A stone manger or feed trough from Megiddo. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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This is believed to be a horse stable from around the time of Ahab. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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A religious site at Megiddo. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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We walked down many stairs to get to the underground spring which supplied Megiddo residents with water over centuries. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

The view from the top of Megiddo is biblically significant. We looked down on the Plains of Jezreel, also known as the site of the final Battle of Armagedddon.

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Plains of Jezreel, panoramic view; top to bottom = left to right. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

On our bus ride to the last site of the day, Magdala, we caught sight, for the first time, of the beautiful Sea of Galilee.

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Our first view of the Sea of Galilee. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

 

Israel Trip – Day 3 (Caesarea Maritima)

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On day three (June 12) we hit the ground running. After an early breakfast, we boarded the bus with all our luggage and were on the road by 8:00 a.m.

Our first stop was Caesarea Maritima (or Caesarea by the Sea—a port built by Herod). As our itinerary explained:

“Here Pontius Pilate had his base, Cornelius lived and was baptized (Acts 10), from where Paul embarked to Tarsus (Acts 9:30) and where Philip preached (Acts 8:40).

Our guide began by schooling us in the art of choosing a city site. A good ancient city site needed four things: 1] water; 2] protection from enemies (e.g. elevation so enemies could be seen); 3] access to transportation (near the road system); 4] nearness to arable land to provide food.

Caesarea ticked none of these boxes yet Herod built a thriving city at this site on the Mediterranean.

We saw many ruins. There was a theatre, which has been revamped for current-day use.

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Ruins of Caesarea (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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More Caesarea excavations. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Theatre ruins which have been incorporated into a modern outdoor theatre. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

There were capitals and pillars, and a stone on which Pontius Pilate’s name was engraved.

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A Caesarea arch. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Capitals from Caesarea. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Beautiful marble pillars. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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A stone on which Pontius Pilate’s name is engraved. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

There were hippodrome ruins (site of sports like chariot races) with its arched areas of exit (vomitoria).

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Caesarea Hippodrome. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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Arches of the lower level of the Hippodrome, from which people exited the venue. They were called vomitoria. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

We walked to the port site, where informational signs explained a bit about the harbour.

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I snapped a Caesarea Nymphaeum.

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We walked through some of the ruins of the Crusader City (a section rebuilt centuries after Caesarea Port was first built) and saw the moat that apparently never held any water.

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An arch of the Crusader City. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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The castle’s dry moat. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

On the drive away from Caesarea by the Sea, we stopped briefly at the aqueduct—a raised structure which carried water from springs 10 Km. distant to the city of Caesarea when city wells could no longer supply the city’s water needs.

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Caesarea Aqueduct. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)

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The Aqueduct with sand piling up on the right. Archeologists had to dig through that much and more sand to uncover this ancient structure. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)