My final day in Israel was spent on a tour of Caesarea, Acre (Akko), Haifa, and Rosh Hanikra, which is just shy of the border with Lebanon. Both of my tours I booked through Coral Tours. I recommend them wholeheartedly if you ever get an opportunity to go to Israel.
Most of the agencies seem to cooperate to get people to the right locations. We took both Coral and Egged buses to get to central locations. As long as you are with a licensed tour guide, you can expect a safe tour.
That said, the first time I traveled to Israel, my tour was arranged by a corporate sponsor. In that instance, the guide worked for an Israeli tourist depot. In addition to taking us to Yad Vashem and all of the sites, he also took us to a guaranteed shop—one where we could make purchases with no VAT (a pretty stiff tax) and one where they wouldn't try to sell "antiquities" to you. This guarantee is probably more necessary in the Old City than elsewhere.
So, the trip to Caeserea started at 7:15 AM—as do all of the tours from Tel Aviv. Expect to start at 6:30 if you're staying in Jerusalem. After a long trip (long, relatively speaking, after one loads up on coffee and water), we arrived at Caeserea.
This shot is from the entrance toward the theater. Propped up in front of the theater ruins are remnants of ancient statuary:
Our guide informed us that the entrance or exit of the theater is called a vomitorium. We've heard different etymologies on that account, but it does make sense that one takes in and spews out from the same orifice.
I apologize half-heartedly for that image.
You might notice a very modern stage set up to the right. This theater is regularly being used for concerts. We were also told that theaters, which were semicircular, were for dramatic displays while amphitheaters were for gladiatorial displays.
BTW, I find that sometimes the tour guides fudge the historical details a bit because they know they face mixed audiences. This is common in the Old City, where they don't know if they have Jews, Catholic/Orthodox, or Evangelical Christians in their groups.
The guide pointed out several of the interesting archealogical finds (capitals, columns, ossuaries) with various symbols on them (Pagan, Jewish, and Christian).
Here's a photo from the south end of the hippodrome (the horse/chariot track).
Caeserea Maritima was built by Herod the Great as a Roman city, and it was the seat of many Roman procurators, including Pontius Pilate. This inscription actually confirms that this city was the seat of Pontius Pilate:
By the way, this would also where Paul would appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:1-27).
The crusaders also made use of the ruins and built up fortifications around them:
Caeserea Maritima is just north of a lot of the more modern Israeli cities such as Netanya and Herzliya. One of the stories I like about the founding of Herzliya (named after Theodore Herzl) is how the early settlers planted eucalyptus trees in the marshy land to reclaim it.
While one might dispute the methods sometimes employed by the Israeli government (and I certainly do), you can't dispute the brilliance the Israelis display at turning a barren land into one burgeoning with trees and produce. I still pray for them to learn to constrain in compassion, as I also ask for the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians to respect legitimate authority and to reject violence as an answer. I have much compassion for the people of Gaza and the West Bank who suffer economically, but I hold both Israel and the Palestinian *Authority* equally resonsible for their plight.
That's it for this post. I don't want to devolve into polemic.