Caesarea is the ancient Roman capital of Judaea, housing impressive ruins on a fully-fledged Roman town. And no Roman town would be complete without an amphitheatre in which to enjoy the sadistic spectacles that were so popular at the time. The city was built by King Herod in 22 BC, and with it the amphitheatre that served as a venue for a mass execution of Jews who had revolted against the Romans between 66 and 70 AD. The thousands of captives were taken from Jerusalem where they had unsuccessfully defended the city, and killed en masse in Caesarea for the crowd's entertainment. 65 years later, 10 sages who had been taken during the famous Bar Kochba revolt were tortured center stage, to the public's delight.
Every five years, Herod's port city hosted the gladiatorial games, sporting competitions, and performances. The amphitheater was the foremost venue of entertainment, and going to see people fight to the death was the equivalent of going to see a movie. Human life then was shorter and death was a much more common aspect of it, so it is difficult for us in the 21st century to compare moral values and understand how it could have been considered entertainment. The theater was also the biggest social meeting place, bringing people together from all over the city and indeed the empire.
This is the oldest Roman amphitheater still standing east of the Mediterranean. It measures 100 meters across and seats 4,000 spectators, a huge number for the time. It is situated by the sea in pride of place in the south of the city. For 500 years, the amphitheater was the center of entertainment in the region. It was home to classic Greek & Roman theatre, and later the genre of pantomime developed, and mime plays were performed which made jokes about the local Jews.
Over the years the amphitheater underwent many renovations. The ancient marble floor covers an older Herodian floor, extra ornamental sculptures and pillars were added to the entrance, and in the fourth century a pool was built into the stage for water sports competitions.
Today, the amphitheater is one of the most prestigious concert locations in Israel. The ancient setting brings a special atmosphere to a modern performance and spectators get to experience the venue as it would have been used 2000 years ago, just with music rather than fighting. All Israel's biggest artists have performed there, as well as international stars as diverse as Julio Iglesias and Macy Gray.