Castle of the Week 49 – Caesarea

Not so much a Castle of the Week as a City of the Week. Caesarea has a long and fascinating history and was a settler town, captured by the Frankish army under King Baldwin I in May 1101, its walls only enclosing one tenth of the old town’s 6th century area. Under the crusaders it became the seat of a secular Lord and of an archbishop. The new occupants drove out the Muslim population but did little to alter the existing streets, fortifications, water supply and houses. The mosques were hastily turned into churches and it wasn’t until the middle of the 12th century that the Great Mosque was demolished and replaced with a new Latin cathedral.

It was a relatively prosperous town, although not matching the scale of Acre or Tyre. The castle stood on the south side of the harbour, cut off from the town by a sea-filled moat, on a natural rock promontory. It has been identified as the site of Herod’s palace following extensive archaeological excavations.

The city walls in the 12th century were essentially those built by the Muslims, fortified by numerous square towers. Many of the houses were Muslim and built in the oriental fashion, looking inwards on to a central court. Water was supplied from the Crocodile River, 9 miles to the north, along one of the Roman aqueducts. Outside the city walls, orchards to the north and east spread as far as the ever encroaching dunes permitted.

Saladin captured the town in 1187 after only a short siege, but it was retaken by Richard the Lion Heart in 1191. The Muslim inhabitants were once again exiled from the town.

Caesarea was founded by King Herod in the first century BC on the site of a Phoenician and Greek trade post. Named after Augustus Caesar, it became a walled city with the largest harbour on the eastern Mediterranean coast. It was conquered by the Arabs in 639 AD and its importance, as well as population, dwindled.

The end of the Crusader era came in 1265, when the Mamluks attacked the city. After another short siege, the crusader defenders gave up hope and evacuated the site. The Mamluks razed the fortifications to the ground, fearing another return of the crusaders.

Write-up and download courtesy of
Sulis. The Middle East map is copyright Michael Martin and used with his permission.


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