The Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Development Corp. Ltd. is the development and marketing agency of the Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Foundation, a joint private-government company whose earnings are dedicated to the development of higher education in Israel.
Managing and maintaining a high-standard residential community of nearly 2,000 households, the company also holds the title to the lands of the Caesarea National Park, one of the most popular historic sites in Israel, both for international incoming tourists and locals alike.
The Continuum Group is the UK's leading designer and developer of cultural heritage attractions. The company owns five cultural attractions in the UK, and has worked on the development of over 200 projects for clients both in the UK and overseas. The Continuum Group was charged with the design development of Caesarea working through the Tel Aviv-based project management company ATAT which managed the construction and delivery of the project.
Caesarea is located on a straight sandy coast, stretching along the eastern Mediterranean. The earliest known settlement on the site, then called Straton's Tower, was in the 4th century BC. It was this village which was chosen by King Herod the Great for the construction (22-10/9 BC) of a magnificent new harbour, and city. This city was named Caesarea by its founder Herod the Great in honour of Caesar Augustus, Herod's patron. The additional name Maritima distinguished it from the many other Caesareas. The Greek equivalent was Limen Sebastos.
This harbour was a first of its kind - a completely man-made, a deep-water, strategic commercial port, built along a straight shore-line without any existing natural protection. Even using innovative engineering and construction techniques, and probably unlimited resources, it took 12 years to realise Herod's vision. Creating Caesarea made Herod's kingdom a vital commercial link between the Roman Empire and the markets of Asia.
After Herod's death Caesarea became the capital of the Roman province of Judea, a position it maintained until the conquest of the province by the Arabs in the 7th century. Caesarea, however, survived, eventually becoming an important Crusader city and stronghold before falling finally and irrevocably to Sultan Baybars. He leveled the site and left it deserted.
It was in the 1950's - 1960's that systematic scientific archaeological excavations where first carried out in Caesarea. It was then that the moats where cleared and cleaned, to reveal the enormous scale of the fortified walls of Crusader city. The Roman theatre was also excavated and restored to use. More recent excavations have uncovered a seafront Hippodrome, as well as baths, houses, statues, artefacts and inscriptions.
The excavated remains of Caesarea attracted about 500,000 visitors a year. Of these, most of the overseas tourists spent relatively little time on site. They arrived by coach, saw the theatre, and then left for Galilee. Local tourists tended to come for the beaches and restaurants, rather than for the archaeology. The task was thus twofold: to attract overseas visitors to stay longer on the site, to see more and spend more, and to interest local visitors in the archaeology.
To address these objectives it was essential to explain the history, significance and importance of Caesarea much better. After all, non-expert visitors cannot be expected merely to look at the ruins of buildings spanning a thousand years and understand them. It is a daunting task even for experts. Equally, visitors cannot be expected to see through the stones to the people who inhabited the city. Our job was to help them to do both. To achieve this we concluded that people need to be equipped to think about Period, Place and People. Period is important as visitors need to know the length of time over which Caesarea has existed, what happened when and in what order. Place is also key, visitors need to understand the layout of the site, where the theatre, hippodrome, the palace and the harbour building were and how they were used and changed over time. Finally there are the People: why should any of us be interested in Caesarea if it does not link in some way to us as individuals and to our own histories?
Clearly with an archaeological site of international significance we had to tread very carefully in delivering the vision. We could no build grand new museums or interpretation centres. We had to use the buildings which were already there, and these were domestically- scaled buildings of the 19th century. These too required sensitive handling so that their historical significance should not be concealed and compromised. Equally we had to work within rigorous planning frameworks appropriate to a National Park, and within a tight budget.
The Visitor Experience
In order to make most effective use of the relatively small space available, and to appeal to our target audiences, we decided on a media based approach. Period is handled through a dramatic film using all of the techniques of Hollywood. It mixes photo realistic 3D modelling, real actors, and cast of thousands of computer-generated extras to not only recreate the buildings but to people them. Visitors discover place from the time tower - they can climb up to a building perched on top of the remains of the great tower of Herodian and Crusader Caesarea and look out across the site at the ruins of the city. The latest technology allows them to look out of virtual windows, and explore the same view at different periods in history. On the temple platform, for example, they can see the Temple of Rome and Augustus, replaced by a Byzantine church, an Arab mosque and then a Crusader Cathedral. Visitors discover the people of Caesarea by talking to them. Using multimedia systems they can ask questions of King Herod, Pontius Pilate, St Paul, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Abahu, King Louis XI of France, Saladin, Sultan Baybars, Baron de Rothschild and Hanah Szenes. Each figure materializes in space in front of the visitor and talks directly to them about the Caesarea they knew and lived in.
Visitor knowledge and understanding thus builds up as they explore each of these experiences in their own way and at their own pace, and in the order that they choose.
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