'It's pure luck that bathers weren't killed'

2,000-year-old arch in Caesarea aqueduct collapses; official: ‘We sounded the alarm’

Antiquities Authority issues angry statement saying repeated pleas for preservation work at famous site were ignored, warns Acre’s aqueduct faces even greater danger of ruin

View of an arch in Caesarea's ancient Roman aqueduct that collapsed on August 18, 2023. (Muhammad Khater/Israel Antiquities Authority)
View of an arch in Caesarea's ancient Roman aqueduct that collapsed on August 18, 2023. (Muhammad Khater/Israel Antiquities Authority)

A nearly 2,000-year-old arch in Caesarea’s famous ancient Roman aqueduct system collapsed on a much-frequented beach early Friday morning, leading the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority to issue accusations against the bodies responsible for the beach for ignoring repeated warnings and appeals to care of the structure.

IAA inspectors arrived Friday morning at the beach, which is popular with bathers, to assess the damage.

The aqueduct was built some 2,000 years ago, in the days of King Herod. The authority said the section that collapsed was a later addition, built in the time of Emperor Hadrian, some 1,900 years ago.

“It’s pure luck that bathers weren’t killed,” said IAA Director-General Eli Eskosido. “We have been sounding the alarm, we presented documents and plans, we said the situation was catastrophic and there was a real danger of collapse, we met again and again with the owners of the land — we even offered to cover some of the cost of the works, as we understood that this was a disaster waiting to happen.”

“I believe that now we will be listened to,” he added.

The IAA urged the regional council and the Caesarea Development Corporation to urgently secure funds for renovation work and to stabilize the rest of the aqueduct.

File: View of an ancient Roman aqueduct in Caesarea, January 8, 2006. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)

The aqueduct provided potable water to Caesarea, which served as the capital of Rome’s Judea province between the 1st and 7th centuries CE.

A bronze statue of the Emperor Hadrian from the Roman period 117-138 CE. (Israel Museum/ John Williams)

The site, along with the rest of the remains of the ancient city, is now part of Caesarea National Park.

Ami Shahar, head of the IAA’s Conservation Department, added: “At this point, we feel we must inform the public that Acre’s 15-kilometer-long aqueduct is in an even more precarious state and faces collapse.

“The engineering situation there is critical, and requires immediate attention.”

Though the organization did not say so explicitly, the comments suggested that in that case, too, the IAA has not found a willing partner in the relevant authorities.

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