Storm threatens historic Israeli port

2010-12-13 13:10

Jerusalem - A massive storm that battered the eastern Mediterranean destroyed the breakers protecting the Roman-era port of Caesarea threatening to wash away the historic site, Israeli officials said on Monday.

"In this big storm, the wave breakers that protect the Caesarea shore totally collapsed," Zeev Margalit, the head of development and preservation at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, said.

"Now the port is exposed to the full force of the waves," Margalit said. "It is a matter of time until it all collapses."

Margalit said his agency had warned the government several times in recent months of the danger to the port, which was built by Herod and served as the seat of government for Pontius Pilate.

The ruins of the port city, one of the largest in the region in Roman times, is a major tourist attraction in Israel and the Roman amphitheatre continues to host concerts.

It also contains the remains of dozens of buildings from the subsequent Byzantine and Crusader periods, including the moat and fortified walls that surround the site.

In recent times Caesarea has become an upscale residential town, home to some of Israel's wealthiest and most influential citizens. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a weekend home in the town, 50km north of Tel Aviv.

Margalit said it would cost about $16m and take three years to construct a new, modern wave breaker to protect the site.

However, he said the authority had also proposed a $1.6m emergency plan that would involve construction of a temporary wave break.

"If Israel does not react immediately then a major international heritage site will be lost," Margalit said.