A City Buried by Its Past: The Late Ottoman Settlement at Caesarea Maritima (20 min)


Isaac T. Lang, Florida State University


In 1884, a contingent of Bosnian Muslims arrived in the mostly abandoned city of Caesarea Maritima. These newcomers were refugees, relocated by the Ottoman government after the Bosnia Vilayet was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878. Prior to the arrival of the fifty Bosniak families at Caesarea, the city was described as nothing more than a ruin inhabited only by fishermen. With no alternative, the refugees built a new settlement from the recycled materials of Caesarea’s earlier phases of habitation. Sixty-three years later, the Bosnian population was forcibly removed by the Baron Edmond Rothschild and, in the following year, their fate was sealed by the creation of the Israeli state. These families were relocated to the West Bank, where many of their descendants still reside.

But how is the Bosnian settlement at Caesarea Maritima remembered? How do museums portray the people in conjunction with their material goods—much of which is ancient and medieval spolia? The answer to these questions is disappointing. Israeli nationalism and the persistent notion that the Late Ottoman period is not yet ancient enough to warrant archaeological excavation have greatly apprehended a comprehensive study of Caesarea’s Bosnian settlement.

This project is twofold. Much of this phase of the city's history is ignored and unacknowledged and, as such, part of this paper seeks to analyze the material culture of the Bosnian settlement at Caesarea, which, as a mixture of ancient spolia and modern materials, can better help us understand the afterlife of earlier phases in Caesrea’s history. The second part of this project seeks to acknowledge the history of the Bosnian settlement and its premature conclusion by analyzing the treatment of this site by three local museums: the Caesarea National Park, the Caesarea Museum in the Sdot Yam kibbutz, and the Ralli Museum. By conducting such analyses, researchers are able both to better their understanding of an ancient city as well as confront the city’s modern human circumstances.