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Ancient Roman temple in Israel gets $38 million restoration

2,000-year-old Roman ruins in Israel undergoes $38 million restoration

Archaeologists in Israel have begun work to restore a once towering ancient Roman temple in the modern-day Mediterranean city of Caesarea.

As part of a US$27 million (S$37.7 million) project that aims to triple tourist numbers, scores of workers erected scaffolding, cleared rubble and began excavations around the ruins, which are more than 2,000 years old.

Caesarea was a vibrant Roman metropolis built in honour of Emperor Augustus Caesar by King Herod, who ruled Judea from 37BC until his death in 4BC.

Historians have said the temple had loomed above the ancient skyline. It perhaps was as tall as the Acropolis of Athens and could be seen from afar by ships sailing to the holy land.

Already, Caesarea draws about a million tourists each year, who walk among the ruins of aqueducts and the region's oldest surviving Roman theatre.

The project's backers want to turn the city into a major archaeological site in Israel, second only to Jerusalem.

The Israel Antiquities Authority hopes the temple restoration will eventually triple the number of visitors.

The first phase - a system of four vaults, or arches that will be restored on the temple platform - could be completed by the end of this year.

"The whole experience of the visitor will be completely different. He will be able to sense the atmosphere and actually understand the essence of the building," said Mr Doron Ben-Ami, an archaeologist with the antiquities authority.

"This is something you do not get at any other archaeological site today."

The dig also unearthed some surprises, such as a small mother-of-pearl tablet engraved with a symbol of the Jewish menorah, which is an even-branched candelabrum. - REUTERS

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