What To See in Ancient Caesaria, Israel

Israel

When traveling to Israel, most people usually spend a few nights in the cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv to discover the beaches, and the vibrant nightlife in the city.

Others proceed directly to the ancient city of Jerusalem to do a pilgrimage, visit landmarks along the bible belt, and ultimately follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ during His time on Earth.

While both cities are undeniably important, and are undoubtedly the highlights of any trip to Israel, another Israeli destination is fast attracting multitudes of tourists every year.

History buffs, and common tourists alike are now discovering the Caesaria, a town located along the Mediterranean coast halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa in the north.

This bustling locale now boasts of the modern building and corporate offices thanks to the nearby economic zone, Caesaria Development Corporation. There are now golf courses, saunas and modern restaurants in the area most of which cater to the more affluent local and foreign expats in town.

But at the heart of the town is the Caesaria Antiquities Park, magnificently preserved by Israel to showcase the more than 2,000 years of history of the area. There are structures dating back to its humble beginnings during the Hellenistic period (3rd century BC). There are remains from its tumultuous time during the Crusades. There are even existing areas referenced in the Bible.

Photo by Igor Polak

Caesaria’s past 

The land where the current Caesaria now stands, was actually a gift from Augustus Ceasar (Gaius Octavius), the very first emperor of Rome to King Herod after the famous battle of actium.

King Herod then built this port city and called it Caesaria Maritima in honor of the Roman emperor. It was the center of Judea (now Israel) for 600 years. Caesaria was overrun by Muslim conquerors in the 7th century and was fortified with walls and fortresses during the Crusades. It was abandoned during the Mamluk conquest (Egyptian-based Mamluk sultanate).

Balkans, particularly immigrants from Bosniaks settled in Caesaria in the 1880s. In the 1940’s the kibbutz Sdot Yam was established next to it, though it was overrun by the Palmach unit commanded by Yitzhak Rabin. Caesaria ultimately became a national park in the 1950s.

Photo by Igor Polak

Biblical historians also underline the importance of Caesaria. Historical records show that the early fathers of Christianity Origen and Eusebio lived here. It was here where Cornelius, the first idol worshipper, was supposedly converted.

UPDATE: 

Local divers recently discovered a hoard of more than 2,000 gold coins at the Caesarian harbor. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, most of the coins have languished at the bottom of the sea for more than 1,000 years.

The coins are of different origin and denomination but most of the pieces were actually made from the Fatimid Caliphate, the Shiite Muslim empire that ruled North Africa and the Middle East around 1,000 BC.

Additional salvage works are now planned to discover whethere other hidden treasures remain buried around the shores of Caesaria.

Caesarian aqueduct. Photo from

http://www.fumcintheholyland.com

Caesarian Attractions

While it continues its rich history and cultural heritage, Caesaria continues to look to the future. And in keeping up with the times, has developed modern facilities that continue to attract businessmen, local and foreign tourists alike.

Aside from the Caesaria Antiquities National Park, adventurers can also explore the nearby nature reserves of Mt Carmel and Nahal Me’arot. Golfers also frequent the Caesaria Country and Gold Clubs.

In the modern town, there is the Ralli Art Museum which houses several South American art (Mexican, Spanish etc), and a few boutique hotels that cater to the more affluent clienteles.

But basically, the ancient architectures located along the three-kilometer beach are the main attraction of Caesaria.

One must-see attraction is the Roman Theater, seating capacity of 5000, where musical performances and cultural festivals are held. The port also plays hosts to the Caesaria Jazz festival.

Herodian Hippodrome. Photo from livius.org

The Caesarian hippodrome with a capacity of about 20,000, also comes alive as the town re-enacts horse races. This is one of the main highlights of the antiquities park along with King Herod’s palace and pool in the sea.

There is also the aqueduct which stretches for about 9 kilometers. Located nearby is the aqueduct beach where people can frolic in the white sandy lagoons.

Entrance fees

A visit to Caesaria National Park doesn’t come cheap. Tickets are at 28 Israeli shekels (9 USD) for adults and half-price for children. If you want to avail of the interactive tour, it is even more expensive at 40 shekels (12 USD). The fees are good both the entrances: the Roman Theater or the Crusader City. Don’t fret, they’re actually close to each other.

The Caesaria National Park is open from Saturday to Thursday (at 8am to 4pm) and Fridays from 8am to 3 pm (it’s Shabbat).

The good news is that you can enter the park for free after the 5pm closing time to dine at the various restaurants spread out inside the park.

A 360 view of the Roman AMpitheatre. Photo by Igor Polak

How to get to Caesaria

Hmm, to be honest, transportation going to the national park is quite tricky so taking a tour is highly recommended. But if you really must travel on your know, then perhaps I can share the route I took. Though, you shouldn’t take my word for it.

From Tel Aviv, I took a bus going to the Arlozorov train station. From there, I took a train going to Binyamina station. Once you get off the train station, you should take a cab going to the national park. One word of advice, keep the driver’s number since its hard to find  cab in Caesaria.

Photo by Igor Polak
Photo by Igor Polak
Photo by Igor Polak
Inside the train to Binyamina
train ride to Binyamina
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