Caesarea is an ancient city of Israel with a rich history

Caesarea – City and National Park in Israel

Caesarea (Israel) is a place where modern science and technology are intertwined with unique ancient inventions, and historical relics and archaeological exhibits can be found literally at every step. Add stunning surroundings and the proximity of the Mediterranean Sea and you have the perfect vacation.

Caesarea National Park

Places to See

The Palestinian ruins of Caesarea

Some people refer to Caesarea as a small seaside town with an excellent infrastructure and a developed industrial area, while others think of a national park with an immense amount of unique archaeological findings. And what is remarkable – each of them will be right, because under this name there are two geographical objects at once. The first is an ancient city founded by Herod, which reached its greatness during the Roman Empire. The second is a modern settlement, founded in 1977 near the ruins of the main tourist attraction in Israel and is located approximately midway between Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Another important feature of this park is a rather common name. The fact is that on the world map you can find several Caesarea at once. This one, which in Hebrew sounds like “Caesarea,” is considered Palestinian or just seaside.

Historical Info

The history of Caesarea National Park began in the mid 4th century BC with the construction of Straton’s Tower, a small Phoenician village with a majestic stone fortress at its center. In the course of the years of its existence the site changed hands several times before the Roman emperor Augustus gave it to the Judean king Herod in 31 BC.

At that time no one guessed how fateful that decision would prove to be, for a truly grandiose idea had arisen in Herod’s mind. He had not only decided to rebuild an unremarkable town completely, but to make it the largest port in Palestine. The governor’s inner circle dissuaded him from this plan in every possible way, since the shallow bay was not at all suited to the role he had chosen for it. But Herod was adamant – in his dreams the grandeur and luxury of the former village was as great as Rome itself. Strange as it may seem, the odious plans of the king were realized.

In only 10 years Caesarea was turned into a busy harbor, then it received the status of a metropolis, and after some time it became the capital of all Judea.

The ruins of Caesarea

The subsequent history of this city is quite traditional. It developed vigorously, becoming a major stronghold of culture, science and politics, experienced regular clashes of religious fanatics, discovered new poets, theologians and architects, witnessed the Crusades, as well as numerous rebellions and wars. One of these, which fell in the mid-13th century, led first to the fall and then to the complete destruction of the Jewish capital. By 1265 the invasion of Muslim troops left only ruins of the magnificent port, which is now included in the list of the main attractions of Israel.

Caesarea National Park

The sights of Caesarea will appeal not only to true history buffs, but also to ordinary tourists who appreciate beautiful places and unusual atmosphere. We suggest that you take a little virtual tour of the park and get acquainted with some of them.

This is what the port of Caesarea looked like

The unique man-made harbor, built on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea on the orders of Herod, was considered one of the most outstanding constructions of its time. To protect the city from the high waves and storms, the builders of the time invented Roman concrete. It consisted of stones, pozzolana and lime, which were poured into large molds and poured over with sea water. After a while the mixture would harden completely and become a concrete block. It was from them that the harbor piers were built, the total length of which exceeded 700 m.

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Port of Caesarea

During the heyday of Caesarea the port was not only a berth for merchant ships but also an important economic center that brought in huge revenues to the state treasury. Its size and importance rivaled that of the harbor of Alexandria. Today it is the most visited attraction, with many restaurants and souvenir shops.

Because of its geographical location the inhabitants of Caesarea experienced a constant shortage of fresh water. The solution to this problem belonged to the same Herod, who ordered the construction of a special canal through which rain water began to flow into the city. This not only improved the living conditions of its inhabitants, but also promoted the active development of Caesarea. They began to build baths, install sewers, and furnish the first toilets in Judea.

The Aqueduct of Caesarea

No less important attraction in the park of Caesarea in Israel is the ancient Roman theater, which was the first in the Middle East. The remains of this amphitheater, which, by the way, are perfectly preserved, were found during an archaeological expedition conducted from 1959 to 1964.

The Amphitheater of Caesarea

The building, designed for 3,000 spectators, was laid at the same time as the port and served the citizens for at least half a century. Initially for its construction they used kurkara, sandstone, covered with a thin layer of plaster. But after the accession to power of Emperor Septimius Severus, the theater was rebuilt by adding a third tier, increasing the number of seats to 5000, and was decorated with pilasters of porphyry and marble.

The Amphitheater of Caesarea regularly receives performers

But the main value of this object is the limestone tablet, the inscriptions on which confirm the real existence of the legendary Pontius Pilate. Now an important historical artifact found only at the end of 1961 is preserved in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Today the Caesarean amphitheater is fully restored and regularly hosts both Israeli and foreign performers.

The ruins of the ancient palace that served as the residence of King Herod were found on a reef jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea. The structure, still impressive in its beauty and grandeur, consists of several different tiers. Its main features are the remains of stone basins used to store drinking water, the mosaic floors decorated with geometric patterns and the Roman baths, which are an innovative construction for those times. The northern part of the palace is best preserved. This is where its main pride is located – the huge throne room, surrounded by a series of rooms on all three sides.

Herod's Palace

The Roman Hippodrome is no less an interesting attraction in the Caesarea Park, the sight of which takes the breath away even from a modern person. The structure, situated along the coastline and surrounded by stone seats, was the main “cultural and entertaining” center of the time. Horse races, chariot races, execution of criminals, poisoning of animals and spectacular gladiatorial fights were held here. Generally speaking, the program was more than rich.

The Hippodrome of Caesarea Park

The area of the hippodrome is well preserved. Its walls still have marble paintings and frescoes depicting bloody scenes. In the north end of the arena the remains of the gates from which the chariots started.

Chariot Exposition

Temple of Augustus and Roma

If you carefully examine the photos of Caesarea in the central part of the park you can see the next historical landmark of Israel. It is a pagan temple built in honor of the goddess Roma and Emperor Octavian Augustus. The building, surrounded by high walls, has a structure typical of the Hellenistic period with a Roman portico, white marble elements and rows of columns supporting the vaults.

The material for the construction of this temple was the same sandstone kurkar, but it was covered with plaster of such high quality and beauty that its luxury and grandeur were beyond doubt. Subsequently the pagan shrine was destroyed and in its place an octagonal Christian cathedral was erected, which existed until the seventh century. Then Caesarea was attacked by the Arabs, who once again demolished the walls of the church and built a mosque in its place.

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Public baths, which appeared in the Byzantine era, is a huge complex, consisting of several steam rooms and swimming pools with warm and cold water. The floors of the baths are decorated with mosaic tiles which were valued in ancient Caesarea. In front of the entrance to the complex was the palaestra where the locals practiced sports, massaged, oiled their bodies or simply relaxed. Both the colorful mosaic floor and the palaestra and even the marble columns surrounding the ancient thermae are extant.

Roman Baths decorated with marble

Practical information

The opening hours of the Caesarea National Park vary depending on the time of year.

  • Weekdays and Sundays from 8 am to 4 pm;
  • Fri and Holidays – 8 am to 3 pm.

On the eve of the holidays – from 8 am to 1 pm.

For those who plan to explore the attractions of the park for several days, we recommend buying a tourist card (Money Saving Tickets):

  • Blue (3 visits) – 78 ILS;
  • Green (6 visits) – 110 ILS;
  • Orange (unlimited) – 150 ILS.

Note! Cards are valid for 2 weeks from the date of activation. The cost is the same for all ages. Get the latest information on the official site of the Caesarea National Park – www.parks.org.il/en/reserve-park/caesarea-national-park/

Useful hints

Before you go sightseeing in Caesarea take a look at some tips from experienced tourists:

  1. It’s quite hot in Israel – even in late fall the temperature reaches +32°C. In addition, there are almost no trees in the park, which means there is no shade either. That’s why the best time to visit it is early morning and the hours before closing time;
  2. Do not spare money for a guide – with him the tour will be much more interesting;
  3. In addition, you can take an information brochure at the entrance or order a paid viewing of the documentary (available in Russian);
  4. Take care of comfortable clothes and sports shoes – you will have to walk a lot;
  5. The concerts at the ancient theater make the greatest impression on tourists. They are usually held in the late evening, which allows you not only to listen to the performances of world celebrities, but also to enjoy the beautiful sunsets.

Caesarea (Israel) is a place worthy of attention of any tourist coming to the Holy Land. Be sure to visit the park and enjoy its atmosphere.

Author: Olga Musiyenko

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The ancient Roman city of Caesarea Palestine

Caesarea is an ancient city in Israel that reached the height of its greatness during the Roman Empire. It is now an archaeological site and an interesting tourist attraction.

Aqueduct of Caesarea

Caesarea is about midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, but it is closest to the city of Netanya. In various guidebooks and pages on the Internet, Caesarea can be attributed to the attractions of either of these cities, do not be surprised.

Caesarea is named after Caesar, that is, the Emperor of Rome. Its builder, King Herod the Great, was a protégé of Rome and, not surprisingly, he chose this name for his new capital.

There were many cities of that name in the world, more than Alexandria, and something was necessarily added to the name to distinguish them. This Caesarea is called “maritime” or “Palestinian. In English and other European languages it is called “Sisaria. But in Hebrew the name sounds the same as it does in Russian, Kesaria. If you take a cab to this place, you will have no problem explaining it to the driver.

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A bit of history

The first settlement at this place appeared 370 years before Christ. It was founded by Straton I, the Phoenician king of Sidon. There was a lighthouse and a settlement called “Straton’s Tower”.

Greatness came to Caesarea in 22 BC, when King Herod I the Great ruled Palestine. He was a protege of Rome, and the Jews did not like him. His authority was shaky and based on the power of mercenaries and Roman legionaries, and he was not satisfied with any Palestinian city as his capital.

He decided to build a new capital from scratch, and he chose this very spot. The city was named after Emperor Octavian Augustus, the emperor of Rome and Herod’s patron. But there was a big problem – the new Caesarea did not have a bay for the mooring and unloading of ships.

The remains of the port's buildings are submerged

Herod created an artificial bay, using a technology that was innovative at the time – concrete. Ancient Roman concrete bore little resemblance to modern concrete, consisting of lime and volcanic ash.

This concrete was seldom used because it was expensive, but Herod did not count the cost. The remains of those concrete structures can now be seen in Caesarea, see photo on the left.

Within a few years Caesarea had luxurious houses, baths, an amphitheater, a hippodrome, Herod’s palace and Roman temples.

After Herod’s death Caesarea became a full-fledged Roman colony. Retired Roman legionaries were given lands here, and the city’s population was composed almost entirely of Greeks and Romans. Herod’s palace became the residence of the Roman governors, and Caesarea itself became the capital of the Roman province of Judea.

Caesarea remained the capital of Palestine during the Roman and Byzantine eras. In the 630s the city was conquered by the Arabs. For the next 600 years Caesarea was already the Islamic capital of Palestine with its beautiful mosques and minarets.

Crusaders conquer the Holy Land

In 1101 it was conquered by the Crusader Knights, in 1187 the Arabs led by Saladin reconquered it, and in 1191 new crusaders under Richard I brought it back. In 1220 the Arabs took Caesarea by storm again, but this time they destroyed it.

In 1251, during the seventh crusade, the Crusaders rebuilt the city, but in 1265 the Mamelukes recaptured Caesarea and again destroyed it to the ground. The city was never rebuilt.

As a result, one can see the remains of buildings of different eras – Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Crusader buildings. Many important archaeological discoveries of local importance were made in Caesarea, but one discovery is of world significance.

The most important find is the stone of Pilate

Probably all readers know the story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is believed that Christ was sentenced to death by the procurator (governor) of Judea, Pontius Pilate. For a long time there was a serious ambiguity in this story.

Pontius Pilate condemns Jesus Christ

Until 1961, historians and archaeologists found no evidence that this man ever existed. Pontius Pilate ruled Judea for supposedly 10 years, and not a single mention in the scrolls, on the stones, or in the chronicles! How is that possible?

No wonder most scholars thought Pontius Pilate was a fictional character. And this called into question the realism of the entire New Testament.

It was here in Caesarea in June 1961 that an expedition by the Italian archaeologist Antonio Frova found a stone block measuring 82 by 65 centimeters. This stone was found behind the amphitheater building.

Pilate's Stone of Consecration to Tiberius Caesar

The inscription is not completely preserved, but the name “PILATUS” is clearly visible (see photo on the right). There is no doubt – Pontius Pilate is mentioned on the stone.

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The inscription reads: “To Augustus Tiberius Pontius Pilate the prefect of Judea shone this. It is probably one of the blocks of the wall of the temple dedicated to Emperor Tiberius, which was built by Pontius Pilate.

Then the stone was used to build a staircase in one of the houses behind the amphitheater building, hence its damage.

The real stone is now in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and a copy can be seen in Caesarea. This stone revealed another interesting fact – Pontius Pilate was not a procurator, he was a prefect. The difference in this case is only in the title of the office. In some provinces the viceroys were called procurators, in others prefects, but the duties and rights were the same.

There is much more to see in Caesarea, but to see it you have to get here first.

How to get here

Caesarea is conveniently located near the Tel Aviv-Haifa train line and trains stop here. The station is called “Caesarea-Pardes Hana”. There is another station that is a comparable distance from Caesarea, it is called “Binyamina”.

The Haifa-Tel Aviv train.

From Tel Aviv, the train takes 40 minutes and the ticket price is NIS 26, or NIS 41.5 for a round-trip ticket.

From Haifa, the train takes 41 minutes, the ticket price is 24 shekels, or 38.5 shekels for a round-trip ticket.

The station is located five kilometers from the archaeological site. You can walk for about an hour, but it is faster to take a cab, which will cost about 40 shekels more.

From the station “Caesarea-Pardes Hana” runs bus number 80, but it is rare, and you should not seriously rely on it.

Given the high cost of transportation to Caesarea, we recommend that you consider buying a package tour from a local tour desk. For $100 you will be driven here and paid for the ticket, and a Russian speaking guide will show you everything of interest. And in addition to visiting Caesarea, this tour includes a trip to several other attractions. The only disadvantage is that your time in Caesarea will be strictly limited – about 2 hours.

Ticket price

For an adult visitor ticket costs 40 shekels, for a child – 24 shekels. With this ticket you can see whatever you want, no extra charge.

Opening hours

From April to September: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and holidays: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

October through March: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and holidays: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The reason for the short open day on Friday is the Sabbath.

How much time to plan to visit

The Caesarea is not very large. You can walk around the entire area in an hour, but it’s better to plan for two hours. If you still want to see the museum, take a dip in the sea and sit in a local restaurant with a beautiful view of the sea, plan for half a day.

What to see – the amphitheater

This amphitheater the Israelis are proud of, because it is the largest ancient Roman amphitheater in Israel. Palestine was on the periphery of the Roman Empire, and the Romans did not build large cities here. As a result, only three amphitheaters remain in Israel. The other two in the cities of Sciphopolis and Eluferopolis are much smaller than the amphitheater at Caesarea.

The Amphitheater in Caesarea with 4000 seats.

But by world standards, the local theater is small – only for 4,000 spectators, which cannot be compared with the Colosseum in Italy or El Djem in Tunisia. Even in Pamukkale in Turkey, the amphitheater is twice as big, although it is considered small.

Of all the ancient buildings in Caesarea the amphitheater is the best preserved and makes the greatest impression on tourists.

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Amphitheaters almost always better withstand the time, because they were preferably built on hillsides, there is nothing to collapse. However, there are exceptions, such as the city of Pompeii in Italy, where the theater was wooden. Amphitheaters were used for theatrical performances, political debates, executions and gladiatorial fights.

Now this amphitheater is actively used for concerts. This is a very prestigious concert venue, and tickets here are not cheap.

What to see – the hippodrome

This is the most valuable structure for tourists. To see a real Roman hippodrome, and still in such good condition is a huge success.

There are plenty of ancient amphitheaters, but only a few hippodromes have survived. The largest hippodrome, the Roman Circus Maximus, has not survived. The second largest is the Hippodrome of Constantinople in Istanbul, of which only a few structures remain. The hippodrome of Caesarea is on the list of the largest extant hippodromes.

Auditorium Racks in the Immodrome of Caesarea

The main entertainment on the racetracks of the Roman Empire was the chariot race. Chariots had to complete seven laps. Rarely did races occur when all the charioteers lived to the finish line.

Chariot and horse races were not the only events at the hippodrome. There were gladiatorial fights, executions of criminals, poisoning of animals and poisoning of people with animals. The hippodrome at Caesarea has tunnels and arches for bringing criminals and animals into the arena, look out for them.

The local Israeli guides are very fond of telling us about the persecution. All they say is, “So many Jews were executed here, so many Jews were executed there. And they are also very fond of criticizing the ancient Roman culture and religion, exalting Judaism. Of course, we should not forget the victims of tyranny – it is undeniable. But tourists do come to see the ancient city, not to listen to who was executed and where.

What to see – the palace of the viceroy

King Herod built a magnificent palace for himself that was divided into two parts. After King Herod’s death the palace became the residence of the prefects and procurators of the Jews.

Remains of Herod's Palace and the Roman Procurators

The first was the private part, where the ruler lived, and this part of the building was on the promontory. The second was the public part with the throne room and the offices of the officials.

There is almost nothing left of the private part of the palace now, it has just sunk into the water and collapsed over time.

Of the public part is a platform with a few pieces of columns (in the photo on the right). Of interest to tourists here is only a copy of Pilate’s Stone. And you can also see a beautiful stand with a picture of what the palace looked like before.

What to see – the city of crusaders

The Crusaders seriously fortified Caesarea. They built real fortress walls and gates. All of this has been preserved and is now available to tourists. It is a very interesting part of Caesarea, although in grandeur it does not compare with the Rhodes Fortress.

A few more tips

– If you vacation in Eilat, we do not recommend you to try to visit Caesarea on your own – it is very expensive and tiring. Book a place in an organized tour;

– The whole territory of Caesarea is outdoors, there is almost nowhere to hide from the sun. Do not forget to protect yourself from the sun, read our article “Dangers for tourists in Israel;

– Pay for transportation and tickets only with shekels. Change your money in advance. Read our article “How and where to change money in Israel.

Have a great trip to Caesarea, and read other interesting articles about Israel (links below).

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