Welcome to Caesarea! A national park filled with amazing views, beautiful beaches and home to ruins from different ages. It is a great afternoon of being out and about and we went there on a sunny November day.
Some quick history
The first mention of Caesarea is way back around 365-352 BCE. However it wasn’t called Caesarea yet, no it had the name Stratono Pyrgos (named after the king of the time). It was a typical trading village that had great connections to Europe as part of the Phoenician colony.
The village would turn into a Jewish settlement by 90 BCE as Alexander Jannaeus captured the place to develop the shipbuilding industry and enlarge the Hasmonean kingdom. About 2 generations it was a Jewish village before the Romans took over in 63 BCE.
In 30 BCE all of Judea, including this place, was rewarded to Herod the Great by Rome. To the frequent readers of the blog you know who he is by now. You are a new reader? Please check out the following blogs: Visiting Zippori National Park In Israel and Seeing Some Of Israel’s Beauty At Masada, En Gedi And The Dead Sea!
Under the reign of Herod the Great a lot changed. The place was renamed to Caesarea in honour of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus and the pagan city started to expand. Herod the Great built markets, wide roads, bathing houses, temples to Rome and Augustus, an arena and an amphitheatre.
But the biggest achievement is the deep-sea harbour called Sebastos. It took a few years to construct but at the height of its usage the harbour was the most impressive of its time. Sebastos was constructed on a coast that had no natural harbours and therefore was an important commercial harbour. It was even rivalling Cleopatrea’s harbour at Alexandria! Sebastos was the largest artificial harbour built in the open sea, enclosing around 100, 000 square meters.
The harbour these days
It would come as no surprise that the harbour these days isn’t the triumph it once was. All the structures built by Herod are mainly in ruins. The wooden ships that would come here back in the day would have been welcomed by a lighthouse and a wall that would offer a safe haven from stormy seas.
These days you get a glimpse of the size as the ruins and bits of remaining piers are still standing. You will find here a lot of art galleries and places to eat. It is a nice place to wander and you can still see the history of the place. Even when you don’t care about the history the pier offers some great views of the sea and landscape.
Behind the port you will find the remains of a Roman temple and a visitor centre. In the centre you can watch a little movie showing how Herod ruled and created Caesarea as well as artifacts from the past.
Among the new buildings constructed was a Palace suitable for a king. The Palace was 2 stories high and was suitable for guests and residents. Although it is a bit vague if Herod ever visited the palace (he had 15 palaces and you can only be at one at the same time) or even built it himself the palace was a beauty in its day.
The Palace is built on top of a cliff over the sea. It showed the skills of the workers who created the Palace half on land and half on a marine reef. The reef even contained a man made swimming pool of which the water was brought into the city by aqueducts. Next to the pool you can still find mosaics.
It’s thought that the Palace hosted Roman governors to live in and that Paul appeared here in front of two governors, as described in the Book of Acts.
Every village has its normal places as well. For example the tavern, bathing houses, markets and of course normal houses for the common folks. In this national park you can wander through the streets and ruins of this old city and imagine how it would have looked back in the day.
As everyone knows entertainment was very important to the Romans. So in Caesarea you will find the ruins of the Hippodrome. The Hippodrome is an ancient Greek stadium for horse racing and chariot racing.
Next to that there can be found an amphitheatre which is still in operational use. These days still concerts happen here and therefore entertain the crowd. Artists like Deep Purple, Morrissey, Foreigner and Chris Cornell all entered the 15.000 capacity venue.
Other notable mentions
We had a great time visiting Caesarea and seeing the ruins and nature of this place. I didn’t describe all the things that you can find at this national park. For example you can find here a gateway made by the crusaders, parts of a French fortress and Aqueduct Beach. As you might guess you can find here a large part of an aqueduct made by the Romans.
I think it is a great half-a-day out. You get some history in combination with great views and some nice food places. Caesarea can be found between Tel Aviv and Haifa.
I realised the more personal blog (Isreality: Moving For Love) the other week was quite the success. So good news! The goal is to write something like this in the near future so I can only say to keep an eye out for the future!
Hebrew word of the post
And now for something new learn Hebrew with me. The word of this blog is fortress or in Hebrew: מבצר.