Caesarea – Herod’s City by the Sea

An Introduction to Caesarea

Herod built Caesarea (or as it was known Caesarea Maritima) in the 1st century B.C.E. as a splendid Roman style city complete with a theater, amphitheater, hippodrome, palace, Roman temple and an extensive network of aqueducts. Built on a section of unprotected coastline that once served as a Phoenician ship landing, Herod even created an artificial harbor.

Caesarea continued to function after Herod’s death and holds a notable place in rabbinic literature, the writings of Flavius Josephus, the New Testament and the writings of Church Fathers.

Visiting Caesarea

We recommend beginning a visit to Caesarea National Park at the “Roman Theater” entrance. Pick up a brochure with a map at the admission booth and ask about available audio visual presentations.

Caesarea is at least partial accessible to wheelchair users. The combination of the sea and the ruins make this a great place for a photo shoot.

Just past the entrance on the left is a relief model of the site.  From the model continue to the Roman statuary in front of the theater and then proceed on to enter the theater itself.  In recent decades the theater has once again served as a venue for musical and dramatic performances and you may see some equipment on stage. In the open lot west of the theater various examples of architectural elements made of different materials, many of them foreign to Israel are on display. The pieces of masonry are evidence of both the highly cosmopolitan nature of Caesarea in the 1st century and the investment in elegant building.

Continuing on from the theater to the west we come to the area of the ‘Promontory Palace’ overlooking the Mediterranean.  After exploring the ‘Promontory’ of the building, continue down the steps on the north near the beach to visit the hippodrome, later converted into an amphitheater and try to picture its dubious past glory through its ruins.

From here you can, either return to your car and drive north to the harbor/eastern entrance or walk up the coast in order to see the bathhouse above the hippodrome and visit the walled crusader city further on.  Remember if you walk up the coast you will have to come back to retrieve your car later.

After entering the walled city, venture out onto the pier, examining sections of the collapsed sea wall along the way.  Be careful of slipping on the jetty, which is frequently wet from breaking surf.  During Herod’s stay the artificial harbor or Sebastos extended from the present day jetty further west.  Looking north you still can see some of the Herodian harbor extending from point opposite yourself. Looking further north you can see the arches of the aqueducts that once supplied the city with freshwater.

Ancient & Modern Caesarea

Integrated within the ruins of ancient Caesarea some of the water front and harbor area has been lovingly restored and is now a charming area to browse the galleries and to relax in the cafes and restaurants. A superb location to watch the sun sink into the Mediterranean at the end of a long day’s touring.

Aqueduct Beach

To see more of ancient Caesarea, drive north through modern Caesarea to Aqueduct Beach.  Here you can still see the impressive ruins of the aqueducts that carried water to Caesarea from the Shuni Springs at the foot of Mt. Carmel. It’s considered as one of Israel’s best beaches.

There is no lifeguard there so bathing in the beach is freely allowed, although it is quite packed during the summer weekends.

Don’t miss the magnificent sunset view at the Aqueduct Beach. Enjoy it while having a late-afternoon meal at one of the several restaurants in the harbor.

Underwater museum

Looking for a museum tour that’s way beyond the usual? Caesarea is home to the world’s first underwater museum! It has been excavated for the last three decades. Divers can now wear their wet suits and take a deep plunge to see and admire the sign-posted remains of this magnificent harbor built by King Herod as his honor and tribute to his patron, Caesar Augustus.

Diving guests can “float” through one exhibit to another, marveling in silent amazement at the still-intact remains of this once-prominent harbor that has nevertheless lost its glorious splendor, even when sunk into the depths of the ocean. See the Roman shipwreck, the ruins of a lighthouse, the ancient breakwater, pedestals, anchors, as well as the original foundations of the harbor.

This sunken harbor covers an area of 87,000 square yards and have 36 various sign-posted sites. Truly, this is one of Israel’s top underwater attractions. A sight to behold!

Golf course

The main sport in Caesarea is golf. The town is home to Israel’s only full-sized golf course, called the Caesarea Golf Club. This is one of the area’s more recent constructions. The idea of a golf course came after James de Rothschild, from the prominent Rothschild banking family, first saw the dunes that surrounded Caesarea that reminded him of the sandy links golf courses in Scotland.

After Rothschild’s death, the golf course was established in 1958 and was officially opened in 1961. It was rebuilt and designed by the late American golf course designer Peter Dye from 2007 to 2009. The Caesarea Golf Club has hosted several international golfing and other sporting events, including the Maccabi Games (considered the “Jewish Olympics”), which is held every four years.

Near to Caeserea

Caesarea is located near to the Carmel Area and to Zichron Yaakov.

How to get there?

Caesarea is located only off of Road 2, which is the main coastal road about halfway between Tel Aviv/Haifa and Caesarea. It’s only about an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv.

Caesarea is easily accessible by road, although getting there by public transport can be a little tricky. Thus, many tourists opt for paid and guided tours, which are the most practical way, anyway. Many of these guided tours can incorporate other sites along the coast and begin from either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.