A Walk Through Ancient Caesarea

Caesarea is one of the top sites in Israel and is worth the entrance fee if you’re interested in archeology and ancient architecture. I’ve visited Caesarea many times in my life. In Caesarea you can enjoy the beautiful sea, the wonderful sun, the excellent ice cream and of course, the outstanding archeological findings.

The Theatre in Caesarea

When coming through the main South entrance, you’ll be able to see the back of the beautiful Roman Theatre. You can enter the theatre through one of the passageways and stand in the middle, where the Romans performed comedies and dramas. Try to talk with your friends while they are sitting on the upper seats and see if they can hear you from below. Today, the theatre is used for performances of the greatest Israeli musicians and singers.

From the Roman Theatre, you can make your way north towards the Promenade. On the way, you might want to stop and look at some interesting findings. One of those findings is the Reef Palace, that was built by Herod on top of a coral reef in the sea. Inside the ruins, you can see a swimming pool, that was built inside the palace. Archeologists believe that this pool was filled with freshwater, because plaster was found on its sides.

The Pilate Stone on the way to the Reef Palace

Something I found out about only in my last visit to Caesarea is that on the path to the Coral Palace is a very important stone inscription called the Pilate Stone.  The stone was discovered in the 20th century near the ancient theatre and was moved to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The one in Caesarea is a replica. And why is it so important? Because the name of Pontius Pilate is mentioned in the inscription. Pilate was a prefect of the Roman province of Judaea from AD 26–36 and is connected to the trial of Jesus. When Pilate was prefect, Caesarea was the capital of the Roman Judea Province.

The next place you might want to learn more about is the hippodrome, where the Romans participated in chariot racing. Today, you can see seats only on the eastern side, but during ancient times, there were also seats on the western side, that were demolished by the waves over time. In the beginning of the 2nd century, a new and larger hippodrome was built in the eastern side of the city, so this hippodrome was changed into an amphitheater, where gladiators fought against hungry carnivore animals. To protect the audience, high nets were installed in front of the seats. Today, if you look very well, you can still see the holes in which the net poles were installed.

Paintings in the Hippodrome

Not far from the hippodrome is a nicely preserved public bath house. But if you’re short on time, I would recommend you make your way to the ancient port area. In Caesarea, Herod built the first port with piers along the Mediterranean Sea. It was a huge, sophisticated port for its time. This is how Caesarea became one of the most major gates to and from Israel and why many famous people passed here, including Paul the Apostle, who stopped here on his way to teach the gospel of Jesus to the world. If you wish, you can arrange a dive in the ancient port area, to see the impressive remainders of the port under the sea. There is also a snorkeling option. For more info about the diving and snorkeling, you can visit the Old Caesarea Diving Center.

Next to the ancient port of Caesarea you can watch two interesting displays, “Caesarea Experience” and “Time Tower”, showing the amazing history of Caesarea, from its beginning as a trading station during the Persian Period, through the time it was expanded by Herod, until its destruction by Mameluke Sultan Al-Malik Al-Ashraf in the 13th century, following the fear of the Mamluks, that if they will not demolish the buildings themselves, the Crusaders would conquer and take control of them. There is no need to book ahead for those displays and they are included in your entrance ticket. Another cool display is “Caesarea Stars”, offering you a virtual opportunity to ask famous historical figures questions about their lives, beliefs, and many other things. Don’t forget to ask them what are they doing in Caesarea.

The Port Area from Afar

After your tour of Caesarea, you can sit down in one of the cafes or restaurants, eat something, enjoy great ice cream, or drink a refreshing cup of coffee. If your budget is tight, it is better to come prepared with your own food, because prices in Caesarea are high.

You can exit the national park from the gate you entered or exit from the impressive Crusaders Gate, that’s located in the northeastern part of the park.

Caesarea is a National Park and so there is an entrance fee. If you plan to visit many national parks during your visit to Israel, you should check out the National Parks Money Saving Tickets.

How much time is needed for a tour in Caesarea? At least an hour and a half.

Opening Hours: May-August Sundays through Thursdays and Saturdays from 8:00 to 18:00 and on Fridays until 16:00. September-October Sundays through Thursdays and Saturdays from 8:00 to 17:00 and on Fridays until 16:00. November-April Sundays through Thursdays and Saturdays from 8:00 to 16:00 and on Fridays until 15:00.

If you’re interested in a guided tour of Caesarea, you might be interested in the free guided tours given by Gan-Kehila volunteers every Shabbat except in August. Those tours start from the Theatre gate and the Port gate at 11:00, 12:00 and 13:00.

How will you get here? Caesarea is located in the North, along the seashore. If you’re not renting a car, it is possible to arrive to Caesarea by public transportation (not during Shabbat). You can find many buses running from the major cities to Caesarea and once in Caesarea, you can catch a bus to a location near the national park and talk a short 15-30 minutes’ walk to the place. Try using Google Maps. It’s great, also for driving directions.

Caesarea is a great trip from Haifa.

Free things to do in Caesarea:

Outside of the National Park of Caesarea are some areas that are free to enter and have some interesting archeological findings within them.

The Sculptures Park – If you exit the national park from the Port gate (Crusaders Gate), you’ll see in front of you a building that belongs to Caesarea Cellars, an events hall that holds marriage ceremonies. Inside their backyard you will find a magnificent roman street, decorated with enormous sculptures. Most of the sculptures represent people and it is assumed that the largest one represents Emperor Hadrian. If the yard is open, you can enter through the wooden doors and enjoy the archeological site for free.

The Street at Caesarea Cellars

The Arches Beach (Aqueduct Beach) –  If you walk about 20 minutes north of the national park you will find one of the most picturesque beaches in Israel. The walk is a part of the Israel National Trail. In the beach, you will not only enjoy the amazing sand and sea, but also the amazing remains of the High Aqueduct, that was part of the water system of the ancient Roman city of Caesarea. As you walk along the aqueduct, you’ll be able to see the beautifully made arches, covered sand dunes. It recommended to stay on the beach until sunset, to enjoy the beautiful sight of the sun sinking into the sea.

The ancient aqueduct

I wish you all a great visit to Caesarea!

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