03/07/2019

Caesarea, Israel

By Dora Dmitriev

Caesarea Harbor view

Situated on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, Caesarea is a town known for Caesarea National Park. About an hour drive north from Tel Aviv, you can experience the archaeological park complete with a Roman amphitheater, hippodrome, pillars, and frescoes.

Columns and Upper palace floor

Hallway mosaic tile

Fountain mosaic tile

First prosperous during the Hellenistic period, Caesarea was a Phoenician settlement ruled by Herod the Great who was awarded the site in 30 BC. He named the settlement after his patron, Augustus Caesar, and spent 12 years building the impressive port city. At the time of Herod’s death, Caesarea Maritima had 50,000 residents and became the capital of the Roman province of Judea (Iudaea).

Hellenistic style sculptures

Salvaged part of a Cornice

Layers of sediment with traces of pottery, mosaics, and stone

In AD 66-70, Caesarea was the site of religious riots that sparked the First Jewish- Roman War in which the Jews lost to the Romans and were expelled from Jerusalem. The city was conquered by the Arabs in AD 640 and fell into disorder. 

Remaining arch structures and walls

Water well

In 1101 the Crusaders under Baldwin I took Caesarea from the Muslims. The city changed hands between the Crusaders and the Muslims four times until King Louis IX of France captured it in 1251 and added most of the fortifications seen there today.

Remnants of fortifications

Roman amphitheater

Remnants of Corinthian columns

The city’s defenses didn’t stand up to the Mamluk sultan Beybars, who in 1265 broke through the Crusader fortifications and devastated the city. The ruins sat untouched until Muslim refugees from Bosnia fled from the Austrian conquest of their homeland and settled here by the Turks. The harbor of Caesarea is home to a mosque and minaret that date back to this period. 

Minaret 

This large harbor was one of the technological marvels of the ancient world and helped make Caesarea a major port for trade between the Roman Empire and Asia. This was the first harbor built entirely in the open sea with no protection from a peninsula or nearby bay.

Seafront Promontory Palace

Peristyle Courtyard with an amazing backdrop 

Caesarea is definitely worth the drive from Tel Aviv. Only here you can see a preserved palace foundation in the ocean and a Roman amphitheater in Israel.