Just south of modern day Caesarea, lounging along the sultry Mediterranean Sea, the ancient city of the same name curves around light and soft sandy beaches. It’s ancient white stones looking like weathered sculptures. Intricate marble mosaic floors are scattered everywhere. As I stroll across them I try my best to absorb the culture of 2000 years ago. It’s quite impossible but I try.
Attached to this ancient city is an equally ancient history which extends from the earliest Jewish inhabitants to the current establishment built by Herod the Great in 22 BCE. Named for Caesar Augustus, Herod built the city around his newly constructed deep-sea harbor. It has seen diverse residents throughout it’s 2000 years and was listed as a National Park in 2011.
The day we visited, in October ‘16, it was a warm day and, thankfully, breezes from the Sea stirred the air and brought a bit of cooling relief.
Two entrances provide access to these ancient ruins. The southern one enters by the Roman Amphitheater. We entered on the north end where we crossed over the moat built by the Crusaders and passed through thick stone walls into the ancient city. Remnants of marble pillars and artifacts line up along uneven stone streets made smooth by thousands of years of foot traffic.
Everywhere the eye roams there is something ancient to see.
Just beyond this is the modern shopping area where gift shops and galleries offer art work, fine jewelry and souvenirs to take home. Several restaurants and beach bars are available to enjoy lunch and a cool drink during the day or a nice dinner at sunset. I can’t speak for the other eateries, but we enjoyed a nice lunch at the Crusaders Restaurant overlooking the port.
Continuing on toward the archeological discoveries we meandered through wall after wall after partial stone wall, of the remains of shops, homes, bath houses, public latrines, a popular gathering place in those days; and more that lined the wide streets.
I have to say, my favorites were the mosaic tile floors that are faded but still beautiful. Indescribably so, considering how old they are, the number of tiny tiles it took to create the intricate scenes and the artistry and patience the tile layer must have had to create them.
Halfway across the vast sandy expanse of the hippodrome where Herod held horse and chariot races, athletic, gladiator and hunting games, where even people were the prey, I turned around to try and imagine the roar of a rowdy crowd of spectators cheering them on from the surrounding stone bleachers. This was hard enough to capture, let alone their desire to watch death as entertainment.
Separating the sandy arena of the hippodrome and the sands of the Sea, a long stone walkway connects the areas north and south of the hippodrome. A recently added shade structure built over the walkway provides a respite to listen to waves lapping along the shore while swirling sea breezes cool and refresh.
There are plenty of opportunities to dip your toes into the warm sea, or just jump right in for a nice swim. Just a tiny bit to the north is Aqueduct Beach and the ancient Roman Aqueduct.
In the southern portion of the park, the Roman Amphitheater reigns supreme and hosts summer concerts of Israeli groups and groups from around the world.
I’m sorry to say that we ran out of time to fully explore this area, as we had a date with a boat sailing out of Sdot Yam!
Here’s a link to a little something I wrote on my other website: Caesarea & the Sailing Regatta.
Things to Do Nearby
Caesarea Antiquity Museum lies just to the south in the kibbutz of Sdot Yam. This is a fascinating place to see the largest collection of artifacts found during the excavations of this National Park.
Nearby is the Caesarea Golf Course.
Tidbit: Do you know where the countertop material Caesarstone is manufactured? Caesarea, of course! Well, more precisely, in the kibbutz Sdot Yam, but it was named for the ancient city. The facility is actually just outside the Roman Ampitheater.
So, in a sense, the traditions of those ancient mosaic makers is continuing on...
Getting there: Caesarea National Park is located right between the modern city of Caesarea on the north and the kibbutz Sdot Yam on the south. Less than an hour north of Tel Aviv on Hwy. 2, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. It’s most easily reached by car.