Caesarea National Park is among the most visited sites in Israel. Its archeological remains result from more than 2,000 years of history.
Note: if you are looking for information about the city of Caesarea, not specifically this national park, check out my complete guide to Caesarea.
Table of Contents
- 1 Map
- 2 Directions
- 3 Opening Hours
- 4 Entrance Fee
- 5 Discounts and Coupons
- 6 Contact Information
- 7 The Modern City of Caesarea
- 8 Caesarea Maritima
- 9 Caesarea Port (Harbor)
- 10 Events and Tours at Caesaria National Park
- 11 The Most Popular National Parks
- 12 What is Caesarea Philippi?
- 13 How Much Time Does a Typical Visit Take?
- 14 History
- 15 What is the meaning of Caesarea?
- 16 Is Caesarea open on Shabbat?
- 17 How much time does a typical visit to Caesarea National Park take?
- 18 Is there an Amphitheater in Caesarea?
- 19 What is the difference between Caesarea and Caesarea Philippi?
- 20 Summary
Interactive map of the area:
- Hotels, hostels, and apartments in this area:
Note: you can click on the maps to enlarge them.
As you can see, there are two entrances, and next to each, you can find free parking.
- The Northern entrance – Crusader Gate entry, is marked as number #1. It leads to Caesarea port.
- The Southern entrance – the Roman theater entry, is marked as number #35. It leads to the other part of Caesarea’s old city, Caesarea Maritima.
And you can go from one part of the old city to another using the gate at #23. But you may be required to show a valid ticket to pass from Caesarea port to Caesarea Maritima.
Caesarea Maritima is a national park. You can visit it only during the mentioned opening hours. If you come within those hours, you must buy an entrance ticket to see the port and the Maritima. And if you are visiting after opening hours, the entrance to Caesarea harbor will be free (and Caesarea Maritima is closed).
The easiest way to get to this national park is by car. Enter “Caesarea National Park” into the navigation app, and it will get you there. Moreover, there are many free parking spaces on site.
Reaching this national park by public transport is inconvenient. You can take the bus (for example, Egged line #910 from Tel Aviv to Haifa) to Or Akiva interchange. And from there, walk for 2.5 km, or take a taxi. Another option would be to take the train to Caesarea station. But the train station is even further away (than the bus stop), and you must choose either a bus or a taxi.
Here is a link to Moovit, where Caesarea National Park is already set as the destination. Change the origin from Jerusalem to your location, and you will get updated directions.
Sunday – Thursday and Saturday: 8:00 – 17:00.
Friday: 8:00 – 16:00.
Sunday – Thursday and Saturday: 8:00 – 16:00.
Friday: 8:00 – 15:00.
On holidays, usually 8:00 – 13:00.
Adult – 39 NIS, child – 24 NIS, and student – 33 NIS.
If you visit several National Parks, consider purchasing a combo ticket. You can find additional info at National Parks And Nature Reserves.
Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in October 2023. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
Discounts and Coupons
The Israeli Parks and Nature Authority manages Caesarea National Park, and they do not offer coupons. The only way to decrease costs is by purchasing a combo ticket or an annual subscription. You can find additional info at National Parks And Nature Reserves.
The Modern City of Caesarea
Caesarea is a town in Israel located on the Mediterranean coast. It is famous for the ancient city that became Caesarea National Park. But there are also other tourist attractions – for example, the Ralli Museum and Aqueduct Beach. You can find additional information about the city in Caesarea.
As I mentioned, you can visit this area only during the opening hours of Caesarea National Park. And I took the following sunset photo from the harbor while the National Park was closed.
View of the sea, Hedera power station, and Caesarea Maritima:
Before exploring Caesarea Maritima on foot, here is a lovely view from viewpoints on the wall Rampart (#36).
The multiple rooms and the Hippodrome (closest to the sea) are used during events and festivals. You will see more of them at Sukkot Celebrations (further ahead).
And now, let’s begin exploring Caesarea Maritima.
Time Trek Displays
If this is your first visit to Caesarea, I suggest starting at the Roman Theater entry (#35). Near the southern entrance, you can find the “Caesarea Experience” display (#32). It is a 10-minute movie that gives you a historical background. There is also a similar display at the port. They are called “Time Trek Displays” on the map, and the one in the harbor is marked #18.
The movie is available in Hebrew, English, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, German, and French. Here we are, watching in Hebrew with subtitles in Russian.
After the movie ended, we headed to the most impressive building on-site – the theater.
The Roman Theater
The Roman Theater – the theater structure, an impressive and powerful building, stands at the southern edge of the national park. People from the highest and lowest walks of life came here to enjoy dramas and comedies. The classic model of Roman theaters influenced the shape of the theater: a semi-circle, in which were built blocks of cavea (seats) separated by vomitoria (entrances and exits). The arena – an area at the foot of the seats, was often used for the performances. The orchestra (stage area) which in Caesarea had a high and impressive scaenae frons (stage backdrop) and also underground rooms – dressing compartments for the actors.
The well-known term “bread and amusement” originates from the tradition established by Augustus Caesar. And Caesarea is named after him. Being a port city, which hosted sailors and seamen, the leaders of Caesarea needed to keep the visitors occupied, to provide them with places of entertainment, and to amuse them to encourage them to return to the city and enrich its coffers. The theater was one of those means, and it serves in this capacity to this day. In essence, its stage is used for performances by the most significant artists in the country.
The theater was built by Emperor Vespasian, using Roman arch-based technology. At a later stage, King Herod added a few more blocks of seats and enlarged them.
Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.
By the way, Herod the Great was called “the greatest builder in Jewish history.” He is known for his colossal building projects throughout Judea, including the expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, Caesarea Maritima, Masada, and Herodium.
Many people confuse a theater and an amphitheater. Do you know what the difference between the Roman Theater and Amphitheater is? For a full explanation, check out Is Caesarea Amphitheater really an amphitheater?
And this is how the theater might look back at the day.
At the time of construction, there were about 4,000 places in the theater. Today, the theater is active and considered a status symbol. Only the top performers perform here. That is probably because selling thus many tickets can be done only by the most famous artists.
Note: the theater is marked as #34 on the site map.
The acoustics of the theater is excellent. No matter where you stand, even at the highest point, you can hear when somebody sings on the stage. Here, we tested just that.
The Stone Garden
Behind the theater’s stage, you can find a collection of architectural artifacts discovered during the excavations. Here is, for example, a gable. Gable is a corner frieze.
As you can see, the signs all over the park are in Hebrew and English.
You can also find other architectural elements, like the Doric capital and Sarcophagus.
The wealth of Roman Caesarea is reflected through the wide range of rocks. Stones were brought from all over the Mediterranean and Eastern coasts.
The Reef Palace
Behind the Roman Theater, closest to the waterline, you can find the Reef Palace (also known as The Coral Palace – #31).
The Reef Palace, called The Promontory Palace, consists of two central units. The lower palace was the private wing, and the upper mansion housed the public side.
In the following photo, you can see the lower palace. It had a swimming pool, and in the eastern complex, a central hall and two small rooms (all richly decorated) were found. The complex had bathing and heating facilities. In the Northeastern corner, there were stairs to the upper level. Mikveh and a bathhouse were located nearby.
As you can see, not much is left of the palace. But here is a possible reconstruction.
History Of The Reef Palace
The Reef Palace – when leaving the theater in the direction of the promenade, you pass through a large courtyard in the western part of which pillars are facing the sea.
That was the inner courtyard of the guest wing of Herod’s magnificent palace. The palace consisted of two stories for guests and residents. Another part of the mansion was built at the western end of the courtyard, on the marine reef – a peninsula protruding out to sea. Standing at the edge of the yard, looking westward, one can see some of the remains of the palace, parts of which are submerged in the sea, and one can imagine the glory and elegance of the place.
Who Built The Reef Palace?
Although Herod was never in Caesarea, some researchers attribute the palace to him, and they assume that it was one more of his beautiful buildings. Others argue that the mansion may even not have been built in Herod’s day, since it is too close to the large public buildings in the city (the theater and the Hippodrome), and Herod, who was naturally suspicious, would not have built a private palace in such proximity to public buildings. It is possible that governors who came to the city after the time of Herod’s reign lived in the mansion because they preferred the vibrant life in Caesarea over the monotony (in their opinion) of Jerusalem.
The palace fell into ruin over the years, and very little is left of it. On the reef, you can see a swimming pool remains that had been excavated in the Kurkar rock in the sea, and a layer of hydraulic plaster tells us that the pool contained freshwater. The pool was apparently in use in periods when aqueducts were bringing water to the city. The pool is one more proof of the insatiable hedonism of the aristocrats. A mosaic floor was also found alongside the pool, as well as a ritual bath (Mikveh) from the late Roman period.
Note: you can find additional information about the water supply at Taninim Stream Nature Reserve.
Pontius Pilate Inscription
Pontius Pilate was the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, serving under Emperor Tiberius from 26/27 to 36/37 AD. He was the judge on the trial and crucifixion of Jesus (Gospel of Matthew chapter 27).
This inscription says:
(Po)ntius Pilatus, the prefect of Judaea, (erected) a (building dedicated) to (the emperor) Tiberius.
The inscription content and the use of Latin language hint at the level of Romanization throughout the province and in Caesarea at the beginning of the first century AD.
From the palace, we continued to the Hippodrome (#28).
The Hippodrome was an ancient Grecian stadium for horse racing and chariot racing. The name is derived from the Greek words hippos (ἵππος; “horse”) and dromos (δρόμος; “course”). The term is used in the modern French language and some others, with the meaning of “horse racecourse”.
This edifice, whose location matches Josephus Flavius’s description, was built for the city’s inauguration in 10/9 BC. The Hippodrome was the venue for the Actian Games instituted by King Herod in honor of the Roman emperor Agustus. The games were held every four years and included horse and chariot races, athletics, gladiator combats, and hunting.
And from the Hippodrome, we continued to the bathhouse.
The Public Bathhouse (#30) has two areas: northern and southern. The north area was used for pre and post-bathing procedures – for example, exercise, shaving, haircuts, and massages. And the southern area had cold and hot baths. Here is a scheme for the south area.
This complex has a bright protective roof and can be easily spotted.
And our next stop is the Tax Archive.
The next photo shows the Tax Archive with the Public Bathhouse roofed area in the back.
Today, we know it was a Tax Archive by one of three inscriptions on site.
That inscription identified this building as Byzantine government offices where clerks recorded tax revenues. And the other two inscriptions are quotations from the New Testament, parsing obedience to the authorities.
And now, we will skip to the Crusader Gate at Caesarea Port.
Caesarea Port (Harbor)
This section will explore the Caesarea port area, and we will start from the entrance.
The Crusader Gate
The Crusader gate – the north-eastern entrance into Caesarea is through a reconstructed monumental structure – the Crusader gate. This gate is part of an even more powerful system of fortifications built by the ruler Louis IX. The system included a moat and glacis, a high wall, and sophisticated indirect access gates (twists and turns), which prevented direct entry into the city and exposed intruders to potential injury from inside the city. Standing inside the gate and looking upward, one can see a cross-shaped stone at the center of the arch.
Note: the gate is marked #1 on the site map.
Nymphaeum – Roman Fountain
The nymphaeum (#2) was the public fountain at the center of ancient Caesarea. It was situated where the city’s main street meets Herodian port.
The nymphaeum had a decorative function, provided drinking water, and was also where residents and visitors could congregate.
And since we mentioned water, you probably noticed no spring or lake near the city. The water was reaching the city by aqueducts. At the Aqueduct Beach (see below), you can find remains of that system.
The Old City
When you enter The Crusader Gate, the old city remains to your left. There is a short round route covering this hill. Here are several photos of the old town.
Remaining arches from an ancient street:
The width of the walls is quite impressive. Approximately two meters.
There are several viewpoints (#36) in the old city. Some of them are towards the south, showing Caesarea Maritima remains. The other views are towards the port and the sea.
In the distance, you can see the Hedera power station.
Remains of an old church on the hill of the port:
In this view from the mount toward the sea, you can see the only remaining mosque, “The Bosnian mosque.” (#15)
Today at the port, you can find several restaurants, jewelry shops and galleries, and an ice cream stand. But we will focus on the archeological findings.
The Port – Caesarea began with the special port built by Herod. Until then, the coastal ports relied on natural marinas, but Herod built the first quay-based port of its kind in the Middle East.
The quays were submerged in the sea on wooden rafts, and a lighthouse and a breakwater were also built alongside them. Grain was traded in ships sailing along the east coast of the Mediterranean, which was known for its convenient currents. Vessels departing from Egypt to Rome needed a place for anchorage and rest for re-stocking and repairs, as well as a safe place in stormy weather. The Romans in Caesarea provided these ships with port services and taxed them, which increased their income. The investment in constructing the port was worthwhile, and the activity therein expanded. The port city became a window on distant cultures since goods from the entire Mediterranean basin entered and departed through it.
The port operated for some years but, due to a lack of engineering knowledge, the quays did not last, and, despite rehabilitation efforts, they collapsed towards the end of the Byzantine period, and the port ceased to function.
Fishing boats and restaurants at the harbor:
This area is currently undergoing archeological work and reconstruction. Thus, there might be limited access.
Here is how it looked in 2014:
Here is another photo of the same area in 2022:
Caesarea Harbor Visitors’ Center
You can see four big windows on the right of the photo above. Behind them is a small museum called Caesarea Ancient Vaults (#27 on the map above).
Note: this museum is also called Caesarea Harbor Visitors’ Center.
The entrance fee to this museum is included in the ticket price. And on entry, you need to show the tickets.
Here are several photos from our visit:
Caesarea Harbor Visitors’ Center has four halls. In the second gallery, you can see a short movie (the duration is about ten minutes). The movie focuses on King Herod and one of his most significant projects – the construction of the port. And in other halls, you can find exciting findings.
The museum is quite small, and a typical visit will take about half an hour.
Roman Concrete and Underwater Construction
At the time of the port’s construction, it was an engineering wonder. The port was among the first ones built on the open sea. To make it, Herod used the latest available innovation – the Roman concrete.
Vitruvius, writing around 25 BC in his Ten Books on Architecture, distinguished types of aggregate appropriate for the preparation of lime mortars. For structural mortars, he recommended pozzolana, the volcanic sand from the beds of Pozzuoli, which are brownish-yellow-gray in color in that area around Naples, and reddish-brown near Rome. Vitruvius specifies a ratio of 1 part lime to 3 parts pozzolana for cement used in buildings and a 1:2 ratio of lime to pozzolana for underwater work, essentially the same ratio mixed today for concrete used in marine locations.
By the middle of the first century, the principles of underwater construction in concrete were well known to Roman builders. The city of Caesarea was the earliest known example to have made use of underwater Roman concrete technology on such a large scale.
Events and Tours at Caesaria National Park
Over the years, we participated in different events at this national park. And in this section, I will tell you about several of them.
Lantern Tour At Caesarea
Occasionally, Israeli National Parks hold lantern tours at this national park. Of course, these are battery-powered lanterns, but kids love the experience anyway.
We started at the Caesarea port entrance. And no matter how often I visit this site, I always learn something new. For example, when entering through those gates (the ones on the right in the photo above), you will notice that one of the corners is rounded. That is because Crusaders rode horses into the city. And gradually, horses shed part of the stone.
Then, using the secret passage, we went from the port to Caesarea Maritima.
We had about five stops during this tour, and our guide covered different topics at each stop.
We did not reach the Roman theater. Instead, we headed up to the bathhouses and turned back.
The tour lasted about an hour, less than I had hoped. Nonetheless, we learned new things and passed through one of the secret passages, and overall, it was a lovely experience.
Sukkot Celebrations at Caesaria National Park
Sukkot usually falls around October, so it is not too hot outside. Several vacation days and comfortable weather cause many to look for outdoor activities.
Caesarea National Park belongs to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. This park has two major pluses: it is relatively close to the center and can host many people. Thus, many events take place here.
According to the official site, we were expected to see various performances, shows for children, the Roman market, and more.
We saw that one of the shows had just started when we entered the park. So we went to see it, and this is what we saw:
Either they did not expect so many people, or they did not plan adequately. As you can see, we could see only their legs when the actors were climbing up. It is good to have shade, but the tent should be higher and longer.
I understood that the planning of the event was lacking (this is an annual event, so they should have reasonable estimations of the number of people that are going to come), and thus, we stopped watching the performers and went to take places in advance before the next show started.
When we entered the park, we received a timetable for Sukkot celebrations and a map telling where each show would be. The problem was that on-site, there were no signs at all. And if you look at the photo above, you will see drums and other musical instruments. And I thought we arrived at the drum’s performance. But after about 15 minutes of seeing them, I understood I was wrong.
Instead, we came to the “guard’s performance.” They were teaching the children different claps. Overall, it was a pleasant 20-minute show.
The “Roman market” consisted of several stands.
The Main Show
We found a spot on one of the walls and stayed there.
There was a warrior fight with an unexpected result, and the show was likable, but our viewing angle was not the best.
Sukkot Celebrations – Final Thoughts
If I had to sum up the Sukkot celebrations at Caesarea, I would say there were things I did not like and others that I did. The organization lacked many aspects (problematic parking, the tent, the lack of signs, unclear map, sitting areas, a small Roman market, and quite expensive – 25 NIS for filling a small bottle with sand of different colors). The performers and actors were very patient with kids, and overall, the shows were excellent (of course, aimed at children under ~10). And if I were visiting by myself, then I would pass. But what matters is that when I asked my daughter whether she liked it, she said: “Yes!”.
The Most Popular National Parks
Caesarea National Park was among the top three of Israel’s most visited National Parks in recent years. In 2019, it was in second place for Israelis and tourists (for additional details, see Israel tourism statistics).
I guess there are several reasons for that. First of all is the location. Caesarea is halfway between Tel Aviv-Yafo and Haifa. That makes it close to significant population clusters. Secondly, it is by the sea, and the breeze makes the visit more pleasant. Thirdly, there is ample space for different events (we will return to this subject later). And last but not least, there are significant remains.
What is Caesarea Philippi?
I want to start with a common misconception. Caesarea and Caesarea Philippi are two different places. Philip was Herod’s son, and after Herod’s death, he inherited an area near Banias Springs. In 2 BCE, Philip founded his capital there and called it Caesarea Philippi. Today, it is more commonly known as Banias Nature Reserve, located in the Golan Heights. These are two different National Parks with 150 km separating them.
Herod the Great built this city about 25-13 BCE. And he named it in honor of “Caesar.” The remains of that old city are today’s Caesarea National Park.
How Much Time Does a Typical Visit Take?
It is a pretty big national park. You can spend anywhere from an hour up to a half-day or even more (especially if there is an event). A typical visit will be 2 – 4 hours.
Moreover, keep in mind there are free guided tours on Saturdays (for more info, visit the official site). The typical introductory tour lasts an hour. You can join one of those and additionally explore by yourself.
Note: I have visited Caesarea National Park many times, and the photos are from various visits. Thus, you will see that I took some images during the day and others in the evening.
Caesarea moved back and forth between periods of affluence and prosperity, and destruction and ruin. The city’s remains give evidence of days of pomp and glory as well as periods of regression and decline.
The city began life in the Persian period (4th century BCE) when a trading station was established on the Mediterranean seashore, containing a protective fort. This town was part of the line of settlements established by Tyre and Sidon along the coastline, down to Egypt. The name of this small town was “Straton” (in Hebrew – Migdal Sharshon), after the name of the person who founded it – the King of Sidon.
Roman and Byzantine Period
In the Roman period, Herod identified the potential of the place, and in 30 BCE, he commenced building a port city there. He named it Caesarea in honor of Augustus Caesar, who gave the territory to Herod as a gift. Previous port cities at that time were established in the vicinity of natural bays. Still, Herod began building an artificial port, one of the largest in the Middle East and the most sophisticated. The port contributed significantly to the city’s general stability.
Caesarea reached the peak of its prosperity in the Roman-Byzantine period. Its remains from that period show a flourishing city, containing a system for the supply of flowing water, planned streets, cultural and municipal public buildings (from temples to theaters), and more. In the Roman period, Caesarea was the capital of the Province of Judea, the residence of governors, and it also had a sizeable Jewish community. And in the Byzantine period, the city became a vast metropolis and enjoyed a vital status due to the Christian community living there.
In the Roman and Byzantine periods, Caesarea was a major port city and a critical crossroad. Trading ships anchored there for replenishment, rest, and repairs, the port was full of life, and the town was energized by it. The port was a significant source of income for the city’s coffers, and when it ceased operation, the city of Caesarea also underwent a considerable change.
If you are wondering where the water came from, check out Taninim Stream Nature Reserve.
Muslim Period And Crusaders
In the early Muslim period, Halif Omar conquered it (640 CE), and his followers ruled it for about 500 years. During this period, the city lost its greatness. In 1101 the Crusaders conquered the city. The Crusader city was tiny compared with its dimensions in earlier periods, and the Crusaders built a smaller port on the ruins of the old port that suited the city they had established. However, in 1291 Crusader Caesarea was conquered by the Mameluke Sultan Al-Malik Al-Ashraf in a move known as “scorched earth” – the Mamelukes feared the return of the Crusaders, so they methodically destroyed the coastal cities and ports, and Caesarea was lost under the ruins. In the Ottoman period, the place was deserted, and only at the end of the 19th century, a small town was established by Muslims from Bosnia that survived until 1948.
And now, we will answer some common questions.
What is the meaning of Caesarea?
Herod the Great built the city of Caesarea, which he named in honor of “Caesar.” Today, the remains of that old city can be seen in Caesarea National Park.
Is Caesarea open on Shabbat?
Caesarea National Park is open on Saturday. See the complete opening hours above.
How much time does a typical visit to Caesarea National Park take?
You can spend from one hour to a half-day in Caesarea National Park. But most people will probably spend several hours.
Is there an Amphitheater in Caesarea?
No. There is a Roman Theater. You can find an explanation regarding the difference between a theater and an amphitheater above.
What is the difference between Caesarea and Caesarea Philippi?
If you love archeology, especially Roman remains, Caesarea National Park and Beit Shean National Park should be on your list! But remember that you will be under the sun during your visit. Thus, do not forget water, sunscreen, and a hat. Also, before visiting, check the official site for tours. There are free tours on many weekends, and a tour will upgrade the experience.
Moreover, check out the Caesarea page for additional info and attractions in the city.
Have you ever been to Caesarea National Park? How was your experience? Tell us in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I will see you on future trips!
Additional ResourcesHere are several resources that I created to help travelers:
- Israel Trip Planner is the page that will help you to create your perfect travel route.
- National Parks And Nature Reserves page lists and put all national parks on the map. There is also a top list, information about ticket types and campsites.
- If you are looking for things to do, here are the pages for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Sea Of Galilee, and Makhtesh Ramon.
- Wondering what events are there in Israel? Here is the Events And Festivals By Season guide.