One of my most vivid memories of being in Israel for the first time at age 16 was being a very special place called Caesarea (pronounced Kaysarya). Standing amongst the ruins from hundreds of years of ruling empires certainly left its mark on my memory.
So, when a very good friend suggested we meet there during my recent trip to Israel, I jumped at the opportunity. My two kids and one niece drove the 45 minutes from where we were staying down the coastal highway and were there by lunchtime.
We met at the marina, the old harbor. Since it is now part of a national park in Israel, you have to pay a fee to enter the ruins. I hadn’t expected that, but once we entered the area, I completely understood. The ruins are so maintained, yet you feel like you are entering a time machine. The place is captivating – ruins on the Mediterranean. It was about 100 shekels for the four of us, about $25, which was not a lot for what we were able to see. Entrance into Caesarea for an adult costs 36 shekels (approx $10). Children enter for a reduced rate of 22 shekels ( approx $6). My kids wanted to read every sign in order to understand what they were seeing for the first time in their lives.
Built during the time of Herod the Great, Caesarea was one of the most prominent cities of the Roman Empire’s eastern area. It flourished during the Roman and Byzantine periods, but lost its standing in the seventh century A.D. when the Arabs took over the area. Israel regained the area in 1948. Herod’s Castle was built on the reef, which sticks out into the sea, and you can see a special mosaic floor, reserved from the period. There are columns and mooring stones still anchored in the ground to give you a vision of what once was. The views of the sea from the ruins are dazzling.
Once you’re inside the marina, you have access to beautiful restaurants with views of the ocean. We chose to dine at Hatsalbanim which offers lovely kid’s meals of chicken schnitzel and fries, while we dined on salads, fish and glasses of wine. I hadn’t seen this friend in 15 years and it was the perfect place for a reunion. Lunch cost around $75 for the five of us.
After lunch, we walked over to the shops. There are artist’s galleries and souvenir shops all over the grounds. I bought some Judaica items and miscellaneous memorabilia for the kids. There is also a fabulous ice cream shop near the crusader gate entrance, which sells a wide variety of delicious ice cream. We didn’t have time for the free visual presentation that tells the park’s story.
Caesarea is also home to a renowned Amphitheater that was partially destroyed by the sea and has been preserved to host programming of all kinds, from concerts to horseracing during the summer and is a great place for the kids to run around. The Caesarea Aquaduct Beach is beautiful, clustered around ruins on the sands, and we managed to spend some quality time on them on a different afternoon. There are also a few museums in the area: the world’s only underwater museum and the Ralli Museum, with a focus on Latin American and Sephardic Jewish artwork. If you are in the park and have time to explore, you will also see old bathhouses and Temples from the Byzantine era,
The park is open all year round, although in the summer season between April and September the park opens between 8am and 6pm. It closes at 4pm the remainder of the year, and an hour earlier on Fridays.
Even if you are not interested in the Roman excavations, the beautiful Mediterranean sea front location of Caesarea alone should dazzlefr you. It really is a great place to visit, but make sure you leave plenty of time. It’s a terrific day out for adults and kids of all ages.