The park extends from the Roman theatre
in the south to the Crusader City in the north. It includes the Byzantine
Square, the Herodian amphitheatre, promontory palace, bathhouse, a network
of streets, and more. Many archaeological sites within the national
park have been prepared for public visits.
The park has three entrances:
1. Near the theatre
2. South of the Crusader City wall
3. Near the eastern gate of the Crusader City
Caesarea National Park is situated on the Mediterranean
coast in northern Sharon, between the Crocodile and Hadera River mouths.
It lies alongside bays and shallow inlets that were formed by wave erosion
in the kurkar range. These bays were utilised throughout history for the
anchorage of sea-going vessels.
During the Persian rule (586-332 BCE), the Phoenicians
built a settlement on the shoreline of one of the bays, where the ground
water level was high. The village, which was part of Dor County, flourished
in the Hellenistic period (332-37 BCE), and is first, mentioned in the
Zenon papyri (a document from 259 BCE) under the name of Straton's Tower.
In 103 BCE, Dor and Straton's Tower were conquered by Alexander Jannaeus,
annexed by the Hasmonean Kingdom, and torn away from it after the Roman
conquest. In the year 30 BCE, the village was awarded to Herod, who ruled
between the years 37-4 BCE. He built a large port city at the site, and
called it Caesarea in honour of his patron Octavian Augustus Caesar. In
Josephus' Jewish War (1:21,5) it says: "And he chose on the coast
one forsaken town by the name of Straton's Tower... which thanks to its
favourable location was suitable for carrying out his ambitious plans.
He rebuilt it entirely of white stone and adorned it with a royal palace
of unique splendor, displaying... the brilliance of his mind".
Caesarea was a planned city, with a network of criss-crossing roads, a
temple, theatre, amphitheatre, markets and residential quarters. It took
12 years to build, and great festivities were held to mark its completion
in 10/9 BCE. The city transformed rapidly into a great commercial centre,
and by the year 6 BCE became the headquarters of the Roman government
The high-level aqueduct, which brought water from Shuni springs some 7.5
km northeast of Caesarea, served as a source of water for the prospering
city. Its population included Jews and gentiles, but conflicts between
them were one of the important causes of the Great Revolt that erupted
in 66 BCE. Caesarea served as a base for the Roman legions who dealt with
the quelling of the revolt, and it was here that their commanding general
Vespasian was declared Caesar. The city received the status of 'colony'
and after the fall and destruction of Jerusalem, became the most important
city in the country. Being the centre for quelling the Bar Kochva revolt,
this is probably where the Jewish leaders headed by Rabbi Akiva were tortured
Pagans, Samaritans, Jews and Christians lived here in the 3rd and 4th
centuries CEo Among its famous citizens were Rabbi Abbahu, and the church
leaders Auregines and Eusebius.
During the Byzantine period the city flourished, and extended over some
400 acres. Towards the end of the 6th century a perimeter wall was built,
making Caesarea the largest fortified city in the country.
Following the Arab conquest in 640 CE, Caesarea lost its political and
economic significance. Most of its citizens left the city, and it became
a small forsaken village.
Only in the 9th century, with the development of sea-trade and the recovery
of the coastal cities, was Caesarea refortify. It was conquered by the
Crusaders on May 17th 1101, and ruled by the Knights of Gamier. In 1251,
during the crusade of king Louis IX of France, Caesarea was fortified
anew with impressive intensity.
In 1265 it was conquered by the Mamelukes led by Baybars, and was destroyed
and deserted. Its ruins became a source of lime and building stones for
the region. It remained desolate until the late 19th century, when the
Ottoman authorities settled Bosnian refugees here. The destroyed Crusader
fortress was renovated and became the administrative centre, with new
houses built on the ruins.
Kibbutz Sedot Yam was founded in 1940, just south of ancient Caesarea,
and in recent years new residential areas were built in the vicinity.
The Persian period: 568-332 BCE
The Arab period: 638-1099 CE
The Hellenistic period: 332-37 BCE
The Crusader period: 1099-1291 CE
The Roman period: 37 BCE - 324 CE
The Mameluke period: 1291-1561 CE
The Byzantine period: 324-638 CE
The Ottoman period: 1561-1917 CE
1. The Theatre
This is the most ancient of all theatres found in Israel. Built in Herod's
time, it continued to be in use for hundreds of years thereafter. Its
location was carefully chosen in accordance with the accepted criteria
of the time. It had two cavea (seating areas) and could accommodate 4,000
spectators. The orchestra area was decorated with marble-like plaster
and renewed several times. Behind the stage stood the lavishly decorated
scaenae frons - a three storey high wall, built with tall pillars - which
served as the stage background. Towards the end of the Byzantine period
the theatre was converted into a castle, and was deserted after the Arab
2. Promontory Palace Jutting into the sea, just west of the theatre, are the excavated
remains of an impressive palace with a pool in its western section. The
palace dates back to the Roman and Byzantine periods. Archaeologists believe
that the pool once served as the city's fish market.
3. Herodian Amphitheatre A huge V-shaped entertainment structure, complete with an arena and
hundreds of seats, was excavated here. Built by Herod, it was probably
used for horse racing, sport events and entertainment shows during the
Roman period. The amphitheatre, more than 250m long and 50m wide, originally
had 12 rows of seats, with place for some 10,000 spectators. Two rows
of columns were added to its eastern section at a later stage. The structure
was referred to as an amphitheatre during Herod's time (Antiq. XV: 341)
and might be the stadium mentioned by Josephus Flavius in Jewish War (11:9,3).
4. Network of Streets
A section of the Roman and Byzantine city's grid plan of streets was uncovered
at this site. Insulae separate the criss-crossing roads.
5. Bathhouse Complex
A luxurious public bathhouse that occupies more than half of the insula,
was apparently built here after Herod's amphitheatre ceased to function.
6. Commercial & Administrative
Built on the southern section of a Roman-Byzantine insula, the commercial
area was erected on vaults which served as warehouses. One of the vaulted
chambers was used as a Mithraeum (a sanctuary of the god Mithras).
7. Fortified Medieval City
In the 9th century (the Arab period), a fortified city surrounded the
harbour. The Arab City walls were later incorporated into the impressive
fortifications of Louis IX, which consisted of a high perimeter wall and
a 9m deep dry moat. The wall was 900m long and 13m high, and included
gates in the north, east and south, and several posterns (secret gateways).
A harbour fortress, erected in the southwest, was separated from the city
by a trench filled with seawater.
8. The Harbour
A large artificial harbour ('Sebastos') was built here during the time
of Herod, It consisted of an outer quay with a 400 m long breakwater,
an inner quay, and an anchorage area along which stood columns and mooring
stones. The breakwater sank and collapsed during the Roman period, but
the harbour was repaired in the time of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius
(491-518 CE). Following the Arab conquest, the harbour fell into disuse
and silted up, but was restored again in the 9th century. During the Crusader
period a new breakwater was built, with columns taken from the ruins of
Byzantine Caesarea. The inner basin, which had been clogged with silt,
became a residential quarter. The fishing dock seen here today was built
after the creation of the State of Israel.
9. The Temple podium
In Herod's time an elevated platform was built here to serve as a base
for a lavish temple dedicated to Roma and Augustus. An octagonal Byzantine
church was later erected at the site, followed by a mosque in the Arab
period, and later stills by a Crusader cathedral.
10. The Statues Square
This square was part of a Byzantine road (the carda) which was adorned
by two statues - one made of marble and one of porphyry - and probably
depicted Roman Caesars (some say the porphyry statue was that of Hadrian).
The mosaic inscription relates that the square was renovated in the 6th
century, during the time of the mayor Flavius Stratigius.
11. The Synagogue
Ruins of a Byzantine synagogue with a mosaic floor and broken fragments
of a grille listing the 24 priestly courses, were unearthed at this site.
This is thought to have been the Jewish quarter of Caesarea throughout
the city's existence.
12. Roman Wall
Ruins of Roman Caesarea's fortifications were excavated in the north-western
limits of the city. They include parts of a wall, a rectangular tower,
and a round-towered gate. A paved street with a sewage tunnel beneath
it ran through the gate. This part of the wall was probably built on top
of the ancient fortifications of Straton's Tower, the village that predated
The remains of an oval Roman amphitheatre, probably dating to the 2nd
century CE, were uncovered here. The amphitheatre was used for g1adiatonal
and animal combats.
14. Byzantine Wall
A perimeter wall over 2,600 m long surrounded Byzantine Caesarea. It had
several gates and square towers. Its southern gate was discovered on the
grounds of Kibbutz Sedot Yam.
15. Hippodrome ("Circus")
Built in the 2nd century CE for chariot racing, this hippodrome was 450
m long and 90 m wide, and could seat some 30,000 spectators. Columns originally
set on the wall running along the middle of the race track (spina) were
unearthed in the arena, as well as a 27 m high porphyry obelisk.
16. The High-Level Aqueduct
Since Caesarea had no rivers or springs, drinking water for the Roman
and Byzantine City was brought via a water carrier (aqueduct), originating
at the Shuni springs. Other water sources such as the upper Crocodile
River were added at a later stage. The aqueduct consists of three canals,
two of which were added in the course of its use. In low-lying areas,
sections of the aqueduct were carried on arches (arcadia). On its way
to the city the aqueduct passed the kurkar ridge through a hewn tuunel
at today's Jisre a'Zarka village, reaching Caesarea at the height of some
8 m above sea level, with a gradient of 20 cm for each km.
17. The Low Aqueduct
This aqueduct carried water from an artificial reservoir formed by damming
the flow of the Crocodile River waters. It is 5km long and reached Caesarea
at a height of 5.5 m above sea level.