More than a thousand years later, on top of what the Romans had built, Caesarea became a fortified Crusader city ringed by thick medieval stone walls, moats and gatehouses.
Details, Caesarea, Israel
Today, peeling back the layers of time in this Mediterranean town just a little more than 30 miles north of Tel Aviv makes for an interesting day trip on a visit to Israel. It’s a short hop from Tel Aviv or Haifa, and an easy drive from Jerusalem. And if you’re visiting during Israel’s six warm months, you can combine history with a bit of sun-worshiping and swimming in the Med.
My husband and I decide to make Caesarea a two-day trip from Jerusalem, our new home town. Take the long way, spend the night somewhere and discover more of Israel as we go.
As always with this complicated, beautiful country, we’re not disappointed.
Although you can easily get to Caesarea from Jerusalem by taking the main highway to Tel Aviv and then the coastal road north, we decide on a route that we haven’t yet driven — north from Jerusalem, through the majority-Arab West Bank on old highway 60 and then across to the coast just south of the Palestinian town of Nablus.
As we make our way north out of Jerusalem, big Bedouin tents perched in the desert quickly give way to the hardscrabble terraces that make up the hills of the West Bank. The tall concrete wall around the area that Israel began building in 2000 snakes through the countryside. The rows of identical red-roofed houses that make up the Israeli settlements are dotted through the landscape, as are the tall, thin mosques, the classic symbols of an Arab town.
Just before Nablus, we turn left and take the road to the coastal town of Netanya, heading for the beach. Just like the Romans and the Crusaders before us, we yearn to be by the sea in Caesarea.
Surprisingly, we find that there’s no place to stay along the Med here, even though Caesarea has become an upmarket area of luxurious homes for wealthy Israelis. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a summer home here.
Modern Caesarea consists of a stunning seaside national park, worth every shekel of the admission price, built around the Roman and Crusader ruins and surrounded by a new, expanding planned development of gated communities, shopping malls, a country club and a golf course. The one hotel, the Dan Caesarea, part of the upscale Israeli Dan hotel chain, is luxurious and expensive, but inland.
We’re looking for what attracted the Romans — that unique position on the Med. So we head back the short distance to Netanya to find a hotel by the sea for the night, leaving the next day to explore Caesarea.