Caesarea is the seaside city that King Herod built to honor his Roman patron Caesar Augustus, and it was later held by a succession of Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamelukes, and Ottoman Turks.
These are among the most spectacular ruins in all Israel. The city is also prominent in the New Testament—here Pontius Pilate had his seat of government, the Apostle Paul was tried, and Peter baptized the Roman centurion Cornelius after his vision of God showing him “a new thing.” Jews remember that here began the Great Revolt against Rome in 66-73 C.E. leading to the execution of thousands of Jewish rebels, and Rabbi Akiva was brought here to be flayed alive during the Second (Bar Kochba) Revolt in 132-35 C.E.1 Lots of history! Be sure to see the Roman Aqueduct north of the park (pictured at left below). There have been reports of car break-ins, mostly at the Aqueduct but also in the main lot by the Roman Theater, though to be fair, that seems to have declined a lot in the last couple of years. If your luggage is in the car, keep your eye on at the Aqueduct (which is easy to do), and if you can’t, take anything valuable with you. Caesarea makes an easy stop on the way from Tel Aviv to Haifa; if you can park within easy view of the ticket office at the Roman Theater, I think you’re fine; otherwise, I would drop off your luggage in Haifa and double back. It is not that far, and who wants to risk stolen luggage?
Easily accessible by car, bus, or train from Haifa, Akko offers scenes from “The Arabian Nights.” The Old City is absolutely magical. Akko (or Acre) was the Crusaders last stronghold in the Holy Land, and the Crusader “underground city” with its incredibly well-preserved knights’ halls (pictured at right) is one of the most amazing sites in all Israel. Uri Buri and Abu Christo are famous restaurants in the city. It is a wonderful and colorful city to explore on foot, though it is a bit like a rabbit warren! Also, just outside Akko is Bahji, the resting place of Bahá’u’lláh, the founder and greatest prophet of the Bahà’ì faith, who was imprisoned by the Ottoman Turks as an apostate from Islam. His burial place is a peaceful and quiet shrine, surrounded by extraordinary gardens.
On the northern border with Lebanon, these sea-caves carved into chalk cliffs are truly spectacular. They are only accessible by cable car (unless you swim there!). On the way to Rosh Ha-Niqra, you will pass by the beach resort of Nahariya, with the good Singapore Chinese Restaurant.
Zikhron Ya’akov is a lovely and charming city on the slopes of Mount Carmel south of Haifa, glistening on the hills above the coastal highway. Like Caesarea, this is a possible stop on the way from Tel Aviv. Zikhron, as it is commonly known for short, was one of the first Zionist settlements in the Land of Israel in the First Aliyah, financed largely by the Rothschild fortune, and the name (“Memory of Jacob”) recalls the founding baron’s father Jacob. Each major wave of Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel in modern times is called an “aliyah,” and the First Aliyah in the 1880s and 1890s was the only one of the five aliyot that was religious in nature. But unlike the Jewish population already in the Land of Israel (and always there), they were also Zionist in motivation, committed to doing more than praying, studying, and dying in the Holy Land, and they insisted on being self-sufficient rather than relying on charity from overseas to finance their lives. See the First Aliyah Museum for more on that story, tel. (04) 629-4777. Start at the Sarah Aharonson House, the home of an early Zionist hero who, after seeing the results of the Armenian genocide, was determined to help the British in their campaign against the Ottoman Turks in World War I. She and others formed a spy ring in the town called Nili, which provided information to the British. The Turks intercepted one of her carrier pigeons and tortured her, but she managed to kill herself with a pistol concealed under a tile in a bathroom. It is quite the story.
I noticed right away that several buildings looked much like the German Templer homes in Sarona and in Haifa, and my tour guide Russell Abel (contact info p. 7) complimented my eye for detail—they were in fact built by Templers who were hired to construct buildings in the new settlement, including the first synagogue. Zikhron today is really a charming place, with beautiful neighborhoods and a central pedestrian district of shops, cafés, and galleries without the sterility of Sarona. On a future visit, I think I may stay at a guesthouse for a few days for a different experience