(or some of them anyway…)
Israel is a gold mind for ancient ruins and historical places, many of which can date back to the first and second centuries. While on a two-week whirlwind trip to Israel, I was able to see a number of places that are significant for their historical value. Most people immediately picture the Western Wall and Jerusalem when they think of Israel. However, these lesser known spots have a historical intrigue of their own.
One of the first stops we took was to the coastal ruins of Caesarea. This is the location of the port city of Caesarea, which was built by Herod the Great before the first century. Herod, who was also known as The Great Builder, had a knack for finding beautiful locations to build cities upon. Caesarea is built right along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea with the ruins of Herod’s palace jutting out over the sea.
Caesarea was named after the emperor, Augustus Caesar, though there is no record that the emperor ever came to visit…which is slightly embarrassing for Herod since he built an amphitheater with space for a throne in the very middle that was meant for Caesar himself. Sort of like throwing a birthday party for a person and having them not show up. Even then, the amphitheater is in a prime location with terraced seats facing the Mediterranean.
Today, there are still people who live in Caesarea and walking around the ruins makes for a beautiful afternoon of seaside views and tasty gelato.
Location: Mid-way between Tel Aviv and Haifa on the coast near the city Hadera.
The ruins of Capernaum date back to the 2nd century where the town was once a fishing village off the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is most known for its biblical history as it’s said to be the location of many performed miracles as well as the location of the disciple Peter’s house.
Most of the ruins are blocked off from walking around, but you can however walk through the synagogue, which perhaps holds the most biblical significance and also slightly overlooks the rest of the ruins of the town. Capernaum is feet away from the shore of the sea and is a beautiful location to explore.
Location: Northern Israel on the north side of the Sea of Galilee.
Beit She’an is a fascinating place because of the amount of historical layers found here. Beit She’an was a city located alongside a caravan route between two valleys that could control access to several different destinations. There were 14 active streams nearby that allowed the city to have running water and a sewage system (pretty impressive for that time period!). Its location was prime and strategic, which was most likely the reason why so many civilizations inhabited it over the years.
Archeologists have discovered 19 layers of civilizations here that date as far back to the Egyptian time period of the 16th-12th centuries B.C.
Location: On the eastern borderline of Israel, just south of Tiberias.
Yet another of Herod’s creations, Herodian is the location of one of Herod’s summer palaces. It was built on top of an enormous artificial hill on the edge of the desert. You don’t really appreciate that statement until you see an aerial view of this artificial hill. I should call it a mountain; it was massive. The actual palace was set within the mountain in a circular manner. When Herod died, a monument and mausoleum were built on the edge and a small replica of the monument was made.
Location: Just south of Jerusalem
Nimrod’s Fortress was a crusader fortress located high up on a hill at the foot of Mount Hermon. The fortress was said to have control over the road to Damascus and was virtually impenetrable due to its location. Inside the fortress are small passageways and doorways that lead you around like a maze. The fortress has beautiful views of the valley below, rocks to climb over and rooms to discover. I could have spent much more time playing explorer, but unfortunately our time was cut short.
Location: In Golan Heights near the border of Syria.