The north coast of Israel: Caesarea, Haifa and Akko
After visiting Tel Aviv, I decided to travel along the north coast of Israel by public transport which I found overall to be good and efficient. The reason can be traced back not only to the crystal clear and transparent sea and the beaches with fine golden sand, but also to the presence of an important archaeological site and wonderful gardens interspersed with panoramic terraces. A real journey through history that I made crossing three different cities, the first of which was ancient Caesarea, passing through the ancient splendour of Akko, and modern of Haifa.
HOW TO REACH CAESAREA
The core of modern Caesarea is located halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa and today features one of the most famous beaches in Israel along which numerous villas have been built. To reach this place from Tel Aviv, you can rent a car, or travel by train and get off at Binyamina station, or bus 826 whose driver will drop you off near a roundabout in the city. The most evocative and important place to visit is a few kilometers from the city centre and is the archaeological park of ancient Caesarea. So, if you decide to come by public transport, know that to reach the site you will have to take bus number 9, or a taxi.
THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK OF CAESAREA MARITTIMA
The site overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and includes the ancient seaport built by Herod the Great in the second half of the first century BC. During his regency, the city had great commercial importance thanks to its imposing port, now partly submersed underwater, which had capacity for about 300 ships. The atmosphere here is unique as every breath is like/equivalent to inhaling centuries of history! The sites where the daily life of the past took place such as the thermal baths, the hippodrome, and the gym, are easily recognizable, but the most spectacular structure of this site is its amphitheater overlooking the sea, which is still used today for performances and concerts. Furthermore, it is precisely here that in 1961 a group of Italian archaeologists found a block of stone containing an epigraph with the name of Pontius Pilate and this represents the only (for now) historical testimony of its existence which up to that moment was linked only to the events of the life of Jesus. Inside the park you will also find the remains of the Ara bian walls taken by assault during the second and third crusades, which can be visited independently or with a guide.
Entrance to the site costs 39 NIS and is open every day from 8 to 16.
THE ROMAN AQUEDUCT
Just outside the park, about fifteen minutes away on foot, are the remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct which, for a while, rise s parallel to the beach. Today the stupendous glimpses of its arches are largely buried in the sand, but they are able to give us back the grandeur of the architecture /work: just think that this double aqueduct brought water to Caesarea directly from the two sources of Mount Carmelo, about 16 km from the site. I must say that I found this construction brilliant, above all because the slope was very little and to overcome this problem, the Romans built it directly into the rock, in order to ensure a sufficient slope for the whole journey. After visiting the site I continued towards Haifa but to do it independently, since the archaeological site is not well connected to the train station, I had to walk for half an hour to reach the city and then take bus 9 to the train station of Benyamina. From here, at a cost of 20.50 NIS, I was able to take the train that took me to Haifa Merkaz central station in 40 minutes.
This is the third largest city in Israel and is an important industrial and port center. Haifa stands at the foot of Mount Carmel, in a natural bay that has been incorporated into the modern city which consists of three levels: the lower city, the central one and the upper one. Furthermore, in Haifa there is also the world center of the Bahà’ì religious community, a monotheistic cult born in Iran, whose believers are convinced of the unity of all religions in one God and the unity of all men before God, above the distinctions of race and social class. Haifa has all kinds of attractions: beautiful beaches, unforgettable excursions, traditional markets, exquisite food, UNESCO sites and street art In short, you certainly can’t miss this amazing little Israelite port city!
WHAT TO SEE IN HAIFA
THE LOUISE PROMENADE
To start your visit to Haifa in the best way, I recommend a nice walk along the Louise promenade, a walkway built along the slope of Mount Carmel overlooking the lower city of Haifa and which will guarantee you an enchanting view of the bay. A promenade worthy of being immortalized in a postcard! Along this promenade, on a clear day, it is possible to admire any agglomeration along the bay up to the white Old Town of Akko. Furthermore, this extraordinary walkway is also the access point to the top of the famous Bahai Gardens.
THE BAHAI GARDENS
Among the most important things to visit in the city are the spectacular Bahai Gardens. Extending for almost a kilometer along the western slope of Mount Carmel, these gardens present a perfectly symmetrical structure, consisting of 19 terraces which converge at the highest point in the Mausoleum of the Báb, the radiating center of this beautiful work. This sanctuary, completed in 1953, houses the mortal remains of the Báb, or the founder of the Bahàì religion, and the top of this structure is dominated by a gleaming dome supported by a drum with 18 windows resting on a perfect octagonal plan. All around, bright flower beds with emerald lawns ripple without a blade of grass out of place and along the terraces there are bubbling fountains, stone eagles, and hedges cut into eight-pointed stars. All these characteristics have allowed the Bahai gardens to be part of the Unesco World Heritage. The terraces are open every day, free of charge, from 9 to 17. The main entrance is located in the upper town and to get there you can walk (about 40 minutes from the lower town) take a bus or the “Carmelit” funicular near the train station. Paris square. An important thing when visiting/to visit the gardens is to rely on a free city tour, otherwise the risk is to go out and re-enter from one terrace to another through the various main entrances. The entrance for free tours is not the same, you have to go to another entrance 100 meters away from the main one.
THE GERMAN COLOGNE
At the foot of the Baha’i Gardens there is a beautiful area that blends past and present, namely the German Colony, the cultural and tourist center of Haifa. Here are the houses of the German Templars built in the 19th century, still in good condition. Around the street there are nice restaurants, shops and art galleries. A nice walk inside the Colony will take you straight to either the port or to the nearby Wadi Nisnas neighborhood.
THE ARAB MARKET IN WADI NISNAS
If you want to feel and understand this beautiful and unique ?/particular city it is necessary to visit this Arab-Christian quarter and the main “Wadi street”, founded in the 19th century, which has kept its Arab character in one place in particular: the open market. Here every day a culinary and cultural festival is staged that strikes all the senses! The area is also famous for traditional pastry shops and for the local Falafel to try in particular at Falafel in Ha’zkenim or Falafel in Mishel, which are located opposite each other.
THE TURKISH MARKET
The market was founded in the 1930s by dock workers and although it is no longer a functioning market, the area has been completely renovated and is now full of boutiques, cafes and bars. Wandering the narrow streets of this area is a wonderful way to discover the unique aspect of Arab and Jewish coexistence in Haifa There are also many art galleries to explore and street art to admire.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND SPACE
The National Museum of Science, Technology and Space in Haifa is perhaps the best children’s museum in the whole country and is an experience not to be missed if you are in Haifa. Throughout the year there are several excellent exhibitions, a science park where you can experience scientific principles, a puzzle game, a pre – school activity center (ages 2-7), hundreds of interactive screens and a multidimensional 3D cinema.
Haifa has 5km of coastline where you can relax with the sea breeze or sit in one of the many restaurants, cafes, etc. Among the best beaches are Bat Galim, loved by families and surfers, and Dado Beach, surrounded by beautiful gardens ideal for family picnics.
THE NAVAL AND ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION MUSEUM
The Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum also presents the history of the Israeli Navy, those who founded it and how illegal immigration ships were transformed into armed ships during the Second World War. Underneath the “Af Al Pi Chen” ship is an in-depth display of British-run detention camps in Cyprus in the late 1940s and Israel’s first resistance to British rule before the establishment of Israel as a country. Inside, however, you can see a video contribution on the testimonies of refugees inside the ship itself that will make you discover what life was like for the men and women who faced the dangerous journeys to reach the Holy Land.
WHERE TO STAY IN HAIFA
I stayed at Haifa Hostel, a good starting point for visiting the Bahai Gardens. There are women’s dorms, the bathrooms I found clean and with a tip in the morning, you can find freshly made pancakes/ pancakes at the moment
HOW TO GET TO THE CITY OF AKKO
The original nucleus of the modern city of Akko could date back to the golden age of the Phoenician Empire, but most of the remains that have come down to us date back to the first century of the year 1000 and up to the glories of the Ottoman Empire during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These remains are well preserved on two levels above and below ground and in 2001 the historic center of Akkoas a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is possible to reach this place from Haifa by train and the journey takes half an hour at a cost of 13.50 NIS. Once you arrive at the station, the old town is less than two kilometers away on foot.
WHAT TO SEE IN AKKO
THE OLD TOWN
The current city was founded on the basis of a fortified nucleus dating back to the Ottoman 18th and 19th centuries, with typical urban components such as the citadel, mosques, Khans and Turkish baths. The ancient remains of the Crusader city, d ating from 1104 to 1291, are found almost intact, both above and below street level, providing an exceptional picture of the layout and structures of the capital of the medieval Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. Today, the old city of Akko is mainly Arab, although in the rest of the modern city the population is mostly Jewish. Wandering around the small alleys, old houses and monuments is very pleasant as everything is within walking distance.
THE OLD WALLS
The walls of Akko completely enclose the old city and are the most important landmark of the city. The original walls were built around 950, and have since been destroyed and rebuilt several times. You can walk this huge piece of history for free. It is possible to do the entire circuit and get a splendid view of the sea, the city, the marina and much more.
THE TUNNEL OF THE TEMPLARS
This 150 meter long tunnel was an important underground passage that connected the fortified palace of the Templars to the port, avoiding crossing the city and the Pisan district. The lower part of the tunnel is carved in natural stone, while the upper part is made of cut stones covered by a semi-barrel dome. The tunnel was completely forgotten for about seven hundred years and no one knew of its existence until it was discovered in 1994. It was then refurbished, made available to visitors who can now walk through it.
THE TURKISH BATHS
Hamam al-Basha was built in the 18th century by the legendary Akko governor, Jazzar Pasha. Today we can visit the Hamam, but not use it. Here you can see how things were in the past through an interesting path. The visit begins with a presentation of “The Story of the Last Bath Attendant”. Characters from the Ottoman period take you back in time when the Hamam al-Basha was in use. After the presentation, there is time to explore the dressing room where people changed their clothes before entering the intermediate rooms and the hot room.
THE FORTRESS OF THE HOSPITALS
The Knights Hospitallers (the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem) arose at the beginning of the 11th century in Jerusalem. They initially ran hospitals in the holy city and later extended this work to Akko as well. After Jerusalem was conquered during the First Crusade in 1099, the Knights Hospitallers received lands in both Jerusalem and Akko. However, it was during the second Crusader reign that Akko became the capital. The Knights Hospitaller quickly build the Hospitaller Fortress which, as we know it today, was finished in the mid-12th century in Akko.
Akko’s port and marina have played an important role in the importance of the city. During the early years of Christianity the port was essential for the very existence of the city, it was the vital point where to welcome pilgrims from Europe, but after the conquest of the Ottomans, the port, and the city has lost much of its i ts importance. Today you can walk in the port and along its walls from where you can enjoy a splendid view.
WHERE TO EAT
Akko is not only famous for being a well-known port district, but also for its hummus. Throughout the state of Israel, Hummus Said is known for being the best restaurant in the old city of Akko, which with its dishes based on this delicious chickpea cream, has earned the podium of the best Israeli cuisine.