Caesarea Underwater Archaelological Park is the first Underwater Archaeological Park in Israel and around the world! The park was built by researchers from the University of Haifa together with the Caesarea Development Company and was opened the park in 2006. The underwater park reveals to its divers Herod’s ancient building techniques of his renowned port the rehabilitation efforts made after it sunk and the various shipwrecks which are found around this area. This stunning underwater archaeological park teaches both amateurs and professionals alike about the techniques Herod used to construct the ancient ports and about later attempts to restore the port after it began to sink. The park is designed for both snorkelers and more advanced scuba divers so that all can marvel at the ingenuity of the ancient engineers.
The entire area of the the sunken port’s remains is approx. 50 acres (200,000 sq. m), including docks, warehouses, boardwalks, beacons, pools, wave breakers, loading grounds, storage places, the old ports promenade and even its lighthouse. At the bottom of the port all the shipwrecks are found and even one of the “maapilim” shipwrecks is buried at the bottom of the sea here. The dive at the park is conducted by professional instructors who make this a unique and unforgettable diving adventure.
The site was initially recognized by a marine expedition in 1960. Most of the underwater excavations were held since 1975 by the Center for Maritime Studies of the Haifa University, headed by Prof. Avner Raban, until his untimely death in 2004.
Four different tracks and underwater experiences explore the original pillars, structures, giant anchoring rocks, and other bits and pieces of the lost empire lying beneath the surface.
The Gold Treasure of Caesarea
View a video of the underwater recovery of the largest gold coin treasure ever discovered in Israel.
Old Caesarea Diving Center
An experienced diving instructor at the Old Caesarea Diving Center will teach you the basics of diving and familiarize you with the SCUBA equipment before accompanying you on a controlled dive in King Herod’s sunken harbor. Enjoy the amazing sights of the Underwater Archaeological Park in Caesarea, as well as the flora and fauna of the Mediterranean.
Caesarea National Park
Caesarea National Park is one of, if not Israel’s, most impressive archaeological site. The beautifully restored harbor here was built by King Herod and is a work of engineering marvel.
The Old Caesarea Diving Center is situated at the midst of the Caesarea National Park and provides access to the ancient ruins of ״Sebastos״ – Greek for Augustus, Caesarea’s deep sea harbour, built between 22 and 15 BCE. by the King of Roman-ruled Judea, Herod, the Jewish client king. Caesarea Maritima was built near the ruins of the small naval station of Straton’s Tower. In 10/9 BCE he dedicated the city and harbour to Emperor Augustus (sebastos is Greek for Augustus).
Herod built storerooms, markets, wide roads, baths, temples to Rome and Augustus, and imposing public buildings. Herod built his palace on a promontory jutting out into the sea, with a decorative pool surrounded by stoas. Every five years the city hosted major sports competitions, gladiator games, and theatrical productions in its theatre overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Herod began building Sebastus, the harbor of Caesarea Maritima, even before he established the city. Herod’s plan in building Sebastos was to create in his kingdom a major port for the transit trade of luxury goods (spices, textiles, and jewels) from the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea at a time when demand for this kind of product rose considerably. Harbour facilities with artificial breakwaters but also storerooms, markets and wide roads were built following the specifications of the Roman architect Vitruvius. Caesarea and its new deep sea harbour shortly became the country’s economic and political capital.
First large scale artificial harbour in history, the biggest and most modern harbour in the whole Roman Empire at the time, Sebastos was one of the most impressive harbours of its time. It had been constructed on a coast that had no natural harbours and it served as an important commercial harbour in Antiquity, even rivalling Cleopatra’s harbour at Alexandria.
However, while impressive on the surface, the harbour started sinking soon after completion and progressively fell into oblivion. If the exact reasons for Sebastos’ decay – geological faultline, tsunami, unstable sandy bottom or even the sheer weight of the structure – remain unknown for certain, it is however known that by the 6th century AD the harbour was unusable.
Marine Engineering Marvels
There are several ingenious aspects to the advanced marine engineering
of Caesarea’s harbour, including the self-flushing function of the middle and outer basins to prevent silting. However, one of the most amazing feats was the laying of the outer basin’s underwater foundations. King Herod – or his engineers – knew that the outer basin had a sand and clay sea floor and they covered the bottom with small rocks and pebbles, and later started to build the breakwater’s foundation on top of them.
Skilled carpenters built massive wooden caissons measuring up to 49’x36’ (15x11m) on shore. These were partially filled with concrete and floated into place and tethered. Then they were filled with additional concrete and sunk to the desired spot on the seafloor, where they formed the foundation.
At points 28 and 34, the remains of preserved caissons can be seen, and at points 22 and 25 the impressions of caisson cross beams can be seen in these massive concrete foundation blocks.
As advanced as the outer basin was, it started sinking shortly after King Herod’s death in 4 A.D.
Most of the basin’s manmade features are now 16-22 feet (5-7 metres) below the surface. As to why the outer basin sank, theories range from strong
storms and lack of maintenance, to its weight pressing down on the
inconsistent sand and clay bottom, to earthquakes (it straddles a fault
line) and tsunamis.