Israel’s Ancient Port Cities and What You’ll See Now

August 14th 2019

Before the era of flight, the sea was the primary route for visitors to reach the Holy Land. Israel’s ancient port cities were bustling entry and exit points for many different peoples throughout the ages. From soldiers, scholars, and traders to pilgrims, clergy, and returning exiles, the port cities of Jaffa, Caesarea, and Akko were the first glimpse they had of this special land. 

Today, these ancient ports have been superseded by modern ports in Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Ashdod. But what they have lost in sea traffic, they have gained in cultural significance and historical richness. Each of these ports and their cities is a popular tourist destination and for good reason. 

Let’s look at each one in a little more detail. 

Port City of Jaffa

For many centuries, stretching back into antiquity, the port of Jaffa was the first entry point for people visiting the Holy Land. Traders, pilgrims, and migrants, all flowed through the city and onwards to Jerusalem and other cities across the region. It’s one of the world’s oldest ports and is mentioned in the Bible as the place from which Jonah set sail to Tarshish (before being swallowed by a whale). 

The port of Jaffa today is mainly used by local fisherman but is also a cultural hotspot. Around the port area, there are artists’ studios, galleries, and boutiques, as well as cafes, restaurants, and markets. 

There are a number of things to see and do near Old Jaffa port. The Old Jaffa railway station (which connected to Jerusalem) is also a short walk away. 

Port City of Caesarea

Roughly halfway between Netanya and Haifa lies the ancient port city of Caesarea. The city and harbor were constructed by Herod the Great more than 2000 years ago and quickly became one of the major ports in the region. Caesarea served as the provincial capital of Roman Judea and later became an important center of Christendom during Byzantine rule. 

The city lost a lot of its significance after being sacked during the Muslim conquest of 640. It would change hands numerous times over the following centuries, as would many cities in Israel. 

Today, the old city ruins of Caesarea – in the Caesarea National Park – lies adjacent to the modern town bearing the same name, established in 1952. Visitors to the park can view the remains of the harbor as well as what’s left of Herod’s Palace, one of the region’s oldest surviving Roman theaters, a hippodrome, and a truly remarkable system of ancient aqueducts

Port City of Akko

Just north of Haifa, and along the bay, is the ancient port city of Akko – also known as Acre or Acco. The city is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited settlements on Earth, dating back over 4000 years. For many centuries, from the first century onwards, Akko was one of the most important trading hubs in the region as well as the main arrival and departure point for troops, pilgrims, traders, and travelers (incl. Roman soldiers, Christian Crusaders, and many renowned Jewish rabbis). 

Today, the city of Akko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major draw for visitors seeking insights into Israel’s ancient past. The port is mainly used by fishermen these days but the remains of its significant history can still be seen. Throughout the city archeological points of interest include the old sea walls, the Akko Knights Hall, subterranean Crusader halls, the Turkish Baths, and numerous remains of ancient streets and buildings from different eras.