What comes to your mind when you hear “Israel”? A place where Jesus was born, ministered to, crucified, and resurrected? The land of milk and honey, with lots of other delicious produce? Miles and miles of sandy beaches where tourists may sunbathe and cool off in the Mediterranean Sea? While you may be right, Israel is also a bucket list destination for history buffs!
In Israel, you can’t travel more than a few feet without tripping over antique structures or Roman remains. Israel has a long and turbulent history, and Roman control was undoubtedly one of the most fascinating times in terms of construction, especially when it came to King Herod, who was a master builder. Taking on a variety of large-scale construction projects, the results of his efforts are still visible and certainly impressive today. All of these places are easily accessible, with several of them considered “must-sees” in Israel, whether explored alone or as part of an organized trip led by an expert guide.
Let’s look at some of them – Roman ruins in Israel that tell the remarkable story of the land during their period of rule
Jerusalem’s Roman sites
There is no better place to start than in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, with its stunning and intriguing Old City.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of Christianity’s holiest locations; legend has it that this is where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. Constantine the Great, the Roman Emperor, established Christianity as the official religion of his empire and planned to erect a shrine on the site where Jesus was supposed to have died.
As a result, he ordered the Temple of Venus in Jerusalem dismantled, and a tomb supposed to be the burial site of Jesus was uncovered. Today, it is visited by millions of pilgrims from all over the world and cared for by priests of 6 Christian denominations.
After being nearly destroyed in 1009, the Holy Sepulchre Church and the greater complex were restored over the years by various factions, notably the Byzantines and Crusaders. Thousands of crosses etched on its stone wall provide evidence of history and bring awe to the minds of people.
The Roman site of Caesarea
One of Israel’s most spectacular ancient sites. It is located on the Mediterranean coast approximately an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv. It was once a Phoenician harbor, but King Herod constructed an enormous, beautiful harbor (capable of accommodating 300 ships!) as well as an aqueduct (carrying water from Mount Carmel), a hippodrome, an amphitheater, and even a Roman palace.
Recent diggings have led to the discovery of ancient artifacts including a mosaic floor, a synagogue, baths, a temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar, government buildings, courtyards, and a cardo. Caesarea is a must-see on any trip to Israel, not just for the ruins but also for the breathtaking views from atop the harbor.
Masada National Park
The incredible stronghold of Masada is located in the vast and arid Judean desert near the Dead Sea. Today, you may take the twisting snake route to visit King Herod’s private palace. At the summit, you’ll see the remnants of a bathhouse, mosaic flooring, hot baths, storehouses (containing clay pots), and a beautiful palace, as well as amazing views all the way to the Dead Sea.
Masada is also the scene of the historic Maccabee insurrection against the Romans, which culminated in a Roman siege and mass suicides of the Jews there. Archaeologists have recently discovered coins minted during the uprising, remnants of Torah scrolls, and even bones. As you go inside the structure, you can’t help but feel the amazement – this was a true achievement of engineering, as well as the courage of the last stand of its Jewish heroes.
This massive national park near Beit Shean, northern Israel, was previously known as Scypotholis. It was the only city west of the Jordan River built by the Roman politician Gabinius and prospered during the ‘Pax Romana’ (a period typically recognized by scholars as the ‘golden age’ of Roman governance). It now houses one of the best-preserved Roman theaters of its period (it could seat 7,000 people), as well as Roman temples, a cardo, stores, artisan workshops, colonnaded alleys, and a hippodrome.
Excavations have revealed unique mosaics, burial tombs (including sarcophagi), and other noteworthy items, like a bronze incense shovel. Aside from the impressive Roman remains, you may also explore structures from other eras, like the Crusaders, Mamluks, and Ottomans.
It is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery, which contributes to its magnificent history. This is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Northern Israel.
Winter Palace of Jericho
The winter palace was built by Herod the Great, who was not only a brilliant builder but also had a taste for the better things in life. It is located about 3 kilometers from Jericho. This massive palace spanned the whole Wadi Qelt canyon, not far from St. George’s Monastery, and was linked at both ends by a bridge. Inside, there were upscale facilities such as vast sunken gardens, swimming pools, and courtyards.
Excavations began in 1973 and revealed that the complex was made up of three separate palaces, demonstrating how affluent living in Jericho was. The bathhouse, paved with red, white, and black geometric tiles, is one of the oldest mosaic floors discovered in Israel. Furthermore, because this palace was relatively close to Jerusalem (it could be visited in a day) and had access to a consistent water supply from adjacent springs, it was also a location for the cultivation of dates, spices, and fragrant plants.
The winter palace has more limited access these days. Consult with us if you wish to visit them.
This amazing archaeological site is home to another palace belonging to King Herod (he had 15 of them!). The ‘Mountain of Paradise,’ also known as ‘Jabal al-Fourdis,’ is barely 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem and was commissioned by the monarch and built between 23 and 15 BCE. It is now believed to be Herod’s final resting place.
Archaeologists digging at Herodion have discovered a synagogue, baths, chapels, tunnels, the palace itself, and a mausoleum where Herod is thought to have been buried. As you stroll about marveling at this stronghold, keep an eye out for the 400-seat theater and the escape tunnels (cut out by the rebels during the Barons’ War).
This village in Herzliya on the Mediterranean coast, established by the Persians between 5 and 6 BCE, was previously inhabited by a people famous for a purple dye that they created and sold! The town saw significant expansion during Roman times, and now you can see the remnants of a magnificent Roman villa built around 2 CE with the finest Roman architectural details. In addition, Apollonia is well-known for the ruins of a Crusader fortress built there in the 13th century.
Tsipori means “small bird” in Hebrew. The place is perched on the slope of a gALILEE mountain. It was called Diocaesaraea in Roman times. The site is just a few kilometers from Nazareth and brings immense joy to any history buff. It features ruins from all periods, including Roman, Byzantine, early Islamic, Crusader, and Mamluk. When you stand here, you cross roads with history itself. It was also the home of the Rabbi who initiated the Jewish Mishna- Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi.
At Exclusive Israel Tours, we provide day trips, private tours, and tour packages around Israel, many of which include some (if not all) of Israel’s Roman ruins. Please contact us if you need any other information. You can also reach out for a specialized expert lecture.
We look forward to the opportunity of enjoying some of these extraordinary places with you!