Rendering Water Unto Caesarea

A 20-kilometer tour along the ancient waterway leading to Caesarea's beach leads to the conclusion that the world has not changed much in 2,000 years: people still do not fully appreciate the value of water or the structures once built to transport it.

At one of the gas stations in Binyamina, a little plastic bottle of cold mineral water costs NIS 7. Such a container is one way to "transport" water, albeit much less sophisticated than the aqueduct that passes nearby. Indeed, this still partly intact waterway is a testament to the wisdom of humanity in general, and to that of the ancient residents of this land in particular.

Cold water in such summer heat refreshes one's imagination, and makes it even more difficult to understand the careless attitude people display today toward the ancient structure that once transported the precious liquid to Caesarea. In many places it is simply ignored, taken for granted. And left in disrepair.

Caesarea's Aqueduct Beach.
Itzik Ben-Malki

Two thousand years ago, Herod's engineers devised a way to bring water to what was then the second largest city in the land, after Jerusalem, in terms of population. These were wise, exacting professionals who figured out the best route, and optimal height, for an aqueduct, so that the water would flow smoothly and calmly, without pumping systems, from the springs at the foot of Mount Carmel to the seashore.

A tour along some 20 kilometers of the waterway, from Ein Tzabarin, near Moshav Amikam, to Caesarea's beach, leads one to conclude that the world has not necessarily changed for the better over the centuries. For example, people do not seem to appreciate fully the value of water or the amazing technology used in transporting it in antiquity. So we fill plastic bottles with water - and sell them at exorbitant prices.

The impetus for our tour was the recent publication of a book called "Water at the End of the Tunnel: To Tour the Ancient Waterworks" (published jointly by the Ben-Zvi Institute and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, in Hebrew ). Author Tzvika Tzuk, an archaeologist, studied the subject for years, and this serious and comprehensive work presents the information he gathered about the impressive engineering feats that allowed residents of this desert land, thousands of years ago, to enjoy a ready supply of drinking and bathing water. Tzuk's guidebook proposes 40 routes for touring ancient waterways. Seven aqueducts reached Caesarea, he explains, and vestiges of many parts of them can still be seen. What is more, these days, any hike that ends at the beach will be particularly popular.

Below are a few suggestions.

Ein Tzabarin

The ancient spring of Ein Tzabarin, about 20 kilometers northeast of Caesarea and about a kilometer north of Moshav Amikam, is surrounded by barbed wire that keeps out herds of brown cows grazing nearby. Dozens of beehives are situated in front of the small iron gate leading to the spring and the bees that surround them do not look favorably upon hikers. Beyond the gate is a thicket of thorny raspberry bushes that clings to any piece of passing flesh, pricking it and making it bleed.

Whoever survives these hardships and insists on finding the spring will, after continuing a short distance, find a clearing with a big fig tree and olive tree at its center. Beside them are a few stones surrounding a partly dried-out, man-made pool, round and deep, with a diameter of some five meters. The water at the bottom is greenish and its murky mud quashes any desire, at least at this time of year, to climb down the ladder inside and enter a tunnel that exemplifies the sort of system used in ancient times to carry water to Caesarea.

As to the many fruit trees in the area, the explanation is simple: They were planted by the few dozen people who lived until 1948 in the Arab village of Sabbarin - apparently, the source of the name Ein Tzabarin.

W To get there: Take Route 6533 to Amikam, go to Kalanit Street, turn left at Narkis Street and go straight along the dirt road. After 800 meters you will reach an iron gate on your right, the entrance to a path that leads to the spring.

Mei Kedem

The archaeological site of Mei Kedem, in Alona Park, is well maintained and accessible, and thus quite different from Ein Tzabarin. Here one can receive a proper introduction, for a fee, and walk with a guide through part of the tunnel that carried water to Caesarea. The tunnel's original length was some eight kilometers, its width less than a meter and its height about 1.5 meters; today it resembles a large pipe, of sorts. Of course, it was not originally designed for walking. It was hewn into the bedrock as part of a gravity-based system involving a series of shafts and wells.

Unlike at Ein Tzabarin, visitors here can walk in the tunnel for some 220 meters, from the second to the seventh shaft. During a long stretch in the route one walks in water that is about 0.5 meters deep, cool and refreshing. The tunnel is fully lit and pleasant, but a bit too orderly: The sense of discovery that is always associated with walking in dark places, underground, disappears in Mei Kedem.

W To get there: Mei Kedem is about a kilometer west of Amikam, on Route 6533. See details at

Enot Shuni

It is easy to reach the big eucalyptus grove at the site where Enot Shuni - the Shuni springs - once flowed in antiquity. These springs, some two kilometers northeast of Binyamina, were once the sources of Nahal Hataninim, a river that once flowed year round. In the 1950s these springs still supplied some five million cubic meters of water annually, more than providing for Caesarea's needs at the time. But by 1961, as a consequence of excessive drilling and pumping, the springs had dried up. Today one can see big, bleak concrete cubes that belong to the Mekorot water company, which look more like a mausoleum for the water that once flowed there.

W To get there: Turn east onto a dirt track some 200 meters north of the Shuni fortress, on Route 652.

The unfinished aqueduct

It is doubtful whether the people who live on Havatzelet Street in Binyamina know that a historically valuable asset is located between buildings Nos. 12 and 14 - a section of an ancient waterway, referred to as the unfinished aqueduct by researchers today, since its construction, which began in the 3rd century C.E., was never completed. Apparently the engineers ran into obstacles after erecting some 250 meters of this section of the aqueduct, changed their plans and shifted it elsewhere. Today one can see only some 80 meters of the stone structure, which runs from northeast to southwest, and crosses the streambed of Nahal Hataninim close to the railway. It is surrounded by a small garden and big eucalyptus trees that cast much-needed shade - but unfortunately there is no sign explaining what the long, still-attractive structure is.

W To get there: When you enter Binyamina from the north, cross under the train bridge and immediately turn right. The continuation of this street (Hahartzit Street ) leads to Hahavatzelet Street and to the aqueduct.

Beit Hanania

A visitor who enters the quiet village of Beit Hanania, situated between Binyamina and the coastline, between Routes 2 and 4, will be pleasantly surprised. This is not a tourist attraction, but nevertheless it is home to a very important archaeological site: A very impressive, high section of the aqueduct to Caesarea stretches from the entrance of the village westward. A section of the Israel National Trail also passes right beside it. One can walk, or drive, alongside a few hundred meters of lofty stone arches, replete with ancient inscriptions, cornices and various passageways. At similar sites around the world, even if the structures are less impressive, well-developed tourism enterprises were built - or even made it onto UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites. But nothing like that has happened at Beit Hanania.

Perhaps one should say a prayer of thanks for the miracle that exists here, of vestiges of an aqueduct still standing, exposed and totally unprotected, or because of the fact that apparently nobody has removed any of the big stones to adorn his own private garden.

This aqueduct segment ends at the banks of the Nahal Ada wadi. On the concrete wall supporting one side of it, a grafitti artist scrawled in big letters: "Amsalem, prince of the fields." On the ancient aqueduct a few hundred meters to the east, an inscription in Latin cites other princes who preceded Amsalem - "Emperor Caesar Trajanus Hadrianus Augustus" - and adds the explanation that the construction was done by a unit of the Tenth Legion. Bone-dry expanses of thorns stretch from here to the houses of nearby Jisr al-Zarka; in between one can see a few remnants of the aqueduct, peaking out, neglected and dilapidated.

W To get there: The access road to Beit Hanania and to Jisr al-Zarka turns left from Route 4 a bit north of Binyamina. The aqueduct is on the right side of the gate to the village.

Aqueduct Beach, Caesarea

The final, high section of the aqueduct leading to Caesaria's beach passes under a soft limestone ridge where Jisr al-Zarqa's buildings stand. There is a tunnel there, but unfortunately, in recent years, it has been used as a sewer. As one heads south from Jisr al-Zarqa, along the beach, one sees a low part of the aqueduct that carried water from the Nahal Hataninim dam clinging to the eastern side of the higher part of the waterway; these parallel structures are magnificently built, and stretch south to the ancient part of the city and its port. The higher section, which is 500 meters long, boasts 80 beautiful stone arches, through each of which one can see the blue sea. The sand is clean, the water is clear. Indeed, today this is beyond doubt one of the most beautiful beaches in Israel. Entry is free and the access to the water is convenient.

All this is despite the fact that the aquedcut itself has been almost completely neglected. At several points it is surrounded by a fence. In other places one can climb on the structure and look around. In several spots, ugly containers used as the offices of the beach's managers have been stuck between the parking area and the aqueduct. The people who shower on the beach hang their towels on 2,000-year-old projections from the structure. Herod's engineers are no doubt turning over in their graves, trying to figure out who Bart Simpson is, whose image is printed boldly on one orange towel nearby.

W To get there: From Beit Hanania to Aqueduct Beach in Caesarea, take Route 4 south to the turn-off to Or Akiva and continue west under Route 2. At the entrance to Caesarea there is a sign pointing to the beach, which is about two kilometers north of the ancient port. .