Ashkelon National Park is the location along the beach in Ashkelon and is the archaeological site of one of the oldest cities in the Land of Israel.
The origin of the name Ashkelon appears to come from the root of the word “shekel,” denoting a measure of weight, which is a fitting name for a commercial port city.
The first settlement in place some 10,000 years ago, but became a city in the Canaanite period.
The specific name Ashkelon is mentioned in the Egyptian execration texts of the 19th century BCE, and it appears again in other, later Egyptian inscriptions.
The city was ruled successively by eight nations: Canaanites, Philistines, Phoenicians, Hellenistic kingdoms, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and Crusaders.
It was the largest port city in the Canaanite period and was one of the largest cities in the Land of Israel.
In city was conquered by the Philistines and in Biblical times it was one of five Philistine major cities, along with Ashdod.
In 604 BC , the Philistine era came to an end, and Ashkelon was conquered by the Babylonians who destroyed it and exiled its inhabitants.
During the Persian period, Ashkelon was a prosperous commercial city.
A cemetery was found from this period during the excavations of Tel Ashkelon containing the bones of more than 1,500 dogs.
In the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, it was customary to bury dogs in their own cemeteries, and they may even have been worshipped.
After Alexander the Great conquered the land of Israel in 332 BCE, Ashkelon became an independent Hellenistic city.
However, its residents adopted the Greek language and culture and Ashkelon became an important seaport.
When the entire coastal area came under the control of the Hasmonean kingdom, it maintained its independence and was a Hellenistic enclave due to its ties and alliance with Ptolemaic Egypt.
The high point of Ashkelon’s prosperity came in the Roman period and continued to prosper in the Byzantine period.
During the Byzantine period Ashkelon was a center for fine wines, which were sent from its port to the countries of Europe.
The Arabs conquered Ashkelon in the 7th century, and during the Crusades Ashkelon was fortified to protect it against the Crusaders but to no avail.
In 1187, Saladin expelled the Crusaders from the city after a two-week siege.
However, after defeated in the battle of Arsuf (Apollonia) in 1191, rather than let the city fall into the hands of Richard the Lionheart, Saladin destroyed it.
The city was briefly revived in 1192, andRichard the Lionheart rebuilt the city and fortified it with a moat, wall, tower and gates.
However, it was abandoned again nearly 80 years later due to the Muslim threat and Mamluk Sultan Beavers destroyed it.
It remained uninhabited until modern times.
What to See
The Canaanite Gate
The Canaanite gate in Ashkelon was built of mud and kurkar bricks.
It is dated to 1850 BCE, and is considered to be the oldest vaulted gate in the world.
It appears that carts, laden with goods and drawn by oxen and donkeys, passed through it on their way to and from the port.
The gate was in use for some 250 years, and was then buried under a new earth rampart.
Outside the gate, on the slope leading down to the sea, a small temple was found in which there was a bronze statuette of a calf.
Worship of the calf is identified with the ritual of El or Baal, the father of the Canaanite gods.
The Canaanite rampart
The ruins of Ashkelon are surrounded by an enormous earthen rampart.
The rampart marked the borders of the settlement and was the basis for a system of fortifications that served the residents of Ashkelon for over 500 years.
To the west there is no existing rampart, either because it was destroyed by the waves, or because it never existed at all in its land-side form.
The walls of Ashkelon were built in the 12th century to fortify the city against the Crusaders.
The wall had four gates: Jerusalem Gate, Gaza Gate, Jaffa Gate, and Sea Gate, named for the directions in which they left the city.
To the east of the Canaanite gate is an impressive section of the wall rising above a deep moat.
The waves have destroyed part of the sea wall, providing a views of sections of the wall in which columns and other architectural elements from earlier buildings have been incorporated.
The Roman basilica
Remains of a columned structure from the Roman period was the city’s basilica which was the focus of public life in the city.
A basilica was a courtyard surrounded by rows of columns, whose walls and floor were made of marble.
Within the national park there are 67 wells, the majority of them from the Byzantine period.
The south-eastern part of the incline of the Canaanite rampart is utilized for the seats of the modern 10,000 seat amphitheater, in which cultural events are held.
Natural sand dune and kurkar landscapes
The southern part of Ashkelon National Park is a nature reserve for the sand dune flora and fauna.
The area is dominated by desert vegetation such as white broom and Artemisia monosperma, but there are also Mediterranean plants such as spiny broom.
Close to the shore is a unique type of vegetation, including the sea daffodil and sea cudweed, that has adapted to the conditions of the salty spray coming from the sea.
Visit Ashkelon National Park
While it is possible to get to the park by bus, it is easiest by car.
For more information such as open hours and entry fees, see the Ashkelon National Park webpage.
There is also a an Ashkelon National Park Campsite for those who want to camp near the beach.