Ashkelon National Park

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Ashkelon National Park is a fascinating antiquities site, a park in which to spend time in the heart of nature, and a wonderful bathing beach - all in one.

At the site, a city from the Middle Canaanite period has been uncovered, surrounded by a vast rampart, with the earliest gate in the world with a constructed vault. The southern part of the park is a reserve for the plants and wildlife living in the coastal dunes.

 

Points of interest

The Canaanite Gate

The rampart

Mediaeval walls

The Roman basilica

Recreation park in the heart of nature

Bathing beach

Antilia wells

Natural sand dune and kurkar (eolianite, calcareous sandstone) landscapes

Modern 10,000 seat amphitheater for cultural events

Geographic location


Ashkelon National Park lies in the southern part of the city of Ashkelon, along the seashore. Turn off Road 4 at the main entrance to the city, and follow David Ben Gurion Blvd. for around 5 km, as far as the traffic circle at the end of the road, then turn left into Ben Amar St.

Lookout point


Top of the rampart: From the top of the Canaanite rampart there is a lovely view of the expanses of the park, the sea, and the city of Ashkelon and surrounding area.

Identity card


Ashkelon National Park covers an area of 3,000 dunams. The park contains Tel Ashkelon and the remains of ancient Ashkelon, bounded by the Canaanite rampart, as well as 1,000 dunams of sand and kurkar dunes in the south of the park, between the rampart and the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline site.

Reasons for declaration

Conservation of the remains of Ashkelon through the generations, from the Middle Canaanite period and biblical times until the beginning of the 20th century.

Impressive findings in the area, in particular dozens of granite columns and a sculpture garden.

Conservation of coastal kurkar and sand dune landscape.

Preparing the site for recreation in the heart of nature.

Conservation activities of the Nature and Parks Authority

Holding archaeological excavations in cooperation with excavation delegations, and conservation and reconstruction work

Preparing the site for visitors, for outdoor recreation, and putting up explanations and means of illustration

Setting up a campground, with the emphasis on preventing light and noise pollution

Operating a bathing beach during bathing season

Making the site accessible to people with disabilities

Ecological surveys of fauna and flora

​Points of interest in detail:


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. The gate is built in the form of a 15 m long corridor, almost 4 m in height and more than 2 m wide. 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. A city gate was built elsewhere, in a location that is as yet unknown.

Outside the gate, on the slope leading down to the sea, a small temple was found in which there was a statuette of a calf, 10.5 cm high, made of bronze - one of the most beautiful finds from ancient Ashkelon. 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, in the form of a semicircle that is around 2200 m in length. This is a huge earth wall, rising to a height of 15 m, and over 30 m wide at its base. The earthen rampart was the basis for a system of fortifications and a glacis. The glacis was built of a mixture of mud bricks and kurkar, and its exterior wall was built of chiseled kurkar.

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 rampart was built in the Middle Bronze Age (2000 – 1550 BCE), and served the residents of Ashkelon for over 500 years.

Mediaeval walls: The walls of Ashkelon, whose impressive remains still stand, were built by the Fatimid Muslims 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, affording impressive views of sections of the wall in which columns and other architectural elements from earlier buildings have been incorporated.

The Roman basilica: In the center of the national park are the remains of a columned structure from the Roman period (2nd century or beginning of 3rd century CE). This was the city's basilica - a courtyard surrounded by rows of columns, whose walls and floor were made of marble. The length of the row of columns was 110 m. The basilica was the focus of public life in the city.

Bathing beach: During bathing season (April to October) there is a regulated bathing beach in the park, with lifeguard services, showers and toilets.

Antilia wells: Within the national park there are 67 wells, the majority of them from the Byzantine period. Five of these are antilia wells.

Natural sand dune and kurkar landscapes: The southern part of Ashkelon National Park is a nature reserve for the unique world of sand dune flora and fauna. Because of the arid nature of the sandy soil, and the geographic proximity to the desert dunes and the sea, 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.

The amphitheater: 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.

Geography


Ancient Ashkelon lay on the southern coastal shore, between Evtah Stream and Shikma Stream. This location had many advantages: Ashkelon was an important trading station, thanks to its location on the ancient international route from Egypt and Syria, and it had a convenient cross country route towards Jerusalem. The city was also blessed with an abundance of plentiful wells, a comfortable climate, and fertile soil, which gave it a large and stable agricultural hinterland.

Ashkelon's strategic value in ancient times was priceless, because whoever controlled the city could block access from Egypt and the Sinai desert to the populated areas. Although Ashkelon had no natural bay, it appears that its residents were able to create a flourishing port already in the Canaanite period, making the city a desirable station on the maritime trade routes. Ashkelon's ancient port has not yet been found, and appears to have been silted up over the years.

Thanks to its geographic advantages, Ashkelon was an important city and it maintained this status for thousands of years.

History and archeology


Finds from the Neolithic period provide evidence of human settlement in Ashkelon (outside the area of the national park) as far back as 10,000 years ago.

The origin of the name Ashkelon appears to come from the root of the word "shekel", denoting a measure of weight - a fitting name for a commercial port city. 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.

In biblical times, Ashkelon was one of the cities of the Philistine pentapolis. The city is mentioned in David's lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. "Tell it not in Gat, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult" (2 Samuel 1:20). Ashkelon is also related to the heroic deeds of Samson. It was here that Samson struck down 30 Philistines and took their garments to pay his companions after they solved his famous riddle (Judges 14).

Ashkelon also played a part in the battle against the Assyrians. Zedaka, ruler of Ashkelon, joined the rebellion of Hezekiah king of Judah (701 BCE). In response, Senacherib king of Assyria took over the city, and replaced the treacherous ruler with one of his subjects. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who came to the city later, was less merciful. In 604 BCE he deported Aga, the last Philistine king of Ashkelon, and razed the city to the ground.

During the Persian period, Ashkelon was a prosperous commercial city under the auspices of the port cities of Tyre and Tsidon. A cemetery was found in 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, and its residents adopted the Greek language and culture. The city remained independent at the time the Hasmoneans controlled the country, and even minted its own coins - a clear sign of independent rule.

The high point of Ashkelon's prosperity came in the Roman period. The city covered an area that was 1100 m from north to south, and 600 m in width. This area was too small to contain its growing population, and gradually a dense cluster of small villages and farms sprang up around the city. 35 settlement sites from the Byzantine period (4th – 7th centuries CE) have been found around Ashkelon, which were the city's agricultural hinterland. The city became a regional wheat trading center, and also had date orchards, vegetable gardens, and vineyards. To this day, a particular variety of onion called scallion bears a reminder of the name of Ashkelon. During the Byzantine period (5th – 6th centuries CE) 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. They gave it a special status because of a shrine (mashad) in which tradition said that the head of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of Muhammad, was preserved, while the rest of his body was buried in Karbala, in Iraq. In 1154 the skull was moved to Cairo, for fear that it would fall into the hands of the Crusaders. Ashkelon continued to flourish at that time, and in the 11th century it was fortified by the Fatimid rulers with the walls whose remains are still visible today.

In 1153 the Crusaders took the city, but they were forced to abandon it in 1187, for fear of the renowned Muslim general Salah ad-Din (Saladin). After his forces were roundly defeated in the battle of Arsuf (Apollonia) in 1191, his emirs claimed that they were not able to defend Ashkelon against the approaching army of Richard the Lionheart. To his chagrin, Salah ad-Din was forced to destroy the city wall: "It is easier for me to lose all my sons than to move a single stone from these walls", he said. The Crusaders took control of Ashkelon that same year, but in 1270 the Mameluke Sultan Beybars captured the city and destroyed it, and it did not rise again until modern times.

Flora


Ashkelon National Park is the preserve of the last piece of coastal landscape, the kurkar ridge and sand dunes that used to characterize the area surrounding the city. On an area of around 1000 dunams is a wide diversity of landscapes and habitats - a mix of sandy soil, kurkar (eolianite or calcareous sandstone) configurations, and planted trees in areas that were cultivated in the past.

In the nature reserve in the southern part of the national park a unique world of coastal flora and fauna is preserved. Because of the arid nature of the sandy soil, and the geographic proximity to the desert dunes and the sea, the area is dominated by desert vegetation such as white broom (Retama raetam) and Artemisia monosperma, but there are also Mediterranean plants such as spiny broom (Calicotome villosa). Close to the shore is a unique type of vegetation that has adapted to the conditions of the salty spray coming from the sea, including the sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum), evening primrose (Oenothera drummondii), maritime crosswort (Crucianella maritima), strand medick (Medicago littoralis) and  sea cudweed (Otanthus maritimus). In the depressions and low places, tamarisk trees (Tamarix) and common reeds (Phragmites australis) grow, fed by the groundwater.

A botanical survey held in the park found 24 species endemic (unique) to Israel's coastal plain. The presence of fringed calligonum (Calligonum comosum) is interesting - this species is very rare in the coastal plain (although common in the deep sand dunes of the Negev and Arava). In winter and spring, bulbs and tubers flower, such as crown anemone (Anemone coronaria), Persian buttercup (Ranunculus asiaticus), Tel Aviv garlic (Allium tel-avivense), and sun's eye tulip (Tulipa agenensis).

Within the park are large salt cedars (Tamarix aphylla), which add both beauty and shade. In a small garden, plants that were used by people in the Ashkelon area in the past are grown, including special varieties of vines and larus (Cordia myxa) - a plant that was used to make glue.

Fauna​


An impressive variety of reptiles live in the national park. An initial survey found 16 species of reptiles, and the site appears to be very representative of the inventory of the southern coastal plain dunes. There is a noticeable presence of Schreiber's fringe-fingered lizard (Acanthodactylus schreiberi) - a species defined as being in serious danger of extinction. The Schreiber's fringe-fingered lizard is endemic to the sandy soils of the coastline of Israel and southern Lebanon, and this habitat is fast disappearing. Among the other species of reptiles found here are the chameleon, the Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca), Nidua fringe-fingered lizard (Acanthodactylus scutellatus), Kotschy's gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi), ocellated skink (Chalcides ocellatus),and European legless lizard (Pseudopus apodus).

The park is also the habitat of the Palestine mountain gazelle (Gazella gazelle) – a species endemic to Israel and in danger of extinction, and the red fox (Vulpes vulpe), as well as a variety of birds, among them the Eurasian stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) -  a species typical of dune areas. On the lawns and in the recreation and leisure areas, the invasive myna (Acridotheres tristris) and hooded crow (Corvus cornix) are very active.
 

How to get here:

From Ashkelon junction, drive along Ben Gurion Blvd. and turn left into Ben Amar St.

From the northern entrance to Ashkelon, drive along Menachem Begin Blvd., Jerusalem Blvd., Bar Kokhva St., and left into Hatayassim St.

Municipal bus no. 6. For details – Egged Information

Best season: All year round

Recreation in the heart of nature

  • Archaeology: The Canaanite gate, the basilica, the remains of the wall
  • Hiking, nature and archeology trails
  • Overnight campground
  • Declared bathing beach, in season
  • Young Inspectors program
  • Expansive lawns, picnic tables, barbecue facilities, and faucets

 

Opening hours


Summer:  8 am – 8 pm (exit 10 pm)

Winter: 8 am – 6 pm (exit 6 pm)

On the eve of New Year, the eve of the Day of Atonement, and Passover eve: 8 am – 1 pm

 


Bathing beach hours

MonthHours
April - May8 am – 5 pm
June, July, August8 am – 7 pm
September8 am – 6 pm
October (until October 18)8 am – 5 pm

 

Contact us

Telephone: 08-6739660, 08-6736444

Fax: 08-6734227

Further details on activities and tours can be obtained from the Central District Guiding Unit at telephone 08-6220835

Entrance fee

Individuals: Adult – NIS 28, child – NIS 14

Students: NIS 24

Senior citizens: NIS 14

Group (over 30): Adult – NIS 23, child – NIS 13

Ashkelon residents: Free entry on foot

Ashkelon resident's vehicle – NIS 20, on presentation of an ID card for all the passengers in the car who live in Ashkelon

Overnight camping

Click here

 

Entry for dogs

Dogs are permitted only on a leash and with a muzzle

Animals may not be brought into the overnight campground, other than seeing-eye dogs

 

 


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    Ashkelon National Park