A day in Ashkelon, including swimming, dining and walking
Ashkelon can be proud of its approximately 12 Km of beautiful coastline that includes a National Park, several supervised beaches and a marina. Most of the beaches have breakwaters and are ideal for kids, but this does not include the beach in the National Park. The marina is a focal point for the city.
Ashkelon National Park
Ashkelon National Park is a large park with interesting archeological sites, plenty of shaded picnic areas and a supervised beach. Because the park is so large, you can be assured of privacy. There is no kids play area. If love of waves is not a priority for your family, then this may not be the best of beaches for you.
The partially reconstructed Canaanite city gate is a highlight of the park and is a short distance from the entrance. Note, however, that the driving directions within the park are the reverse from that shown in their map. This means that to drive to the Canaanite gate you have to do a loop around a quarter of the park as if you were exiting the park. Other archeological findings worth viewing are the columns and statutes from a Roman basilica.
It is advised to first park your car in the Basilica Parking Lot in the area of the kiosk to orient yourself. The kiosk also has a small gift shop and WCs and can provide information about the park. The basilica and a well with a waterwheel are only a short walk away. The beach and picnic area are also only a short drive and walk away. The beach has a lifeguard April to October, structures that provide shade, and a WC with a changing area. There is no separate kiosk.
A very nice short, circular walk is on the Cliff Path starting from just above the beach and heading south towards the Canaanite Gate. You will see the steps up to the path just above the beach There are several observation areas along the path which is either tiled or a firm gravel. Not shown in the map in the brochure is a recent tiled path adjacent to the main north-south driving road for the return part of the walk. There is green grass on either side of the path. The total distance for this circular walk is about 1½ Km and it takes about 30-45 minutes depending on how long you spend at the Canaanite Gate.
It is also possible to walk around the southern part of the park on the Wall Path. It begins by the remains of Saint Mary Viridis Church where there are steps. You will see sand dune flaura and fauna. I am told that it takes about 2 hours.
Directions: : Enter “Ashkelon National Park” into Waze. This will bring you to the park entrance.
Admission: This is a site of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The park is open 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. throughout the summer, including Saturday and holidays, and 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. during the winter, including Saturday. The beach is supervised from April to October 18. It is open from 8.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. April to August, until 6.00 p.m. in September, and until 5.00 p.m. from October 1 to October 15. Their phone number is 08 673 6444. This is their website.
Partially reconstructed Canaanite Gate from the 19th century BCE.
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Roman Basilica - a courtyard surrounded by rows of columns whose walls and floor were made of marble.
Massive rampart from the Canaanite period.
Delilah Beach is south of the marina, has 3 breakwaters and is ideal for children and adult swimming. There is a parking lot above the beach with blue and white Pango parking which is free to Ashkelon residents, senior citizens and the disabled. The beach area is large. Between the breakwaters and the beach the water is fairly shallow, but it is much deeper in the areas between the breakwaters themselves and there are mini-waves.
There are lifeguard stations possibly all year. In July and August, lifeguards are present from 7.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. There is a building with WCs and showers that has an area for changing. There are structures on the beach that provide shade, outdoor showers and the lifeguard building shows the time. Chairs and umbrellas can be rented. Directions: Enter “Delila Beach” into Waze and click on “Delia Beach, Ashkelon, Israel.”
Bar Kochba Beach is just north of the marina. There is a parking lot with blue and white parking that is free to Ashkelon residents, senior citizens and the disabled. There are WCs and structures on the beach providing shade. It has breakwaters.
The Marina walkway is by the harbor and is a popular place for strolling and eating. It has a multitude of restaurants, a fair number of which are certified kosher, coffee shops, pubs, a cinema, and a covered mall. Directions: Enter into Waze “Ashkelon Marina.” This will bring you to the northern entrance to the marina and by a paid parking lot. Just a bit north is the large blue and white parking lot for Bar Kochba Beach. On the corner of Yef Nof St. and HaNamal St. is a free parking area.
Between the marina and Delila Beach is Ashkelon Sea Park and one can easily walk from one to other. The name sounds more exciting than the reality although it has a nice kids’ play area, green lawns and skating areas but no picnic areas.
The Ashkelon marina.
Children's play area in the Ashkelon Sea Park.
The Ashkelon Promenade is located on the cliff beginning above Bar Kochba Beach. There and back takes about 30 minutes and is a distance of 1½ Km. There are green lawns and plenty of benches. There are WCs by the path.
There was a Canaanite city in Ashkelon from the Middle Bronze Age, from about 2,000 to 1,550 BCE. The reconstructed Canaanite gate shown in the park was constructed in about 1850 BCE and was considered the oldest arched gate in the world. Note the past tense. An ancient gate in Tel Arani has recently been dated to the Early Bronze Age 5,500 years ago. It was in use for some 250 years and then buried under an earth rampart and a new city gate built elsewhere. Ashkelon was a significant port in this period. The city is mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts. Ashkelon was captured by the Egyptians in 1550 BCE and remained under Egyptian rule for the next 4 centuries.
Around the Canaanite city was a 15-meter semicircular wall made of predominantly mud bricks that was just over 2 Km in length. This was built on top of a massive glacis underneath which was a moat. A glacis is a sloping earthen rampart which would have been paved to make it more difficult for attackers to scale the wall. An exposed example of this is close to the gate. The gate itself was constructed of calcareous sandstone and mud bricks and took the form of an arched corridor.
Ashkelon became one of the five Philistine city-states during the Israelite period, although smaller in size than the Canaanite city. Ashkelon participated in the unsuccessful revolt of Hezekiah against the Assyrians. The city was eventually conquered and destroyed by the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar in 604-603 BCE. There are no archeological ruins displayed in the park from this time.
Phoenicians settled in the city during the Persian period. After the conquest of Alexander the Great, Ashkelon became part of the Seleucid and Ptolemaic Empires, part of the Hasmonean kingdom and then the Roman empire. The basilica in the park is from the 3rd century CE Roman era. This was a courtyard surrounded by rows of columns whose walls and floor were made of marble. During these times Ashkelon continued to be a significant port and trading center. There was no constructed port and ships would have anchored several hundred meters from the shore and goods ferried to the shore by smaller boats. Ashkelon reached its heyday in the Roman period as a regional commercial center. The park brochure mentions that a special type of onion was grown here – a scallion – which derives its name from the city of Ashkelon.
The city was occupied during the Byzantine period and there was also a Jewish community as there had been prior to the Jewish Revolt. The majority of the wells in the park are from this period and had agricultural use. The Muslims occupied the city during the 7th century CE and it was fought over by the Crusaders. The Mamluke sultan Baibars destroyed the city in 1270 and was not rebuilt again.