A day in Ashdod for swimming, walking and museums
Ashdod has a number of nicely set up beaches, although none have breakwaters. Consider a walk through the Ecological Park, which includes the Ashdod-Yam fortress. The Museum of Philistine Culture is well worth a visit. Kids will also appreciate the Lachish River Park and its free animal exhibits.
Ashdod Ecological Park and Ashdod-Yam Fortress:
Ancient Ashdod was one of the Pentapolis, the five major Philistine strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. Prior to this, in the 17th century BCE, it was a fortified Canaanite city and after the Philistine period it was Judean, Hasmonean, Roman and then Byzantine. Tel Ashdod has been excavated, but most of the ruins were covered over to protect them and the whole area is closed off. So, not worth visiting. However, there is a unique museum in Ashdod that covers just the Philistine period.
There was also another ancient city on the coast about 5 Km from Tel Ashdod called Ashdod-Yam (Ashdod-on-the-Sea) and this is located in the southern part of modern-day Ashdod. Ashdod and Ashdod-Yam were interconnected but distinct from each other. By the Byzantine period, Ashdod-Yam had overshadowed the more inland Ashdod, although both cities are identified in the 6th century Madaba map in Jordan.
The fortress of Ashdod-Yam is adjacent to a nature conservation park along the coast and both can be conveniently visited together. At the end of the hike, also consider taking a swim at the adjacent Be’er Sheva Beach.
The city of Ashdod was named after the Philistine city of Ashdod, although the tel is about 6 Km from the city center. Modern-day Ashdod was conceived at the same time as its port and shortly after the formation of the state. The first huts were built on its sand hills in 1956.
From its beginnings, Ashdod was planned to be big and it is now the sixth largest city in Israel. Each neighborhood was designed to be a separate but inter-connected entity with its own administrative center and parks. Ashdod port accounts for some 60% of the goods passing through Israel. Its tourist attractions were also carefully planned.
Do you find my website interesting and helpful?
Then you are sure to love my two new books "In and Around Jerusalem for Everyone - The Best Walks, Hikes and Outdoor Pools" and "The Struggle for Utopia - A History of Jewish, Christian and Islamic Messianism". Both books are available on Amazon and in Jerusalem bookstores. Click on each of the titles for information, reviews and purchase information.
Time: About 1¾ hour for the Coastal Loop
Distance: 3¾ Km for the Coastal Loop
Directions and parking: Depending on which end you start from, put into Waze “Beer Sheva Beach Ashdod” and click on ”חוף באר שבע אשדוד“ or “Ashdod Yam Fort” (not Ashdod-Yam Park as this is a different place). The advantage of starting at Be’er Sheva Beach is that you can end your hike with a swim. There is blue and white parking at both entrances – so you will have to pay by Pango at both locations. There are no picnic areas with picnic tables in the park or by the fortress.
Type of walk: Circular
Difficulty: With its gentle hills, this hike looks as if it should be very easy. But in actually it is not. This is because the path is loose sand and especially on inclines is quite laborious to walk on. If using sneakers, use only sneakers that the sides are not so low that they will fill up with loose sand easily. The Coastal Path on the beach is actually much easier to walk on if you walk close to the sea, as the sand there is more packed. There is a chance, though, that you will get your shoes wet if you are not careful to avoid the waves on the shore.
Admission: There is no admission fee. There are WCs by the fortress and also on the beach. This is a website with more details about the ecological park.
Using the map at either entrance to the park, decide what loops you would like to do. All the paths are clearly indicated by wooden poles. On the Coastal Pathway you will come to two artificial wetlands and an orchard showing how agriculture was once carried out here. The Orchard Pathway is marked green, but joins up with the blue-marked trail at either end.
The Ashdod-Yam Fortress is located just before the entrance to the park. It was built In the Muslim Umayyad period at the end of the 7th CE as one of a series of fortresses built along the coast to protect the coastal area from Crusader attack. This particular fortress was built on the ruins of a Byzantine settlement. It was reconstructed by the Crusaders in the 12th and 13th centuries. It continued in use until the Mameluke period and then abandoned. The nearby port was destroyed during the Muslim period to prevent it being used by the Crusaders. The city itself became covered in sand, although the ruins of the fortress are still standing and are fairly intact. It has a rectangular structure, with gates on its western aspect facing the sea and its eastern aspect. There are towers at each end and on both sides of the two gates. In the center of the fortress is a courtyard surrounded by domed rooms. You can climb up stone steps by the gate to an observation area. The fortress is sometimes used for concerts.
The Museum of Philistine Culture in Ashdod
This is a museum about Philistine history and culture. It is unique in that there is nothing like it in the world. It is a bit ironic, in that there is nothing related to the Philistines in modern-day Ashdod other than its name and a closed-off archeological site some 6 Km from the city center but this does not detract from the value of this superb museum.
The exhibits on Philistine culture are on one floor of the museum. The explanations can be viewed in English. You can also use a QR code at the admissions desk to obtain audio and written explanations in Hebrew, English and other languages on your phone related to numbers on the exhibits. There are explanations of where the Philistine came from, where they settled, and their religious lives, as well as archeological exhibits. This includes a nice section on Philistine pottery showing Greek influence on this pottery and its subsequent influence on Canaanite pottery. There is a section relating to the place of the Philistines in the Bible, which many people will feel more familiar with. An interactive video allows a child/adult to stand and topple the columns of a Philistine temple as Samson did. The lower level of the museum showcases the food history of the Aegean Sea through the exhibits of ‘Philistines Kitchen,’ although this is probably more for workshops.
Directions:The address is 16 HaShayatim St, Ashdod. Enter “Museum of Philistine Culture” into Waze. There is free parking just outside the museum. For public transport enter “Museum of Philistine Culture” into Moovit.
Admission: The museum is open 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. on Sunday and Tuesday to Thursday, on Monday 9.00 a. m. to 8.00 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday 10.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. It is closed on holiday eves and holidays. Admission is 30 NIS, with half price for seniors and children 5 to 18. Their phone number is 08 622 4799. This is their website.
Migration of the Sea People as shown in the museum.
Who were the Philistines?
The Philistines were part of a broad movement of Sea People that extended over centuries and encompassed a large geographical area. For good reason, as it would unnecessarily complicate matters, this is not discussed much in this excellent museum. However, since this particular topic is relevant to the rest of this website, it is discussed in detail on this webpage.
The Philistines were part of a significant migration of people from Greece, Cyprus and Crete that took over Canaanite settlements along the Eastern Mediterranean and coastal plains of what is now Israel, northern Syria and southern Anatolia (now Western Turkey). According to this museum, this occurred in the Late Bronze Age in the late 1200s. These migrants are known as Sea People. Why they left their homelands, and whether there were adverse factors there or just better conditions elsewhere is not known. This museum also suggests that this migration occurred at a time when there was a weakening of the Egyptian and Hittite Empires because of their fighting each other, and as result their inability to provide protection to weaker city states along the coast. However, it is very likely that this migration took place not only in the 12th century BCE, but also much earlier than this.
The Sea People who settled in the southern part of Israel are known as the Philistines and they took over from the Canaanites five large cities – Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron. These are often referred to as the Philistine Pentapolis, Gath being the largest of them. However, other tribal groups from the Aegean also occupied cities north of the Pentapolis, including Aphek, Jaffa and Dor, of which Dor was the largest. They also captured Acco and more inland, Megiddo and places near to this, including Yokne’am and Afula. However, which of these places they were able to settle in permanently and their relationship to the indigenous Phoenicians is unclear. In the Bible, all the Sea People comprising different tribes are lumped together as Philistines.
The Sea People had a superior culture called the Mycenean culture that included technological advances in building and ship design. They also had superior skills in metallurgy, which they refused to share with the Israelites, who were now dependent on the Philistines for their metalwork (I Samuel 13:19-22).
In the first 14 verses of chapter 13 in the Book of Joshua, Joshua in his old age delineates the territory that has not yet been conquered. This included the five princes of the Philistines in the Pentapolis “the five princes of the Philistines: the Azasites (from Gaza), the Ashdodites, Eshkelonites, Gittittes [from Gat], Ekronites, and the Avvim.” We will discuss who the Avvim were shortly. By the time of Samson, the Philistines were ruling over Israelite tribes in the Shefelah, namely the tribe of Dan. In the period of Samuel, the Philistines had become a threat to the Israelites in the mountain range. This was the impetus for them to request a king who would be able to unite the Israelite tribes for warfare. Samuel reluctantly agreed and with the approval of God elected Saul.
However, the Sea People also united. Saul and his sons fought against them (and died in battle) on Mount Gilboa overlooking the Jezreel Valley. In the Bible this is described as a battle against the Philistines. However, this location is far from the five Philistine cities, and it was probably an alliance of southern and northern Sea People. Saul would have had good reason to be fearful of this large and powerful army.
The power of the five Philistine kings was eventually weakened by King David to the extent that they ceased to threaten his kingdom. David also had a commercial relationship with the Phoenicians of Sidon, who were Canaanite and not a Sea People. The cities of the Pentapolis came under the control of later Judean kings, and they would be totally destroyed by the Babylonians at the same time that the Judean and Israelite kingdoms were destroyed by them.
However, the story does not quite end then. At the time of the return of the exiles from Babylon, the Canaanites from Ashdod were also permitted to return and the people began intermarrying with them (Nehemiah 13:23). Both leaders Ezra and Nehemiah, realizing the threat that intermarriage presented to Jewish continuity, spoke passionately against this.
The approach taken by these essays is very much based on a literal understanding of the Bible, including its dating. The dating of the 13th century provided by the museum for the arrival of the Philistines in Israel is based on Egyptian writing, and in particular a sculptured battle scene of Ramses III on the walls of a temple describing his repelling the Sea People. However, it is likely that it is far more complicated than this.
Abraham and his son Isaac had dealings with Abimelech in Gerar and he is described as a Philistine. Abraham made a covenant of friendship with him. Gerar seems to be between Gaza and Beersheba. However, in Deuteronomy, speaking in about 1400 BCE, Moses tells us the following: “And as for the Avvim who dwell in open cities until Gaza – the Caphtorim who went out of Caphtor (Crete) destroyed them and dwelled in their place.” It seems likely that the Avvim were the Philistines from the time of Abraham and they were driven out by Philistines from Crete, although as Joshua mentions (quoted above) they were not completely driven out by the Philistines from Crete. Hence, there were already Philistine in this area at the time of the Exodus (which following Biblical chronology took place in about 1450 BCE). Moreover, God did not lead the Israelites out of Egypt along the coastal road and “through the way of the land of the Philistines” (Exodus 13:17) since the Israelites were not ready to fight this warlike people.
What does this all mean? It suggests that the term Philistine in the Bible is as much based on territory as ethnic background. The Philistines at the time of Abraham were of Hamitic-Egyptian ancestry (Genesis 10:14). Because of the pact made with Abraham, the Children of Israel were not permitted to harm them. However, they were mainly dispossessed by Philistines from Crete. Thus, these Sea People were in this area at least a century and a half before the time mentioned in this museum. It also seems likely that the migration of the Sea People was a gradual and natural phenomenon over a broad geographical area by a sea-loving people who were seeking more territory in which to live rather than a one-time invasion, and this included the Philistines of the Pentapolis. Their interactions north of the Pentapolis with the indigenous Phoenicians was probably a complicated one and is unclear.
Other activities in Ashdod:
Lachish River Park. This park is along the southern bank of the Lachish Stream. The path is suitable for a stroller and wheelchair. It has green lawns and boating, and a range of animals in fenced-off areas. These include antelopes, zebras, deer, ostriches, rams, ibex, deer and others. The animal exhibits are not as comprehensive as a regular zoo and not as expansive as a regular safari. The animals are identified, although there is little other educational material. However, the kids are sure to enjoy it. There are benches near the fenced in areas, which is a nice touch. There is no admission charge. Directions: Enter into Waze “Etgarim Lakhish Park.”
Ashdod-Yam Park. This is a very large park that extends from the heart of the city to Gandhi Beach. It has lawns, walking paths suitable for strollers and a wheelchair, bicycle routes, rock gardens, skating park, shaded playgrounds, an artificial lake with boat rides, and in the evening a light, water and music show at scheduled times throughout the entire year. There is no admission charge.
Other activities with a fee include: Etgarim Park, Ashdod Museum of Art, the Visitors Center at the port (only with a group).
An excellent web-based guide to activities in Ashdod is the following. Click here.