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Ashkelon National Park

Ashkelon National Park is a large park with interesting archeological sites, including a Canaanite city gate and a Roman basilica. There are plenty of shaded picnic areas with benches and a supervised beach. Because the park is so large, you can be assured of privacy. There is no kids play area. The beach has no breakwaters, and the waves can sometimes be somewhat fierce.

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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.

Public transport: Enter “Ashkelon National Park” into Moovit. There is a bus stop by the park entrance serviced by local buses from Ashkelon.

Canaanite gate in Ashkelon National Park

Partially reconstructed Canaanite Gate from the 19th century BCE.

A highlight of the park is the partially reconstructed Canaanite city gate. This is a short distance from the entrance. The driving directions within the park are the reverse from that shown in their map, which means that to drive to the Canaanite gate you have to do a loop around a quarter of the park as if exiting the park. Other archeological findings worth viewing are the columns and statutes of 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 restrooms, and you can obtain a brochure and information about the park.

 

The Roman basilica and a well with a waterwheel are only a short walk away. The beach and picnic area are also only a walk away or short drive. The beach has a lifeguard April to October, structures that provide shade, and restrooms with a changing area. It has no separate kiosk for food and drinks.

 

A very nice short, circular walk is on the Cliff Path. It starts from just above the beach and heads south towards the Canaanite Gate. There are steps up to the path just above the beach. The path is either tiled or a firm gravel. There are several observation areas along it.

 

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 this 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. You will see the steps to the path. I am told by the park that it takes about 2 hours.

Roman basilica in Ashkelon National Park

Roman Basilica - a courtyard surrounded by rows of columns whose walls and floor were made of marble. 

Canaanite rampart in Ashkelon National Park

Massive rampart from the Canaanite period.

While you are in Ashkelon, do not forget to visit the popular marina and at least one of its wonderful beaches. See our web page "Askelon's marina and beaches."

Ancient Ashkelon

 

There was a Canaanite city in Ashkelon from the Middle Bronze Age, from about 2,000 to 1,550 BCE. Ashkelon was a significant port during this period. The city is mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts. It was captured by the Egyptians in 1,550 BCE and remained under Egyptian rule for the next 4 centuries.

 

The reconstructed Canaanite gate shown in the park was built in about 1,850 BCE and was once 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. This gate was in use for some 250 years. It was then buried under an earthen rampart and a new city gate built elsewhere. The gate was constructed of calcareous sandstone and mud bricks and took the form of an arched corridor.

 

Around the Canaanite city was a 15-meter-high, semicircular wall made of predominantly mud bricks just over 2 Km in length. It was built on top of a massive glacis, underneath which was a moat. A glacis is a sloping earthen rampart that was paved to make it difficult for attackers to scale the wall. An exposed example of this is close to the Canaanite gate.

 

Ashkelon became one of the five Philistine city-states during the Israelite period, although it was smaller in size then 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. No archeological ruins are displayed in the park from this period.

 

Phoenicians settled in the city during the Persian period. After the conquest of Alexander the Great, Ashkelon became in succession 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.

 

The basilica took the form of 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 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 were used for agriculture. 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 it was not rebuilt.

 

The park brochure mentions that a special type of onion was grown here – a scallion – which derives its name from the city of Ashkelon.

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