Apollonia (Arsuf) is a wheelchair-accessible National Park near Herzliya. And in the park, you can find the remains of a Crusader Fortress. Let’s begin exploring!
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Apollonia (Arsuf) National Park is located on the Mediterranean seashore north of Herzliya and about 30 km south of Caesarea. This national park is situated on Kurkar (calcareous sandstone) about 30 meters above sea level.
Map of the area:
If you are reaching by car, type in “Apollonia National Park” into your navigation program (Waze or Google Maps). There is free parking near the entrance to the site.
You can also get there using public transport. You can take bus #501 from HaSira interchange to this park. Here is a link to Moovit, where the destination point is already set.
Sunday – Thursday and Saturday: 8:00 – 17:00 (16:00 during winter).
Friday: 8:00 – 16:00 (15:00 during winter).
On holidays usually 8:00 – 13:00.
Adult 24 NIS, child 9 NIS, and student 19 NIS. And free for National Parks’ annual subscribers.
If you are going to visit several National Parks, then consider purchasing a combo ticket. You can find additional info at National Parks And Nature Reserves post.
Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in April 2021. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
Historical Extract – The Three Names Of Apollonia
Historical background from Wikipedia:
The town was settled by Phoenicians in the 6th or 5th century BC and named Reshef after Resheph, the Canaanite god of fertility and the underworld. It was then a part of the Persian Empire and governed by Sidon. Phoenicians of Reshef produced the precious purple dye, derived from murex mollusks, which they exported to the Aegean.
During the Hellenistic period, it was an anchorage town, ruled by Seleucids and renamed Apollonia, as the Greeks identified Phoenician God Reshef with Apollo.
Under Roman rule, the size of the town increased. It was an essential settlement between Jaffa and Caesarea along Via Maris, the coastal road. In 113 AD, Apollonia was destroyed partially by an earthquake but recovered quickly. The harbor was built, and trade with Italy and North Africa developed.
During the Byzantine period, the town extended to cover an area of 70 acres (280,000 square meters). In the 5th and 6th century AD, it was the second-largest city in Sharon Valley, after Caesarea, populated by Christian and Samaritans, having an elaborate church and a prosperous glass industry.
In 640 AD, the town was captured by Muslims, and the Semitic name Arsuf was restored as an Arabic transliteration of Reshef. The town’s area decreased to about 22 acres (89,000 square meters), and, for the first time, it was surrounded by a fortified wall with buttresses to resist the constant attacks of Byzantine fleets from the sea. Large marketplaces appeared, and pottery production developed. In 809 AD, following Harun al-Rashid’s death, the local Samaritan community was destroyed and their synagogue ruined.
In 1101, Arsuf fell to a Crusader army led by Baldwin I of Jerusalem. The Crusaders, who called it Arsur, rebuilt the city’s walls and created the Lordship of Arsur in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In 1187 Arsuf was captured by the Muslims but fell again to the Crusaders on September 7, 1191, after a battle between Richard I of England and Saladin.
As in other national parks, the Israeli Nature And Parks Authority occasionally offer free tours (at no extra cost beyond the entrance fee). These tours are usually on Spring, Summer Weekends, and Holidays. For additional information about the tours and concerts, visit the official site (though this information is not available there at this stage) or call the Central District Training Unit at 08-6220835.
During the summer, the inner part of the fortress becomes a small concert hall. The shows are usually held in the summer evening during sunset (around 19:00 – 20:00). Since it is after the closing hours of the national park, you need to buy dedicated tickets. We went to a concert a couple of years ago, and the cost was around 60 NIS per person. For such a price, you will not get top-rank performers but a lovely Jazz band with a view of the sunset and a sea breeze. What else do you need? 😉 And if you come early, then you will also have time (about half an hour to maybe an hour) to walk in the park. You can find the timetable of the performers on the official site during the summer.
Recently the park was upgraded, and a new road for wheelchair-users was built. New lookout points were constructed, and for a couple of days, it was open till 21:00. That allowed me to visit Apollonia National Park during the golden hour. Thus I decided to revisit the site.
As you enter the site, you will see a dry moat that protected the Crusader’s town.
The city moat – the southern side of the city moat was excavated in 1998 and helped us to estimate the size and strength of the city in Crusader times. In 1996 the eastern city gate, which still lies in grounds belonging to IMI (Israel Military Industries), was excavated. The moat can be seen to continue beyond the excavated area, and it is about 4.5 m deep.
Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.
Explanation signs are both in English and Hebrew.
Close to this point, you can find a lime kiln:
One of the bonuses of visiting during sunset is, of course, the light.
On our way to the Crusader fortress.
The Crusaders’ also protected the fortress by a dry moat (besides the one that protected the city). The trench was 27 meters wide and 13 meters deep. Entry to the fort was through the bridge. Here you can see a drawing of the suggested reconstruction.
All this defense did not help, and in 1265CE, the Crusader fortress fell to the Mameluke Sultan Baibars. The Mameluke army filled the moat with wooden logs. The absence of the trench allowed them to bring siege machines close to the walls. And after forty days of siege, the town fell.
The Crusader fortress– construction of the fortress is dated to 1241, and its destruction to 1265, when the Mameluke Sultan Baibars captured the city.
The fortress building was influenced by similar fortresses in southern England and is evidence that the architect was European. It has three systems of fortification: a wide and deep moat, a first wall (the external fortification array), and a second wall and donjon (keep).
The fortress was built by Balian of Ibelin, Lord of Arsur, but in 1261, at the start of Baibars’ campaign to the land of Israel, it was handed over, along with the entire city of Apollonia, to the control of the Hospitaller Knights.
Baibars besieged the city for 30 days, and the fortress for another three days. At the foot of the fortress is a small sea anchorage at which boats could tie-up.
My daughter is the first to explore 🙂
Remains of the keep are the highest point in the castle today. It is nine meters in height and served as an internal defense system. But today, it serves as an excellent place for taking photographs. I took the following photos from the keep.
Here is a closeup of the previous photo. You can see one of the viewpoints and Herzliya:
That was a view to the South. When looking to the West, you will see the sea:
To the North, we see Netanya.
Between this park and Netanya, and also near the sea you can find another lovely place. It is called Sharon Beach National Park, and if you are in for a hike, then check it out.
The high buildings in the photograph above belong to Netanya’s neighborhood Ir Yamim. Just beside this block, you can find Nahal Poleg Nature Reserve. If you are visiting during the Spring, consider visiting it and seeing the blooming of Coastal Iris.
Here are two more photos from the keep of the fortress itself:
Inside one of the rooms, you can find a pile of rocks for catapults:
The line of rock at the bottom is the remains of an ancient port that was here:
It is getting late and time to go back. View of the fortress on our way back:
Herzliya to the left and the lights on the far right come from Ashdod port:
Note: Israeli Nature And Parks Authority say that Apollonia is one of the best places to see Airforce planes’ flight during Independence Day.
Apollonia National Park is not a big place, and if you take a tour, which I always advise, it will last about an hour. Moreover, the park is wheelchair accessible, making it suitable for all ages, including a family trip with strollers.
Another plus is that Apollonia National Park is close to the center. A drive from Tel Aviv (not during rush hour) will take 15-20 minutes. And a commute by bus will take about an hour.
Overall, if you like archaeology, history and enjoy sea views, I would suggest attending Apollonia, especially during Spring. I would advise visiting Apollonia either by joining a tour or a concert. If this is your first time in Israel and you can attend only one place on your journey between Tel Aviv and Haifa, I would suggest checking out Caesarea National Park.
Have you visited Apollonia National Park? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
For additional points of interest nearby, see Tel Aviv-Yafo.
Additional ResourcesHere are several resources that I created to help travelers:
- Israel Trip Planner is the page that will help you to create your perfect travel route.
- National Parks And Nature Reserves page lists and put all national parks on the map. There is also a top list, information about ticket types and campsites.
- If you are looking for things to do, here are the pages for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Sea Of Galilee, and Makhtesh Ramon.
- Wondering what events are there in Israel? Here is the Events And Festivals By Season guide.