Apollonia National Park, also known as Arsuf (official site), is located North to Herzliya on Mediterranean seashore. It offers excellent views, and it was also an ancient city and a fortress.
Map of the area:
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 from Sidon. Phoenicians of Reshef produced 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 m2). 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 Arabic transliteration of Reshef. The town’s area decreased to about 22 acres (89,000 m2) 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 the death of Harun al-Rashid, 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.
At Apollonia National Park
Recently the site was upgraded, 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. As a result, I was able to visit Apollonia National Park during the golden hour. Thus I decided to revisit the site.
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 is a suggested reconstruction:
But, all this defense didn’t 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 machine close to the walls. And after forty days of siege, the town fell.
Remains of the keep are the highest point in the castle today. It is nine meters in height and served as an inner defense system. But today it serves as an excellent place for taking photographs. I took the following photos from the keep.
A side note: Israeli Nature And Parks Authority say that Apollonia is one of the best places to see the flight of Airforce planes during Independence Day.
Apollonia National Park is not a big one, and if you take a tour, which I always advise, it will last about an hour. Another big plus is that Apollonia National Park is close to the center. A drive from Tel Aviv (not during rush hours) will take 15-20 minutes.
Overall, if you like archaeology and history, then I would recommend attending Apollonia, especially during Spring. I would recommend visiting Arsuf using one or both of the following methods:
- Joining a tour – in many cases, they are free (no extras besides the entrance ticket). For more info check the official site for special events.
- Go to a concert – during the summer the inner part of the fortress becomes a small concert hall. The shows are usually held in summer during sunset (around 19-20). Since it is after 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 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 for strolling in the park. Timetable of the performers can be found on the official site during the summer.
Have you visited Apollonia? What did you think? Write us in the comments below.
That’s all for today. Hope you like this post, and I’ll see you in future travels!
For additional points of interest nearby see Tel Aviv-Yafo page.