Many Israeli know Ashkelon National Park for its beach and the picnic area. And I am one of them. I was at Ashkelon National Park four times before, and it was always some combo of a picnic and beach. Thus, when I saw a free tour (included with entry tickets) by Israeli National Parks Authority on a Saturday, I decided to join. Let’s begin!
Ashkelon National Park (official site) has more to offer than just a resting area. It is also an antiquities site. You can find the Canaanite Gate, Roman basilica, amphitheater and other archeological findings.
Map of the area:
As you can see in the photo above, there are several trails (marked by red dashed line). The path goes near the Roman basilica (in the center of the map). The part that passes close to the sea is the cliff path. And on the right side of the park, there is the wall trail. Each of the longer trails (cliff and wall) takes around an hour at a slow pace.
Wall Path At Ashkelon National Park
We parked near the basilica since our guided tour started at a small coffee shop in front of it. And from there our guide took us to the Wall Path.
This route goes along the ancient Ashkelon wall, hence the name.
Medieval walls: The walls of Ashkelon, whose impressive remains still stand, were built by the Fatimid Muslims in the 12th century, to fortify the city against the Crusaders. The wall had four gates: Jerusalem Gate, Gaza Gate, Jaffa Gate, and Sea Gate, named for the directions in which they left the city. To the east of the Canaanite gate is an impressive section of the wall rising above a deep moat. The waves have destroyed part of the sea wall, affording impressive views of sections of the wall in which columns and other architectural elements from earlier buildings have been incorporated.
Note: all quotes, unless stated otherwise, were taken from the official site.
The Origin Of The Name Ashkelon
We did several stops during the path. In the first period, we looked at the word Ashkelon and what words are hiding within it. Shekel, the name of Israeli currency, is one of those words.
The origin of the name Ashkelon appears to come from the root of the word “shekel”, denoting a measure of weight – a fitting name for a commercial port city. The specific name Ashkelon is mentioned in the Egyptian execration texts of the 19th century BCE, and it appears again in other, later Egyptian inscriptions.
Since the wall path is on high ground, you can see the Roman basilica in the bottom and sea farther away.
Most of this trail is on the sand. Thus, in another stop, we discussed the plants and how they adapt to dry areas. For example, some plants have very deep routes. And others have no leaves. That is because plants lose a lot of water due to evaporation. Therefore, some plants turned their leaves into needles.
I do not know the original height of the wall, but the remains reach at least 4 – 5 meters.
As it turns out, there is a small pack of mountain gazelles in this area (between Ashkelon National Park and the power station). And people from Nature and Parks Authority are continually monitoring the mountain gazelles.
In initial surveys, they found 16 species of reptiles in the area. But we focused on turtles. They lay eggs on the beaches in this area. And it is interesting that turtles always return and bury their eggs at the same place they were born. It is both fascinating and sad. Fascinating because scientists do not know how the turtles find the same spot they were born in. And sad since if something built near the beach, then all turtles that were born in this area, most likely will have no offsprings. Therefore, people from Israeli Parks Authority dig out the eggs along Israeli shores and move them to the protected areas.
Moreover, we talked about how to help turtles to survive. And there are several simple rules. First of all, waste and especially plastic is one of their worst enemies. Secondly, driving jeeps on beaches can hurt the eggs. And thirdly, loud music at night can confuse turtles from returning to sea (since it is dark at night, they are listening to the sound of the sea to know which way to head). Thus, please do not throw loud parties at the beach.
At this point, about an hour since we started the wall path, our guided trip ended. But since we were not tired and wanted to explore more we continued to the cliff path.
Recently I wrote a post about traveling in Israel by season. As I mentioned there, Spring is the best time for a trip. It will still be moderately hot and you will find plenty of flowers.
Old remains on top of the cliff (#20 on the map).
Close to this point you can find a campground. Thus, if you have a tent, you can stay for the night for a small fee. But, there are some rules. For example, you can not leave the camp at night (between 10 PM and 8 AM) and cannot bring animals. Also, campfires are permitted only in designated areas, and swimming is allowed only at the official beach when there is a lifeguard on duty.
Between April to October, the beach is fully operations with lifeguard services, showers, and toilets. Lifeguard services are usually from 8 AM to 17 or later (depending on the month).
Along the cliff route, at strategical points, several benches offer great viewpoints. And with this view, I should mention the port.
Ancient Ashkelon lay on the southern coastal shore, between Evtah Stream and Shikma Stream. This location had many advantages: Ashkelon was an important trading station, thanks to its location on the ancient international route from Egypt and Syria, and it had a convenient cross-country route towards Jerusalem. The city was also blessed with an abundance of productive wells, a comfortable climate, and fertile soil, which gave it a large and stable agricultural hinterland.
Ashkelon’s strategic value in ancient times was priceless because whoever controlled the city could block access from Egypt and the Sinai desert to the populated areas. Although Ashkelon had no natural bay, it appears that its residents were able to create a flourishing port already in the Canaanite period, making the city a popular station on the maritime trade routes. Ashkelon’s ancient port has not yet been found and appears to have been silted up over the years.
Besides international and domestic trade the port was used for fishing. And maybe one of the reasons it was not found, is that it was not a constructed one. Meaning, vessels anchored in the open sea, a few hundred meters from the beach. And merchandise was passed using smaller boats.
The Canaanite City
Cliff path ends near the Canaanite City, but the trail continues, as so we do.
The Canaanite Gate
The Canaanite gate in Ashkelon was built of mud and kurkar bricks. It is dated to 1850 BCE and is considered to be the oldest vaulted gate in the world. The gate is built in the form of a 15 m long corridor, almost 4 m in height and more than 2 m wide. It appears that carts, laden with goods and drawn by oxen and donkeys, passed through it on their way to and from the port. The gate was in use for some 250 years and was then buried under a new earth rampart. A city gate was built elsewhere, in a location that is as yet unknown.
It is the most ancient arched gate in the world. It consists of an arched corridor with arched openings on both sides. The gate was constructed in approximately 1850 BCE as part of the city’s fortifications.
The Canaanite Fortifications
The Canaanite city was established at around 2000 BCE, and about 15,000 people lived in the 600 dunam city. 100 after the city was built, a moat and a wall were added to protect from Egyptians.
The ruins of Ashkelon are surrounded by an enormous earthen rampart. The rampart marked the borders of the settlement, in the form of a semicircle that is around 2200 m in length. That is a huge earth wall, rising to a height of 15 m, and over 30 m wide at its base. The earthen rampart was the basis for a system of fortifications and a glacis. The glacis was built of a mixture of mud bricks and kurkar, and its exterior wall was built of chiseled kurkar.
To the west, there is no existing rampart, either because it was destroyed by the waves, or because it never existed at all in its land-side form. The rampart was built in the Middle Bronze Age (2000 – 1550 BCE) and served the residents of Ashkelon for over 500 years.
In 1175 BCE the Philistines conquered Ashqelon. The Philistines used the fortifications. During Romans, Byzantine and Muslim periods the city was built on huge a colossal glacis. And the wall that we see on eastern and southern sides dates back to the Muslim period.
At this point, after we circled the park. we headed towards the parking. And since we parked near the Roman basilica, here is a photograph. Currently, the basilica is being restored. And within several years, they will probably open it to the public. At present time, there is a fence that prevents you from going closer.
Near the Roman basilica, there is a small open-air stock of various remains. And this is where I made the following photos.
That was our last stop, and after a three-hour visit, we finished our tour around Ashkelon National Park and headed home.
Ashkelon National Park offers various excellent activities. You can go to the beach, have a picnic, visit the archeological parts. Or even build a tent and stay for a night. For all these reasons it is one of the most popular national parks in Israel.
And I, similarly to other people, enjoyed all my visits. Thus, I have no problem recommending a visit.
Have you ever been to Ashkelon National Park? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!