Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

At Ashkelon National Park you can visit the Canaanite City with the oldest vaulted gate in the world. Then go to the beach or have a picnic. Let’s begin our visit!

Basic Info

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 last Saturday, I decided to join.

Note: sometimes Ashkelon National Park is called Tel Ashkelon.

Map

Ashkelon National Park is located at the city with the same name. Here is a map of the area:

Opening Hours

Sunday – Thursday And Saturday: 8 – 20 (16 during winter).
Fridays: 8 – 20 (16 during winter).
On holidays usually 8 – 13.

In summer you need to exit the park before 22:00, and during winter before 18:00.

Beach opening hours:

April – August: 08:00–19:00
September 08:00–18:00
October until October 18: 08:00–17:00

Ticket Prices

Adults 28 NIS, children 14 NIS, and Students 24 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 on December 2018. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.

Map of Ashkelon National Park:
Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

Routes

As you can see in the photo above, there are several trails (marked by the red dashed line). And are they:

  • Wall Path starts at the Roman basilica (in the center of the map) and goes along the wall till you reach the sea. This trail takes about an hour.
  • Cliff Path goes along the sea, on the cliffs above the beach. It covers the Western side of the park, and one of its edges is at the Canaanite city. This trail will also take around an hour.
  • Inner Route leads between several POI in the middle of the park. You will see the Roman basilica, Antilia wells, and others.
  • The Long Trail covers the whole park, and it is similar to what we did. It is a combination of the first three routes, and it will take you around two hours.

Tours

As I mentioned above, we participated in one of the tours. If you are interested in joining as well, then you need to find available tours. To do so, either check the official site or call 08-6220835.

History

Finds from the Neolithic period provide evidence of human settlement in Ashkelon as far back as 10,000 years ago.

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.

Biblical Times

In biblical times, Ashkelon was one of the cities of the Philistine Pentapolis. The city is mentioned in David’s lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. “Tell it not in Gat, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult” (2 Samuel 1:20). Ashkelon is also related to the heroic deeds of Samson. It was here that Samson struck down 30 Philistines and took their garments to pay his companions after they solved his famous riddle (Judges 14).

Ashkelon also played a part in the battle against the Assyrians. Zedaka, the ruler of Ashkelon, joined the rebellion of Hezekiah king of Judah (701 BCE). In response, Sennacherib king of Assyria took over the city and replaced the treacherous ruler with one of his subjects. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who came to the city later, was less merciful. In 604 BCE he deported Aga, the last Philistine king of Ashkelon, and razed the city to the ground.

Persians, Alexander the Great, and Romans

During the Persian period, Ashkelon was a prosperous commercial city under the auspices of the port cities of Tyre and Tsidon. A cemetery was found in the excavations of Tel Ashkelon containing the bones of more than 1,500 dogs. In the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, it was customary to bury dogs in their cemeteries, and they may even have been worshipped.

After Alexander the Great conquered the land of Israel in 332 BCE, Ashkelon became an independent Hellenistic city, and its residents adopted the Greek language and culture. The town remained independent at the time the Hasmoneans controlled the country and even minted its coins – a clear sign of sovereign rule.

The high point of Ashkelon’s prosperity came in the Roman period. The city covered an area that was 1100 m from north to south and 600 m in width. This area was too small to contain its growing population, and gradually a dense cluster of small villages and farms sprang up around the city. Thirty-five settlement sites from the Byzantine period (4th – 7th centuries CE) have been found around Ashkelon, which were the city’s agricultural hinterland. The city became a regional wheat trading center, and also had date orchards, vegetable gardens, and vineyards. To this day, a particular variety of onion called scallion bears a reminder of the name of Ashkelon. During the Byzantine period (5th – 6th centuries CE) Ashkelon was a center for fine wines, which were sent from its port to the countries of Europe.

Arabs and Crusaders

The Arabs conquered Ashkelon in the 7th century. They gave it a special status because of a shrine (Mashhad) in which tradition said that the head of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of Muhammad, was preserved, while the rest of his body was buried in Karbala, in Iraq. In 1154 the skull was moved to Cairo, for fear that it would fall into the hands of the Crusaders. Ashkelon continued to flourish at that time, and in the 11th century, it was fortified by the Fatimid rulers with the walls whose remains are still visible today.

In 1153 the Crusaders took the city, but they were forced to abandon it in 1187, for fear of the renowned Muslim general Salah ad-Din (Saladin). After his forces were roundly defeated in the battle of Arsuf (Apollonia) in 1191, his emirs claimed that they were not able to defend Ashkelon against the approaching army of Richard the Lionheart. To his chagrin, Salah ad-Din was forced to destroy the city wall: “It is easier for me to lose all my sons than to move a single stone from these walls,” he said. The Crusaders took control of Ashkelon that same year, but in 1270 the Mameluke Sultan Beybars captured the city and destroyed it, and it did not rise again until modern times.

Note: all quotes, unless stated otherwise, were taken from the official site.

I also want to mention that Via Maris passed through Ashkelon. It gave the city additional economic boost.

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.Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel
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 seawall, affording impressive views of sections of the wall in which columns and other architectural elements from earlier buildings have been incorporated.

Remains of the wall:
Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

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.

Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel
Since the wall path is on high ground, you can see the Roman basilica in the bottom and sea farther away.
Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel
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.
Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel
I do not know the original height of the wall, but the remains reach at least 4 – 5 meters.
Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

Towards the end of the wall path, we reached the Southern part of the National park. And it is the closest point to Ashkelon power station.Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

Animals

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 exact spot of their birth. 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.
Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

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.

Cliff Path

Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel
The cliff path goes along the sea, on top of the cliffs.Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

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.
Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel
Old remains on top of the cliff (#20 on the map).Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

Camping

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. For additional information see the official site.

The Beach

And this is the beach with the nearby parking.Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

Between April to October, the beach is fully operations with lifeguard services, showers, and toilets (the building in the center of the photo). Lifeguard services are usually from 8 AM to 17 or later (see opening hours section at the top), and swimming is allowed only at the official beach when there is a lifeguard on duty.

As we continue further to the North, we can see the same beach and the power station from another angle.Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

The Port

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.

Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

The Canaanite City

Cliff path ends near the Canaanite City, but the trail continues, as so we do.

One of the signs telling about the Ancient Ashqelon.
Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel
Mosaics next to Canaanite gate.Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

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.

The Canaanite Gate:Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

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.

View from the other side:Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel
The gate and the wall:Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

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.

Remains of the wall:Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

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.Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

Roman Basilica

At this point, after we circled around 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.Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel
Near the Roman basilica, there is a small open-air stock of various remains. And this is where I made the following photos.Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel
That was our last stop, and after a three-hour visit, we finished our tour around Ashkelon National Park and headed home.

In the next photograph, you can see my leg. I inserted my 47 shoe size, to give a perspective of the column’s volume.
Visiting Ashkelon National Park, Israel

Summary

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!

Stay Tuned! 
 

Additional Resources

Here are several resources that I created to help travelers:

And if you have any questions then check out Useful Information For Tourists To Israel.
 

Did not find what you were looking for? Email me at hi@israel-in-photos.com, and I will do my best to answer your questions.

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