Tel Lachish National Park is associated with the Biblical city of Lachish. And in the Kingdom of Judah, Lachish was second in importance only to Jerusalem. Let’s begin exploring!
Tel Lachish is located by the Lachish stream, which starts from the mountains, not far from Hebron, and meets the Mediterranean sea near Ashdod. And in Ashdod, by the river, you can find Lachish Park.
Map of the area:
Note: Tel is an archeological term meaning human-made mound. You can find additional information at Tel Megiddo National Park.
And here is a map of Tel Lachish:
Note: you can click on the map to enlarge it.
There are two possible trails. A short route that takes about an hour. And a longer one of an hour and a half takes you through all POI on the top of the Tel.
Tel Lachish National Park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is no artificial light. Thus it would be best if you visited only during the day.
Note: during our visit (spring of 2019), we saw that Israel Nature and Parks authority develops this park. A new visitor center was already built. Some explanation signs were already installed. Once they finish, the entrance fee and opening hours will change.
I checked the official site, and there is no due date. They only say that once the work is finished, they will issue a press release.
The Battle Of Lachish
Several years ago, when we visited the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, I saw the impressive relief of The battle of Lachish (replica).
This relief provides a realistic depiction of the conquest of Lachish in 701 BCE. It graced the walls of an entire hall in the palace of King Sennacherib at Nineveh, underscoring the significance of this victory from the Assyrian perspective.
On the left, the Assyrian soldiers, armed from head to toe, attack the city, aided by a siege ramp and battering ram. Opposite them, the Judahite defenders stand atop the walls, raining arrows, torches, and sling stones down on their attackers. In the center, the Assyrian soldiers impale captives on poles and carry off spoils, while families of Judahite refugees head into exile, their possessions laden on carts. The right side of the relief depicts Sennacherib reviewing the procession of captives and booty. The legend reads: “Sennacherib, King of the World, King of Assyria, sat upon a Nemedu-throne and the spoil from Lachish passed in review before him.”.
Original in The British Museum, London
Source: Israel Museum
This battle was the turning point of the Biblical city of Lachish. But there were additional events in the history of this city. Let’s overview them.
Tel Lachish, the mound of the ancient city of Lachish, is located in the lowlands of the Judean Hills, some 40 km. southeast of Jerusalem. The abundance of water sources and the fertile valleys of the area favored the existence of a prosperous city over a considerable period of time.
The mound of the city was first excavated during the 1930s. Systematic and in-depth excavations of large areas of the mound were again conducted between 1973 and 1987.
The Canaanite city
A large, fortified Canaanite city was established at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE on a hillock dominating the surrounding area. It was fortified by a wall and a glacis, a ramp-like structure of compressed earth with a hard, smooth surface of lime plaster. The fortification was completed by a fosse (moat) at the foot of the glacis.
A large palace of numerous rooms and a courtyard, probably the residence of the Canaanite King of Lachish, stood on the acropolis – the highest part of the city. It could not be completely exposed, as a later Israelite palace was built above it.
From letters sent by the kings of Lachish to their overlords, the pharaohs of Egypt (the 14th century BCE el-Amarna correspondence) it may be deducted that Lachish was an important urban center and the seat of the Egyptian governor of southern Canaan.
Two temples are known from this period at Lachish. Finds from the Fosse Temple, at the western foot of the mound, include cult vessels, offering bowls and imported items of pottery, faience and ivory, all evidence of wealth. The temple on the acropolis, with Egyptian architectural elements, included an entrance chamber, a main hall (16 x 13 m.) and a raised holy of holies. Two octagonal stone columns supported the wooden ceiling, while the walls were decorated with painted plaster.
Canaanite Lachish was totally destroyed by fire at the end of the 12th century BCE. According to one theory, the destruction was wrought by the Philistines of the nearby Coastal Plain; according to another, more widely accepted theory, it was wrought by the Israelites, whose capture and destruction of the city is recorded in the Bible. (Joshua 10:31,32)
The Israelite city
Rebuilt as a fortress-city of the Kingdom of Judah, Lachish gained in importance after the split of the kingdom into Judah and Israel. As the largest city on the western border of the Kingdom of Judah facing the Philistines of the Coastal Plain, Lachish was fortified with a double line of massive mud-brick walls on stone foundations. The main city wall on top of the mound was 6 m. wide, with a sloping glacis supported by a revetment wall along the middle of the slope. The city gate, in the southwestern wall, is one of the largest and most strongly fortified gates known of this period. It consists of an outer gate in a huge tower built of large stones which protrudes from the line of defenses. The gatehouse, on top of the mound, consists of three pairs of chambers with wooden doors on hinges.
A palace-fortress was built on the acropolis and probably served as the residence of the governor appointed by the King of Judah. During the 8th century BCE a new wing was added to the palace, enlarging it to 76 x 36 m. Next to the palace was a courtyard with stables and storerooms; the whole complex was surrounded by a wall with a gatehouse.
The city of Lachish was destroyed by the Assyrian army during Sennacherib’s campaign against the Kingdom of Judah in 701 BCE. The destruction was total; the buildings were burned to the ground and the inhabitants exiled. The Assyrian campaign, during the reign of King Hezekiah, and the encampment of the Assyrian army at Lachish are described in detail in the Bible. (2 Kings 18:14-17; 2 Chronicles 32:9)
The conquest of Lachish is depicted in monumental stone reliefs found at Sennacherib’s palace at Ninveh, providing a rare contemporary “photograph” of the battle and conquest. These relief-images of the Assyrian attack have been confirmed by archeological evidence at the site: the attack on Lachish was launched from the southwest; the attackers built a siege ramp against the slope of the mound, which according to calculation contained some 15,000 tons of stones and earth!
The ramp was covered with plaster to allow the Assyrian battering ram to be moved up to the city wall and breach it. The city’s defenders constructed a counter-ramp inside the city, thus raising the city wall, which forced the Assyrians to raise the height of their ramp in order to overcome the city’s new defenses. The fierceness of the battle is attested to by the remains of weapons, scales of armor, hundreds of slingstones and arrowheads.
During the reign of King Josiah (639-609 BCE), the city of Lachish was rebuilt and fortified. This much poorer city was captured and destroyed by the Babylonian army in 587/6 BCE. (Jeremiah 34:7) In one of the rooms, which opened onto a courtyard outside the city gatehouse, a group of ostraca were found during the excavations in the 1930s. Now known as the Lachish Letters, they constitute an important corpus of Hebrew documents from the First Temple period. Written in paleo-Hebrew script on pottery sherds, they are messages sent by the garrison commander of a small fortress to his commanding officer in Lachish.
Source of all history quotes: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
And now let’s visit the city.
As you approach the Tel, you will see the road towards the city gate (POI #2 on the map above).
And before starting the ascent, to the right, you will see a statue that shows where Sennacherib’s army built the siege ramp. And on top of the Tel, you will see the statue of the defenders.
The gate (POI #2 on the map) is one of the most impressive structures of this site. And here is how it may looked like during the time of King Hezekiah.
Lachish was situated close to the western border of the Kingdom of Judah, facing the Philistines cities and on the road to Egypt. Because of the city’s location, the kings of Judah built particularly strong fortifications for it, including a number of components: a broad (about 6 m thick), high wall surrounding the city; a steep artificial slope (glacis) to prevent the enemy from scaling the wall; another wall in the middle of the slope to support the glacis; and a moat dug around the base of the city wall. The only access to the city was through the gate.
Why was the access path to the gate built to the left of the wall?
In antiquity, soldiers would carry their sword or spear in their right hand and their shield in their left hand. When ascending to the gate, soldiers would be exposed to attack by the wall’s defenders on their right side – the unprotected side. This made it more difficult for them to use their weapons effectively.
Source: sign on site
The gate that was revealed in the excavation is the largest one known in the country from the First Temple period.
According to Sa’ar Ganor, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The size of the gate is consistent with the historical and archaeological knowledge we possess, whereby Lachish was a major city and the most important one after Jerusalem”. According to the biblical narrative, the cities’ gates were the place where ‘everything took place’: the city elders, judges, governors, kings, and officials – everyone would sit on benches in the city gate. These benches were found in our excavation”.
And here is a short video telling about this gate:
As you can see from the following diagram, there were outer and inner gates. And between the gates, you can find an open plaza.
This area was used for commerce. This is also where judgment, punishment, and cult activities took place.
The Lachish Letters
Near the gate, archaeologists found the Lachish letters.
In this room, some 20 potsherds were discovered, bearing inscriptions in ink (ostraca) in ancient Hebrew. These letters are dated to the last years before the Babylonian invasion of the Land of Israel (beginning of the sixth century BCE).
The letters were written by Hoshayahu, the commander of one of the nearby fortresses, and were addressed to Yaush, the governor of Lachish. Some scholars believe that these were drafts or copies of letters that were sent from Lachish to Jerusalem. According to that theory, Hoshayahu was the commander of Lachish and Yaush was an important commander or minister in the government of Judah in Jerusalem.
Letter IV: “May God cause my lord to hear, this very day, tidings of good. And now, according to everything which my lord has sent, this has your servant done. I wrote on the sheet according to everything which you sent to me. And inasmuch as my lord sent to me concerning the matter of Beit Harapid, there is no one there. As for Semachiah, Shemaiah took him and sent him up to the city. And may (mylord) be apprised that we are watching for the fire signals of Lachish according to all the signs which my lord has given because we cannot see Azekah.”
Source: sign on site
Note: the distance between Tel Azekah and Tel Lachish is about 17 km, and Tel Azekah is closer to Jerusalem.
As you continue with the trail from the city gate, you will see the remains of the royal palace (POI #5 on the map) to your left.
The palace apparently served as the seat of the city’s governor, representing the king of Judah. The huge palace complex from the time of King Hezekiah extended over more than 12.5 dunams (1.25 hectares) and included a large courtyard, a central structure, and auxiliary structures that served as storerooms or stables.
From the central structure, which covered 2.5 dunams (0.25 hectares), only the foundation survived. The palace hosted visiting kings, and it may be assumed that King Amaziah (who ruled Judah between 798 and 769 BCE) fled here from Jerusalem and was murdered here.
The palace was constructed in three stages during the ninth and eighth centuries BCE, during which it was extended to the south and east.
Source: sign on site
You can see a row of chairs in the palace courtyard (POI #4 on the map). On each chair, you can see the king’s name, how many years he ruled, and the relevant quote from the bible.
The chairs are ordered chronologically, starting from Rehoboam (928 – 911 BCE) and ending with Zedekiah (596 – 586 BCE). And we will return to the twentieth and last king of Judah, Zedekiah.
At now, I want to return to one of the pivotal points, The Battle Of Lachish. And to do that, we will walk to POI #11 and POI #12 – Glacis and Assyrian siege ramp. On the way, you can see the following hexagonal sign.
Sennacherib’s Annals is an Assyrian inscription made on clay. The prism was found in Nineveh and dates from 691 BCE. In the inscription, Sennacherib boasts of his military campaigns, including the one to Judah.
On top of Tel Lachish, you can find a sign in the form of the original prism, with the translated text. And here is what it says:
As for Hezekiah the Judean, I besieged 46 of his fortified walled cities and surrounding smaller towns, which were without number. Using packed-down ramps and applying battering rams, infantry attacks, and by mines, breaches, and siege machines [or ladders], I conquered (them). I took out 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, cattle, and sheep without number and counted them as spoil. He [Hezekiah] himself I locked up within Jerusalem his royal city, like a bird in a cage.
Source: sign on site
And here is the related quote from the Book of Isaiah:
First of all, we should understand why Hezekiah decided to rebel.
King Hezekiah of Judah refused to pay tribute to the king of Assyria. He aspired to enlarge his kingdom as well as to stop the ongoing trend of transforming states into administrative districts of the Assyrian governor. At the end of the eighth century BCE, Hezekiah, therefore, made a treaty with kings from Philistia and Egypt against Assyria. In 701 BCE the Assyrian King Sennacherib set out on a military campaign to suppress Judah’s rebellion against Assyrian rule.
Source: sign on site
The Assyrian King Sennacherib gathered forces and started his campaign from Nineveh. First, he marched against the Phoenician king of Sidon and then continued to the Philistine cities by the sea, like Ashkelon. And lastly, he attacked the Kingdom of Judah.
Glacis and Assyrian siege ramp
During the Assyrian siege, the inhabitants of Lachish began to act to stop the Assyrian assault, evacuating the inhabitants of the dwellings near the focus of the Assyrian attack. The defenders of the city covered these dwellings with earth and limestone rocks from the inner side of the wall, creating a counter-ramp against the Assyrian siege ramp to strengthen the wall and create the foundation of another defensive line. In this area, the wall was preserved almost to its original height.
Hundreds of arrowheads discovered here attest to the Assyrian firepower aimed against the city’s defenders.
Source: sign on site
But the counter-ramp did not help. Lachish fell and its inhabitants exiled.
The Battle of Jerusalem
After conquering Lachish, the Assyrian King Sennacherib set up his main camp at Lachish.
From Lachish, he sent an expeditionary force to Jerusalem to defeat King Hezekiah, who, backed by the prophet Isaiah, refused to surrender.
According to the biblical story, Jerusalem was saved by a miracle. According to the fifth-century BCE Greek historian Herodotus, a plague of mice devoured the Assyrians’ weapons and when they found themselves defenseless, they decided to stop fighting. Hezekiah continued to rule Judah, but subjugated himself to Sennacherib and paid a heavy tribute to the Assyrian king. The Assyrian camp was probably established on the site of present-day Moshav Lachish.
Source: sign on site
In 1955 a new settlement was founded. Moshav Lachish became famous for its vineyards. And Lachish reliefs from the eighth century BCE also depict grape cultivation in this region.
One additional thing that I want to point out is that Tel Lachish is an active archaeological site. Thus, first of all, be careful and stay on the trails. And secondly, we will probably see new and exciting findings in the future.
We picked grapes in Moshav Lachish about half a dozen times over the recent year. And the described visit at Tel Lachish was after such activity.
And since visiting Tel Lachish will not take much time, you can combine it with nearby attractions like Tali Grapes, Beit Guvrin National Park, or something else. You can browse the interactive map at the top of this post for additional ideas.
Angel’s – Shahariyya Forest
If you are looking for a lovely place to have a picnic, I recommend nearby Angel’s – Shahariyya Forest.
Lachish was an important city, and today it is a significant historical site. Thus if you love history or archeology, I would advise visiting it. However, if the entrance fee is not critical for you, I would suggest waiting until Tel Lachish National Park is officially opened. Once opened, there will be a visitors center and maybe additional explanations on site.
Have you ever been to Tel Lachish National Park? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
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.