There is no doubt that the city of Ashkelon is renowned as one of the main Philistine cities mentioned in the Bible. Who has not heard about the Philistine Goliath of Ashkelon? Who does not remember the story about Sampson and the Philistines in Ashkelon? And who is not familiar with the legendary David's Lament for the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, pleading that the news of this event would not be proclaimed in Ashkelon. But Ashkelon started flourishing in the Hellenistic period and reached it’s height in the Roman period.
Today, Ashkelon is not that popular, but as a port city that is located at a central location, Ashkelon had a very strategic importance and was populated continuously throughout history. It seems that everyone passed through it: the Canaanites, the philistines, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs and the Crusaders- while each culture left its mark. A tour around Ashkelon, one of the most ancient cities in the Land of Israel, tells of this city’s fascinating past, from its establishment in the Canaanite period (in about 2200 BCE) and until its destruction by the Muslims in the 13th century CE. Here are a few places around Ashkelon that are worth a visit:
A Tour in Ashkelon National Park
The Ashkelon National Park is a well-kept garden that is very popular with those about to get married to take their pictures in. it also takes one on a journey in time to Ashkelon’s past. The charming Ashkelon National Park is situated near a sandy beach and it was built around Tel Ashkelon (Ashkelon Mound) where many archeological finds were excavated. The tour begins with an ancient Canaanite gate that is found near the entrance and is considered to be the earliest Canaanite gate in the world. It is estimated that it was built in 1850 BCE and its mortar and limestone bricks are still preserved. Next to the gate is found a small Canaanite shrine which was probably dedicated to the Canaanite storm god, Ba'al, it is thought that this shrine was built at the entrance to the city in order to serve the mariners and merchants who came here to pray before they left on their journey at sea.
At the end of the trail, that climbs along the fence that surrounds the gate complex, is an observation point which provides a magnificent panoramic view of Ashkelon, the Mediterranean Sea and the impressive Tel Ashkelon (Ashkelon Mound). At the center of the Ashkelon National Park is a Roman basilica which was built in the 3rd century CE and served as a public structure for the residents of Ashkelon at the time. Next to the Roman basilica is found a statue garden which contains architectural remains from that period, such as column capitals, marble and granite columns, statues of the goddess of victory, Nike, and a statue of Isis, Ashkelon’s goddess of luck with her son Horus. One can also find at the Ashkelon National Park a fascinating system of about 60 water wells of different types and the remains of the Church of Santa Maria Viridis from the 5th century CE, which was originally built as a basilica and is decorated with frescos.
The Archaeological Park in the Afridar Center
In the Afridar Center (on HaGefen Street), is found a concentration of archeological finds which also includes two of the most magnificent sarcophagi that were found in Israel. These burial caskets were probably made in Greece or Asia Minor and were imported here. The Sarcophagi are made of marble and are decorated with reliefs which describe Mythological scenes and various animals and plants.
The Barne’a Site
At the Barne’a Site, which is located in the Barne’a neighborhood of Ashkelon, finds were found which testify to the city’s being a center of wine production and commerce in the Byzantine period. At the Barne’a Site were found installations for the production of wine from the 3rd century CE, the remains of a winery, a factory for the production of pottery with the symbol of the Ashkelon Winery, and more. Ashkelon’s wine was considered famous in neighboring countries, such as Egypt and Syria, and many of the residents of Ashkelon and its surroundings lived on this industry. At the Barne’a Site were also found the burial sites of children from approximately the same period and the remains of Byzantine churches.