No one knows exactly how old the southern seaport town of Ashkelon really is, but one thing is sure – it’s one of the oldest cities in the world. Ashkelon is abound with testimonies of its ancient glory, and today, it's an attractive travel destination with 20 miles of beautiful beaches, public parks, a beautiful marina, seafront hotels and gourmet restaurants. So, what are you waiting for?
A leisurely stroll on the marina reminds me of Greece. Beautiful yachts grace the docks and inviting coffee shops and pubs are open all day and most of the night. At the official opening of the marina a decade ago, it was announced as an international port for shipping and tourism.
Deep-sea diving and sailing trips leave from the marina and tickets are available at 08-6733780.
The beaches to the north and south of the marina are good for bathing. The bigger and more beautiful Delilah Beach has a grassy lawn area and offers great family entertainment at the Ashkeluna Water Park (08-6739970).
A large tourist complex is being developed beside the marina complete with holiday flats, hotels, a blossoming promenade, picnic areas, and beautiful gardens from which you can enjoy the sunset over the sea.
The Ashkelon National park, where the ancient city stood, is surrounded by a four-mile long barricade. Recently, an ancient gate was discovered that dates to 2000 BC. The arched lintel is thought to be the oldest one revealed.
Tel Hachra, a small hill by the sea, is where Ashkelon of the Philistine biblical period thrived. Here a very strange cemetery from the 5th or 6th century BC was discovered with more than 1,500 canine skeletons. Researchers are yet to decipher the reason behind these ancient graves.
In the center of the park stand the remains of Roman pillars as well as the city’s basilica – a courtyard made of marbled floors and surrounded by walls of marbled pillars. From here the communal activities of the city were managed. Next to the basilica are statues and artifacts from the Roman period. One of the statues describes the goddess Isis, her head adorned with a crown and in her hands she holds her son Hippocrates.
Another statue describes Nike, the goddess of victory, standing upon the world carried by Atlas.
In the park are the ruins of many deep wells whose waters quenched ancient Ashkelon’s thirst. Surrounding the wells are the remains of fences and walls which marked the farmers’ agricultural plots. At the” Well of Abraham” an ancient beast-powered Antilla pump has been restored.
The grounds of the National Park are perfect for picnics and walking paths provide great views of the sea.
Tel: 08-6736444, 08-6739660. Admission is charged.
Archeology in the backyard
The ruins of two Byzantine churches were found on Tzvi Segal Street in town. Remains of the main hall and columns of pillars were found in the first church, and to the west of the church is the mosaic floor of another church from the Byzantine period. In the design are two Greek inscriptions and verses from the book of Psalms.
Two sarcophagi from the Roman period were discovered during construction work in a new neighborhood. These sarcophagi and other findings
are now at the Archeological Park at the Amidar Center. The sarcophagi, reputed to be the most splendid found in Israel, are made of a light-colored marble and are beautifully embossed. One relief describes the story of how Hades, god of the underworld, kidnaps Persephone, daughter of Demeter, goddess of fertility. An urn is guarded by two lions. The sarcophagi were most probably made to order from a craftsman in Minor Asia and delivered all the way to Ashkelon.
Tel: 08-6734019. Entrance is free, donations accepted.
Another interesting site is the Sheik’s grave, a Mameluk construction from the 14th century right on the beachfront, north of the marina. The grave is in a chamber with a domed roof resting on four half domes for the walls, and above it all four arches rise.
A visit to the modest Khan Museum at Kikar HaAtzmaut is also recommended. The museum is in a building that used to house the great mosque of the Arab town Majdal, on whose ruins Ashkelon was built. Photographs, maps and documents are on display and it is dedicated to modern Ashkelon since the War of Independence. The museum’s rooms are used for local artists’ studios and cultural events often take place in the courtyard. An audiovisual presentation of Ashkelon is screened here.
Tel: 08-6727002. Admission is charged.
A colorful market is held next to the museum on Mondays and Thursdays. 350 stalls display their wares and enticing smells lure the customers. Clothing, shoes and bric-a-brac can be found here too.
The Migdal Pedestrian Mall at neighboring Herztl Street is vibrant all day and night.
For all tastes
Ashkelon is abound with restaurants serving many different types of food, many typical of the countries from which Ashkelon’s residents originate. Three of them are too good to miss out on:
Luna. A restaurant specializing in Italian-Spanish fare located in the Old City. A big wooden door opens to the beautiful lobby and you can steal a peek into the wine room which has more than 40 select Israeli wines in its collection. The bar has a rich selection of whisky, Cognac, vodka and liqueurs. Seating is available at the bar, on one of the long knights’ tables or in the wine room.
The menu is diverse, offering fish falafel, spicy Arabic salad, antipasti, burgers, Moroccan kebabs and duck breast. The prices range between NIS 100 - NIS 150 per person.
1 Kikar Khan. Tel: 08-6722220. Sunday-Thursday 11:00-02:00, on Saturday night till 03:00. Kosher.
Victory Restaurant (Nitzahon). This is a restaurant that specializes in home-style cooking, in a warm, family atmosphere. The emphasis is on Romanian, Middle-Eastern style food. Do not miss: Romanian kebabs, ikra (fish roe), chorbe soup, chopped liver, eggplant dishes of all kinds, mamaliga, stuffed peppers and cabbage, goulash and mouth-watering skewered meats. The taste of papanash, the house dessert will remain in your mouth until your next visit here. Choice Romanian and Israeli wines are on the wine list and, if you really must, you can order a Romanian wine spritzer. The prices range between NIS 30 to NIS 70 for a full meal.
32 Hertzl Street. Tel: 08-6751200. Sunday-Thursday 10:00-23:00, Saturday 10:00-23:00. Not Kosher.
Gazpacho. A Mediterranean bistro run by chef Guy Peretz. The modern kitchen blends east and west, from Spanish tapas, to Italian carpaccio and Moroccan pastilles. Seating is available at the bar or at one of the 60 tables. The food (fish, meat or vegetarian) is made while you watch. Prices are from NIS 60 to NIS 120 per person.
Holiday Inn Hotel, 9 Yekutiel Adam Street. Tel: 08-6748886. Sunday-Thursday 12:00-23:30, Saturday night till 23:30. Kosher.
Guests by the sea
Some of Ashkelon’s smaller hotels are currently being renovated. The two large hotels are recommended for a shorter stay of a couple of days.
Gannei Dan. 248 rooms (not all face the sea), four suites, a heated, covered swimming pool, health club, tennis court, children’s center “The Magical World”. 56 Hatayasim Rd. Tel: 08-6771777.
Holiday Inn. 215 rooms, 10 sea-facing suites, conference hall, “Carnival” night club, swimming pool, health club, children’s club. 9 Yekutiel Adam Street. Tel: 08-6748888.
Over a beer
The Carlsberg Visitor’s Center takes guests back in time to the third century BC and shows how beer was made then. Ancient beer-making equipment which was found in archeological digs is on display. The tour then comes back to modern times with a visit to the sophisticated beer-making factory. The museum pub is open to guests and there you can drink Tuborg, Guiness or Carlsberg beers.
Southern Industrial Zone.
Admission is charged. Open to families and children from the age of 10. Phone in Advance. Tel: 08-6740727.
More information on tourist sites in Ashkelon can be found at 08-6792385, or at the city’s website: www.Ashkelon.muni.il
Reproduced with permission: Ynet