Glimpses of Israel - Ashkelon

by Joseph Hunting

One of the most fascinating ancient places to be revived with the new-born State of Israel is Ashkelon, situated on the Mediterranean coast thirty miles south of Tel Aviv.

Phoenicians and Philistines inhabited the city long before Joshua possessed the Promised Land. In Bible times Samson once raided the city in order to pay a wager that he had lost. Later, Ashkelon was in turn occupied by the Romans, Crusaders, Turks and finally by Jews from South Africa who, in the mid-fifties, planned and built a model city. They then moved in, and modern Ashkelon was born in a day.

One can stand on the low cliffs at Ashkelon and recapture the glory of this ancient city. The eroding effect of wind and tide has laid bare buildings which had been covered by centuries-old overburden of dust and debris. Columns that had once graced some long-forgotten palace or temple protrude from the cliff-face like ancient cannon, and relics of buildings can be clearly seen in the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean Sea.

A short distance from the foreshore archaeologists have partly restored the columns of a temple which may have been dedicated to the worship of Dagon, the fish God of the Philistines. Nearby the graceful sculpturing of the Romans adds its contribution to the charm of Ashkelon.

Like Acre, Ashkelon’s past is inseparably linked with Israel’s ancient history, but modern Ashkelon keeps abreast of modern times with the dizzy development so typical of Israel. Today, Ashkelon is the terminal for oil-hungry Europe, and modern tankers follow the routes pioneered by the Phoenician sailors 4,000 years ago.