Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Ashkelon

The boys have been begging for a family camping trip for a long time. I used to camp a lot when I was a Girl Guide, but that was a long time ago and, quite honestly, I rather like a bed and a hot shower these days. During the recent celebrations of Hol Hamoed (the six days between the Jewish festivals of Sukkot and Simchat Torah are referred to as Hol Hamoed, or "weekdays [of] the festival") we finally got round to this camping trip. We chose Ashkelon National Park, on the southern Mediterranean coast, as our destination.
The park is situated a few kilometres south of modern Ashkelon. It is a beautiful national park filled with remnants of ancient history, picnic spots and extensive grounds to pitch tents within walking distance to the beach. Ashkelon was once a thriving commercial centre, particularly during the Roman period, and the national park showcases impressive remains from that period, as well as from the different civilizations that lived in the area, including the Canaanites, Philistines, Persians, Phoenicians, Greeks, the aforementioned Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders and, of course, the Jews. Roman remains in the park include marble and granite columns and capitals, a Roman basilica and Roman statues. The site also features a Middle Bronze Age gate with the world's earliest arch, dating back to approximately 1850 BCE, above. People arriving at Ashkelon would pass through the gate and its arched corridor. Ashkelon is also linked to the exploits of the biblical Hercules Samson.
The name Ashkelon comes from the word shekel, a unit of weight, an appropriate name for a city with a major commercial port. Early Ashkelon was located along the ancient Via Maris, the "Way of the Sea", a road that linked Syria and Egypt, and was therefore an important station for maritime and overland commerce. 
The park sits within an ancient rampart. A trail at the foot of the Crusader wall of the city offers a lovely view of the park, the sand dunes south of Ashkelon, and modern-day Ashkelon. In the centre of the park are the ruins from the Roman period, the most striking being the pillars from the basilica, a courtyard whose walls and floors were covered with marble and which was surrounded by rows of columns and chambers. Here was where the public activity of Ashkelon took place, above. The artwork and architectural remains on view near the basilica include a statue of the Egyptian goddess Isis, and a statue of Nike, the winged goddess of victory. Her head is crowned with a wreath and in her arms is the god Atlas, standing on a globe.
The park also contains a system of about 60 wells of different types and, unusually, excavations have revealed the largest dog cemetery in the ancient world. This was apparently a Phoenician custom connected to healing rites.
Admittedly it was Mister Handmade in Israel and I who toured the archaeological sites. The boys had gone to the beach, located just a few steps down from the campsite. A nice plus to our camping experience!
Did I fall in love with camping all over again? Well, the site was very nice. It has large, well maintained grassy areas, clean bathrooms, lots of picnic tables to eat at, and areas where barbecuing is allowed. The view towards the sea first thing in the morning, and as the sun set, was to die for. It was, however, very hot at times, and I did not have the best night's sleep. The jury is still out.

3 comments:

Down by the sea said...

That does look a fantastic location for a camping holiday. Not only are the views spectacular but it is all so ancient. I have never slept well camping either! Sarah x

Quinn said...

Nice combination of nature and history! I haven't been camping in a long time, but my home is a lot like camping anyway....surrounded by trees and wildlife. But with plumbing and a real bed ;)

Miss Val's Creations said...

It is so amazing how these ancient ruins survive! What a beautiful campsite. I have tried camping a couple of times in my life and discovered it was not for me!

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