Conquerors imbued with faith, fearless sailors, gifted farmers and a dizzying array of cultural influences from all over the ancient world, together wove the story of one of the world’s most ancient cities.
Over a thousand years ago, the famous geographer, Muhammad al- Muqaddasi, wrote of the breathtaking landscapes of Ashkelon and of the wonders of the huge sycamore trees that grew there. “Ashkelon is a wonderful city,” the scholar wrote in his journal.
Ashkelon’s residents, the conquerors, the travelers and the researchers that visited the city, which played an important role in the ancient history of the East and is considered one of the most ancient cities in the whole world, all seem to agree with his depiction.
Due to its unique location, adjacent to the Via Maris, an ancient trade route that led from Egypt to Damascus, Ashkelon was prosperous from very early in the 19th century BC. In the 13th century BC Ashkelon was conquered by the Philistines who turned it into one of their five major cities, thus its history intertwined with that of Samson the hero, Saul, Jonathan and other biblical heroes. King David put an end to the Philistine rule and Ashkelon became an independent city during the Israelite monarchy.
The Hellenistic and Roman period saw a revival in the field of culture in Ashkelon. The Jews in Ashkelon survived the Arab conquest after the Mishnah and Talmud period; however their community was destroyed by the Crusaders in 1153. In 1187 Saladin defeated the Crusaders and occupied the city, but it was later destroyed by the notorious Sultan Baibars in 1270, who shut off its quintessential harbor port, in order to quash the future of the city.
Ashkelon remained desolate until the town of Majdal was established, during the Mamluk period. At the end of the 16th century Majdal was the sixth largest settlement in Israel. During the Ottoman period and the British Mandate Majdal-Asqalan was considered an important district town, and during the War of Independence the Egyptian army sent forces to the town whose aim was to conquer Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from here.
The Egyptian blockade was lifted by Givati Forces during “Operation Yoav”, and on November 5, 1948 Majdal was conquered. Jewish settlers quickly came to the town in order to establish a Moshav Ovdim (a workers cooperative settlement). In 1952, South African Jews initiated the establishment of the Afridar neighborhood, from which the new City of Ashkelon grew.
Today, Ashkelon is considered a city of the future, due to its advanced education, culture and transportation systems. There has been a boom in the City’s development, it has absorbed new residents and maintains a central position in the development of the southern region of Israel.
Ashkelon, which is home to some 149,000 residents, is constantly developing and evolving in accordance with modern urban planning progresses, while maintaining its unique character, as a well-kept, green, garden city, that offers a pleasant environment and a high quality of life to its residents and visitors alike.