Ashqelon is a coastal city, located on the Via Maris. Its plentiful water sources and fertile soil account for its prominence throughout the ages. Its name, Ashqelon, derived from the term Sheqel, a weight-measure, attests to its role as a trade sea port.
Ashqelon was first built as an important port, fortified with walls, a moat and the oldest know arched gate, in the Middle Bronze period (ca. 1950 BCE).
It was captured by the Egyptians ca. 1550 BCE, and remained under Egyptian rule for the next four centuries (the Late Bronze period).
The Philistines, migrating from the Aegean, captured Ashqelon in ca. 1175 BCE, and made the city into one of their five main cities. Judging by remains from this time (the Iron Age), Ashqelon seems to have been a large and fortified Philistine sea port, encompassing an area of 150 acres. Towards the end of the Iron Age, in 604 BCE, the city was captured by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed it and sent its inhabitants to exile.
During the Persian period, Ashqelon, then an important port under the protection of Tyre, was inhabited by Phoenicians. An intriguing find dating to this period - a cemetery containing the burials of a thousand dogs - is probably associated with some kind of Phoenician healing ritual.
In 332 BCE, when the country was
again conquered, this time by Alexander the Great, Ashqelon became an independent city with its own coinage. The remains of villas and a theatre attest to the settlement dating to the Hellenistic period. During the Roman period, Ashqelon became an international trade center, a large and thriving Roman city, resplendent with sumptuous dwellings, a theatre and a basilica.
During the Byzantine period, when Christianity was accorded the status of state religion, Ashqelon maintained its place as a prominent port and trade center, mainly exporting wine. Villages founded in the vicinity of the city became its agricultural hinterland. A church was excavated in the area of the national park in Ashqelon, and two additional churches were discovered in the area now covered by the modern town. In 640 CE, Ashqelon was taken from the defeated Byzantines, and brought under Muslim rule. It thrived for the next five centuries, until its conquest by the crusaders, in 1153 CE.
When the Muslim Sultan Saladin drove the crusaders out of Ashqelon, in 1187 CE, he also razed and burned the city, and blocked up its harbor. In 1192 CE the crusaders returned to Ashqelon, led by Richard the Lionheart, who restored the city to its former status as a fortress. Within the grounds of the national park one can see some remains of the wall, towers and moat of the Muslim city.
captured and demolished once again in 1270 CE, by the Mameluke Sultan Baibars, this time never to recover.
During the Ottoman period, several Arab villages exsited in the vicinity of Ashqelon. Jora village is in the grounds of the national park. Some sixty wells and remains of dry walls delineating plots of cultivated land within the national park indicate the highly developed agriculture in the region.