Ashdod Is Where Contemporary Israel Shines
Israel, the world’s only Jewish and democratic state, is home to sites sacred to Judaism as well as Christianity and Islam—and few countries so small pack in as much diverse geography and culture. Ashdod, for example, is Israel’s largest port and was actually settled as early as the 17th century BC by the Bronze Age Canaanites—with Philistines, Israelites, and Greek colonists just some of the many ancient peoples who followed. The seaside city is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament, but with plenty of modern appeals, Ashdod is much more than its past. Located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, it has a diverse population of some 250,000, well-kept beaches, a boardwalk with restaurants and cafes and a prestigious marina. Beyond the beaches, Ashdod offers various attractions such as the “Etgarim (Extreme Sports) Park,” wonderful public artworks on display and more. Ad Halom Park is located in the southeastern part of the city. Ashdod is also your Mediterranean gateway to the capital of Israel, Jerusalem, approximately a one hour’s drive to the east, and glittering Tel Aviv-Yafo, on the coast about 40 minutes’ drive north.
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Ashdod Citadel and Beach
Modern Ashdod is a planned city, established in 1956, but that’s just the surface. For an evocation of its ancient past you have no further to look than the seaside where the ruins of the medieval Ashdod Citadel sits on the sand, facing the Mediterranean Sea on the southern section of the beachfront. The rectangular fort, which retains its original stone corner towers, gates, and other architectural features, was originally built by an Umayyad caliph and later used by Crusaders. The wide beachfront itself is nearly five miles long, and any time of day you’re likely to find Israelis going for a swim or playing a game of matkot, or paddle ball, on the sand. Cafes and fish restaurants opposite the beach beckon, too. At the northern end, opposite the modern marina, the Lachish River Park features a free zoo with furry friends including zebras, deer, ostriches and even rare Berber sheep. History buffs might note that in the southern part of town is where you’ll find the Ad Halom Bridge, built during the period of Ottoman Turkish rule and the northernmost point reached by the Egyptian army during Israel’s War of Independence. There is a war memorial and observatory located there.
Ashdod Yam Park
One of Ashdod’s flagship attractions, this park is located just behind the main stretch of beach and covers an area of 200 acres including playgrounds, sports courts, a manmade lake for boating and the largest open-air theater in Israel. There’s also a stunning musical fountain with dancing water jets, colored strobe lighting and synchronized music that plays most evenings at regular intervals.
Ashdod Museum of Art
Situated in the heart of the city, this unusual pyramid-shaped museum was inaugurated in 2003 and has a stunning glass roof that enables you to enjoy views of the sea and the marina. It showcases Israeli and international art in a dozen galleries. From painting and sculpture to photography and video art, the many exhibitions offer fantastic displays of contemporary artists and some local and international classics. There is a pyramid-shaped area where cultural events are held and an underground vault that is used to protect important artifacts and masterpieces. A new Green Submarine wing offers hands-on ecology discovery displays. Ha-shemesh (The Sun) Square, one of Israel’s largest public squares, links municipal buildings, the curving modern Ashdod Performing Arts Center and the art museum. Ashdod is big on public art too, including Baruch Wind’s bronze sculpture of “Samson the hero” and the monumental Eye of the Sun sculpture created by the artist Motti Mizrachi. During the day its appearance is modulated by the sun, while by night it becomes an LED light show thanks to the colorful lights that illuminate the artwork.
Corinne Mamane Museum of Philistine Culture
Ashdod is the place where the Philistines brought the Ark of Covenant after having captured it from the Israelites (before they were forced to return it). If you don’t know much about the Philistine culture, Ashdod is the place to find all manner of insights thanks to the presence of its excellent Museum of Philistine Culture, the only one of its kind in the world. Here you can explore temporary exhibitions and permanent displays that showcase important archaeological finds. You can also go back in time and dress like a Philistine whilst enjoying a typical Philistine meal. Opened in 1990, the Museum of Philistine Culture is split across three levels and is definitely worth a visit. The Museum displays significant Philistine artifacts from each of the five city-states of the ancient Philistine pentapolis in the Levant, of which Ashdod was one.
Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
Slight further afield, Tel Aviv-Jaffa is the commercial heart and cultural center of Israel. The fact that Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 makes it very young in a part of the world where many cities began not just centuries, but millennia ago. In contrast to Tel Aviv’s teeming modernity, the old city of Jaffa (Yafo) traces its roots to biblical times and possibly even before. Now an integral part of the Tel Aviv municipality where the Jewish and Arab communities mix, Jaffa is where according to legend Jonah was famously swallowed by a whale just offshore. But walk north from the quaint little port and the ribbons of beach unfolding beyond reminding you that Biblical associations notwithstanding, Tel Aviv is above all else a modern, energetic metropolis of both beaches and high rises today. Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, is perhaps the most significant, and almost certainly the best-known holy city on Earth. In no other single place can you find such a concentration of sites sacred to not just one, but three major world religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. This compact ancient city, surrounded by a wall built more than 450 years ago, never fails to amaze visitors with the extraordinary religious history contained—and very much alive—within.