The oldest arched city gate in the world is in the Ashkelon National Park, located in the heart of the Old City (of Ashkelon).
Surrounded by beauty and lush lawns, this site is by the seaside and bordered by an ancient dike that was built by the Canaanites to guard against raiders. It is believed that the arched gate dates back to 1,850 BCE.
There are other ruins found in the park that include a Roman basilica and city hall dating back to the time of Herod.
Ashkelon was an important and large seaport of ancient Canaan, one of the cities of Philistia. The name, possibly related to be from the ancient Hebrew root šql, “to weigh,” and could be refer to the city’s economic role.
Ashkelon is located on the southern coast of Israel, in a strategic position along the coastal highway, the Via Maris. Today, the ancient ruins are part of Ashkelon National Park, distance of 16 km north of Gaza, 64 km south to Tel Aviv.
Inhabited since at least 3000 BC, Ashkelon was under Canaanites until 1270 BC, after it was under Philistines rule, Phoenicians, Jews, Greeks, Romans, Byzantine Christians, Muslims, and Crusaders.
In the Bible Ashkelon is listed as one of the five major Philistine cities, the Philistine Pentapolis (Josh. 13:3; 1 Sam. 6:17). According to Judg. 1:18 Judah took but could not hold Ashkelon. At Ashkelon Samson killed and stripped the corpses of 30 men in order to make good on a wager (Judg. 14:12, 19). In his elegy for Absalom and Saul David refers to Ashkelon (2 Sam. 1:20). The majority of biblical references to Ashkelon are in prophetic oracles against Philistia (e.g., Jer. 25:20).
The Philistine era in Ashkelon began in the early 12th century. Nearly 600 years later, in 604, it ended when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar conquered the city and took its elite into exile (Jer. 47:5); 20 years later a similar fate befell Jerusalem.
For centuries pilgrims, adventurers, and archaeologists have visited, plundered, and studied Ashkelon, where Roman columns and Fatimid ramparts still stand. Among the finds of the current excavation, led by Lawrence E. Stager, is a small silver-plated statue of a bull calf, dating from the 16th century. This physical evidence for the use of bovine iconography in Canaanite religion sheds light on the background of a number of biblical passages which mention the cultic use of bull or calf images (Exod. 32; 1 Kgs. 12:28; Hos. 8:5).
Throughout its history, Ashkelon’s status as the major port of the southern Palestinian coast lent the city a cosmopolitan and diverse character. Ashkelon was famous in antiquity for its sweet onions; the word “scallion” comes from the Latin name of the city.
“ASHKELON,” Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 113-114.
Ashkelon ask′ke-lon (AV Eshkalon, esh′ka-lon (Eshkalonites; Josh 13:3); Askelon, as′kĕ-lon (Jgs 1:18; 1 Sa 6:17; 2 Sa 1:20); אַשְׁקְלוֹן; modern Askelan): A maritime town between Jaffa and Gaza, one of the five chief cities of the Philistines. The Ashkelonites are mentioned by Joshua (Josh 13:3), and the city was taken by the tribe of Judah (Jgs 1:18). One of the golden tumors (AV “emerods”) sent back with the ark by the Philistines was from Ashkelon (1 Sa 6:17). David couples Ashkelon with Gath in his lament over Saul and Jonathan (2 Sa 1:20) indicating its importance, and it is joined with Gaza, Ashdod and Ekron in the denunciations of Amos (1:7,8). It is referred to in a similar way by Jeremiah (Jer 25:20; 47:5,7). Zephaniah (2:4,7) speaks of the desolation of Ashkelon and Zechariah announces the fear of Ashkelon on the destruction of Tyre (9:5). The city is mentioned in the Tell el-Amarna Letters, and a certain Yitia is referred to as king. It revolted against Rameses II and was subdued, and we have mention of it as being under the rule of Assyria. Tiglath-pileser III names it among his tributaries, and its king, Mitinti, is said to have lost his reason when he heard of the fall of Damascus in 732 BC. It revolted in the reign of Sennacherib and was punished, and remained tributary to Assyria until the decay of that power. In Maccabean times we learn of its capture by Jonathan (1 Macc 10:86; 11:60, RV “Ascalon”). Herod the Great was born there (BJ, III, ii, 1 ff). In the 4th century AD it was the seat of a bishopric. It became subject to the Moslems in the 7th century and was taken by the Crusaders. It was taken in 1187 by Saladin, who dismantled it in 1191 to make it useless to Richard of England, into whose hands it was expected to fall. Richard restored it the next year but it was again destroyed by Saladin. It was an important fortress because of its vicinity to the trade route between Syria and Egypt.
“Ashkelon,” ISBE, paragraph 5093.
Ashkelon and the Ark
“And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home: And they laid the ark of the LORD upon the cart, and the coffer with the mice of gold and the images of their emerods. And the kine took the straight way to the way of Bethshemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Bethshemesh. And they of Bethshemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it. And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Bethshemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they clave the wood of the cart, and offered the kine a burnt offering unto the LORD. And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD, and the coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone: and the men of Bethshemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the LORD. And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day. And these are the golden emerods which the Philistines returned for a trespass offering unto the LORD; for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Askelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one; And the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fenced cities, and of country villages, even unto the great stone of Abel, whereon they set down the ark of the LORD: which stone remaineth unto this day in the field of Joshua, the Bethshemite.”
1 Samuel 6:10–18 KJV
Prophecy about Ashkelon
Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they carried into exile a whole people to deliver them up to Edom. So I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza, and it shall devour her strongholds.
I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod, and him who holds the scepter from Ashkelon; I will turn my hand against Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, says the Lord GOD.
Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they delivered up a whole people to Edom, and did not remember the covenant of brotherhood. So I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, and it shall devour her strongholds.
Amos 1:6–10 ESV