Ashqelon, now an extensive bathing beach
Ashqelon city (2006 pop. 110.187), SW Israel, on the Mediterranean Sea. It is a beach resort in an area of citrus groves and cotton plantations. Its industries process agricultural products and manufacture cement, plastics, electronic equipment, and watches. Nearby is the site of ancient Ashqelon, or Ashkelon, whose history dates back to the 3d millenium B.C. It was a trade center and port and a seat of worship of the goddess Astarte. Ancient Ashqelon was conquered by the Philistines in the late 12th cent. B.C. and completely rebuilt. It flourished under the Greeks and Romans; Herod, believed to have been born there, greatly enlarged the city. It was taken by the Arabs in A.D. 638, conquered by the Crusaders King Baldwin II in 1135 and occupied by Richard I in 1191, and completely destroyed by Muslims in 1290. An Israeli settlement was established there in 1948. In 1955 the modern city of Ashqelon was founded when Afridar, a town established by South African Jews in 1952, and Migdal, a former Arab town, were merged. A national park in Ashqelon includes Greek and Roman ruins and the remains of ancient synagogues. A Roman tomb (3d cent.) decorated with frescoes, the ruins of a Byzantine church, and a wall built by Crusaders are also in the city.
The 10 kilometer-long Ashkelon beach attracts both local and foreign beach-goers. Ashkelon, proclaimed a national tourism site, is rapidly developing this sphere.
The Crusaders built ancient columns into the port defences.