by Yael Adar
In 1191 BC, a decisive battle was fought at the very place that today is the latest addition to Israel's National Park System. For 18 successive centuries it was inhabited. The place is known as, Apollonia, or Tel Arsuf. In 1191 the Crusaders triumphant win at this spot, established their reign in the Holy- Land for another 100 years. The park is conveniently located on the coast, just a 15- minute drive from Tel Aviv and less than five minutes from Herzeliya Pituach, between two other ancient ports, Jaffa and Caesarea.
This is not the only archeological site in Israel that is situated on the coast. However, planners of this park have managed to work around existing ruins and use the natural landscape to create a truly unique experience.
The city of Apollonia and its fort were situated on the cliffs of the Sharon plain, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. On the way to view the fort, visitors to the park walk along a path that
literally hugs the edge of the cliff. The path offers a spectacular view of the coast.
Phoenicians established the first settlement in the sixth century and people settled in this area 2,500 years ago. The Phoenicians were descendants of the early Canaanites (who inhabited the coast of modern-day Lebanon), and the Sea People who invaded Lebanon. During their day they were considered to be most knowledgeable in maritime technology and astronomy, which enabled them to trade various commodities from far away places. Like at Dor (further up the coast), the local inhabitants used the sea to make Tyrian purple, a precious dye used by royalty. It was extracted from mollusks, which were abundant along the coast.
The Phoenicians named the settlement along the coastal plain Arshof, (for Resheph, their War and Thunder god). In the Hellenistic period the city was re-named Apollonia, as the Greeks identified Resheph with Apollo.
During the Roman era (First - Third centuries BC) the settlement developed into a real city and reached its height during the Byzantine era. In the Fifth and Sixth centuries the city was named Sozousa and served as the Episcopal See of Palaestina prima. During this time it served as the primary port city of the Southern Sharon – and was an unfortified city. The residents utilized underground (rain) water reservoirs for their water supply and the city had an elaborate glass making industry, as well as wine and olive presses.
In 640 CE the Muslims gained control of the city and erected an outer wall around a portion of the city. The city's size decreased significantly, from 70acres/280 dunam to 22.5 acres/90 dunam. By 1099, the Crusaders had conquered Jerusalem and deployed to Arsuf, but failed to capture it.
Baldwin I succeeded in conquering the city, in the spring of 1101 – with the Genoese fleet. Once again the city's name was changed, this time Arsour and a large castle was built in the northern section of the city. In 1265 the Mamluk sultan Baybars, conquered the city and made the Crusaders raze the city and the fort, which lay in ruins until the excavations began in 1996.
Directions: From Tel Aviv take Route # 2 north, until the Kfar Shmaryahu exit. At the off ramp, stay to your left and follow the brown signs Tel Arsuf.
Visiting Hours: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Entry fees apply.