Modern Ashdod covers the territory of two ancient twin towns, one inland and one on the coast, which were for most of their history two separate entities, connected though by close ties with each other. This article deals with these historic towns, including other ancient nearby sites, and modern Ashdod.
The first documented urban settlement at Ashdod dates to the Canaanite culture of the 17th century BCE, making the city one of the oldest in the world. Ashdod is mentioned 13 times in the Bible. During its pre-1956 history the city was settled by Philistines, Israelites, Greek colonists coming in the wake of Alexander's conquests, Romans and Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, and Ottoman Turks.
Modern Ashdod was established in 1956 on the sand hills near the site of the ancient town, and incorporated as a city in 1968, with a land-area of approximately 60 square kilometres. Being a planned city, expansion followed a main development plan, which facilitated traffic and prevented air pollution in the residential areas, despite population growth. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Ashdod had a population of 221,591 in 2016, with an area of 47,242 dunams.
Ashdod today is home to the largest Moroccan Jewish community in Israel, the largest Karaite Jewish community in Israel, and the largest Georgian Jewish community in the world.
Three stone tools dating from the Neolithic era were discovered, but no other evidence of a Stone Age settlement in Ashdod was found, suggesting that the tools were deposited there in a later period.
The site of Ashdod in the Bronze Age and Iron Ages was at a tell just south of the modern city. It was excavated by archaeologists in nine seasons between 1962 and 1972. The effort was led during the first few years by David Noel Freedman of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Moshe Dothan. The remaining seasons were headed by Dothan for the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The earliest major habitation in Ashdod dates to the 17th century BCE, when the acropolis of the tell was fortified. Ashdod is first mentioned in written documents from Late Bronze Age Ugarit, which indicate that the city was a center of export for dyed woolen purple fabric and garments. At the end of the 13th century BCE the Sea Peoples conquered and destroyed Ashdod. By the beginning of the 12th century BCE, the Philistines, generally thought to have been one of the Sea Peoples, ruled the city. During their reign, the city prospered and was a member of the Philistine Pentapolis (i.e. five cities), which included Ashkelon and Gaza on the coast and Ekron and Gath farther inland, in addition to Ashdod.
In 950 BCE Ashdod was destroyed during Pharaoh Siamun's conquest of the region. The city was not rebuilt until at least 815 BCE.
Asdûdu led the revolt of Philistines, Judeans, Edomites, and Moabites against Assyria after expulsion of king Ahimiti, whom Sargon had installed instead of his brother Azuri. Gath (Gimtu) belonged to the kingdom of Ashdod at that time. Assyrian king Sargon II's commander-in-chief (turtanu), whom the King James Bible calls simply "Tartan", regained control of Ashdod in 712/711 BCE and forced the usurper Yamani to flee. Sargon's general destroyed the city and exiled its residents, including some Israelites who were subsequently settled in Media and Elam.
Mitinti was king at the time of Sargon's son Sennacherib (r. 705–681 BCE), and Akhimilki in the reign of Sennacherib's son Esarhaddon (r. 681–669 BCE).
Psamtik I of Egypt (r. 664 – 610 BCE) is reported to have besieged the great city Azotus for twenty-nine years (Herodotus, ii. 157); the biblical references to the remnant of Ashdod (Jeremiah 25:20; cf Zephaniah 2:4) are interpreted as allusions to this event.
The city absorbed another blow in 605 BCE, when Nebuchadnezzar conquered it.
In 539 BCE the city was rebuilt by the Persians. In 332 BCE it was conquered in the wars of Alexander the Great.
In the Book of Nehemiah, the Ashdodites seem to represent the whole nation of the Philistines in the sixth century BCE, the speech of Ashdod (which half of the children from mixed families are described as adopting) would simply be the general Philistine dialect. Hugo Winckler explains the use of that name by the fact that Ashdod was the nearest of the Philistine cities to Jerusalem.
There are Biblical episodes referencing Ashdod but they remain uncorroborated by archaeological finds:
Once Hellenised, the city changed its name to the more Greek-sounding Αzotus (Greek: Άζωτος) and prospered until the Hasmonean Revolt. During the rebellion Judas Maccabeus "took it, and laid it waste" (Antiquities of the Jews Book 12, 8:6) His brother Jonathan conquered it again in 147 BCE and destroyed the temple of Dagon of biblical fame (Antiquities Book 13, 4:4; ). During the rule of Alexander Jannæus, Ashdod was part of his territory (Antiquities Book 13, 15:4).
After the destruction wreaked during the succession wars between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, Pompey restored the independence of Azotus, as he did with all Hellenising coastal cities (Antiquities Book 14, 4:4). A few years later, in 55 BCE, after more fighting, Roman general Gabinius helped rebuild Ashdod and several other cities left without protective walls (Antiquities Book 14, 5:2). In 30 BCE Ashdod came under the rule of King Herod, who then bequeathed it to his sister Salome (Antiquities Book 17, 8:1). By the time of the First Jewish–Roman War (66-70), there must have been a large enough Jewish presence in Ashdod for Vespasian to feel compelled to place a garrison in the city.
Despite its location four miles (6 km) from the coast, Ptolemy (c. 90 – c. 168 CE) described it as a maritime city, as did Josephus in Antiquities Book 13, 15:4. The same Josephus though describes Ashdod as "in the inland parts" (Antiquities Book 14, 4:4). This curious contradiction may refer to Ashdod's control of a separate harbor, called Azotus Paralios, or Ashdod-on-the-Sea (παράλιος - "paralios", Greek for "on the coast"). The landlocked city was called by the Romans Hippinos, "of the horsemen", and by the Greeks until late in the medieval period, Azotus mesogaios or "inland Azotus".
During the Byzantine period, the port city overshadowed its inland counterpart in size and importance. The 6th-century Madaba Map is showing both under their respective names.
The 1st century CE Book of Acts refers to Azotus as the place in which Philip the Evangelist reappeared after he converted the Ethiopian eunuch to Christianity. Philip preached the gospel throughout the area until he reached Caesarea, about 90 km to the north.
The prominence of Hellenised, then Christian Azotus continued until the 7th century, when it came under Muslim rule. The city was represented at the Council of Chalcedon by Heraclius of Azotus.
A coastal fort was erected by the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik, the builder of the Dome of the Rock, at or near the former Azotus Paralios, which was later reconstructed by the Fatimids and Crusaders.
The medieval Arabic name of the port town was Mahuz Azdud, "harbour of Azdud", a very interesting combination between the by then already ancient Aramaic word for harbour, mahuz, and "Azdud", a return to a form much closer to the old Semitic name "Ashdod".
The geographer Ibn Khordadbeh (c. 820 – 912) referred to the inland city as "Azdud" and described it as a postal station between al-Ramla and Gaza.
Documents from the Crusader period indicate that Ashdod belonged to the lordship of Ramla, and it appears probable that in 1169 the old Arab sea fort was given by Hugh, lord of Ramla, to his knight Nicolas de Beroard. From this period the fort is known as Castellum Beroart.
The port stops being mentioned during the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods, making it likely that it was destroyed by the Muslims along with the other port cities, due to fears that they might again be used by Crusader invasions from the sea. With the destruction of the port city, its inland counterpart regains its importance.
The location of the village on Via Maris enhanced the city's importance during the Ottoman rule. In 1596 CE, administrated by nahiya ("subdistrict") of Gaza under the liwa' ("district") of Gaza, the population of Ashdod numbered about 413. The villagers paid taxes on wheat, barley, sesame and fruit crops, as well as goats and beehives.
In the late nineteenth century, Isdud was described as a village spread across the eastern slope of a low hill, covered with gardens. A ruined khan stood southwest of the village. Its houses were one-storey high with walls and enclosures built of adobe brick. There were two main sources of water: a pond and a masonry well. Both were surrounded by groves of date-palm and fig-trees.
In the 1922 census of Palestine, conducted by the British Mandate authorities, Isdud had a population of 2,566 inhabitants; 2,555 Muslims and 11 Christians, where the Christians were all Catholics. The population increased in the 1931 census to 3,240; 3,238 Muslims and 2 Christians, in a total of 764 houses.
During the Mandatory period, Isdud had two elementary schools; one for boys which was opened in 1922, and one for girls which started in 1942. By the mid-1940s the boy-school had 371 students, while the girl-school had 74.
In 1945, Isdud had a population of 4,620 Arabs and 290 Jews, with a total of 47,871 dunams of land, according to an official land and population survey. Of this, 3,277 dunams were used citrus and bananas, 8,327 for plantations and irrigable land, 23,762 for cereals, while 131 dunams were built-up land.
The village of Isdud was occupied by the Egyptian army on May 29, 1948, and became the Egyptians' northernmost position during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. While the Israelis failed to capture territory, and suffered heavy casualties, Egypt changed its strategy from offensive to defensive, thus halting their advance northwards. Egyptian and Israeli forces clashed in the surrounding area, with the Egyptians being unable to hold the Ad Halom bridge over the Lachish River. Israeli forces surrounded the town during Operation Pleshet, and shelled and bombed it from the air. For three nights from 18 October the Israeli Air Force bombed Isdud and several other locations. Fearing encirclement, Egyptian forces retreated on October 28, 1948 and the majority of the residents fled. The 300 townspeople who remained were driven southwards by the Israel Defense Forces.
In 1950, the moshavim of Sde Uziyahu and Shtulim were established to the east of Isdud, and in 1949 and 1953, Bnei Darom and Gan HaDarom were established north of Isdud. According to Khalidi, they were established on the village lands.
The modern city of Ashdod was founded in 1956. On May 1, 1956, then finance minister Levi Eshkol approved the establishment of the city of Ashdod. "Ashdod Company Ltd.", a daughter company of City-Builders Company Ltd., was created for that purpose by Oved Ben-Ami and Philip Klutznick. The first settlers, 22 families from Morocco, arrived in November 1956, followed by a small influx of immigrants from Egypt. In July 1957, the government granted a 24 square kilometres (9 square miles), approximately 32 kilometres (20 mi) from Tel Aviv, to the Ashdod Company Ltd., for building the modern city of Ashdod. The building of the Eshkol A power station in Ashdod was completed in 1958 and included 3 units: 2 units of 50 megawatt, and one unit of 45 megawatt (with sea water desalination capabilities).
The first local council was appointed in October 1959. Dov Gur was appointed the first local council head on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Interior. The Magistrates' Court in the city was inaugurated in 1963. The building of the port of Ashdod began in April 1961. The port was inaugurated in November 1963, and was first utilized in November 1965, with the coming of the Swedish ship "Wiengelgad". The city expanded gradually, with the construction of two quarters in the 1960s, followed by four more in the 1970s and two more in the 1980s. In 1972, the population was 40,300, and this grew to 65,700 by 1983.
Large-scale growth of the city began in 1991, with the massive arrival of immigrants from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia and infrastructure development. From 1990 to 2001 the city accepted more than 100,000 new inhabitants, a 150% growth. Five more quarters of the city were completed. In the 2000s, three more qureters and the marina districts were completed.
Ashdod was one of six cities that won the 2012 Education Prize awarded by the Israel Ministry of Education.
The modern city of Ashdod city was built outside the historic settlement site, on virgin sands. The development followed a main development plan. The planners divided the city into seventeen neighborhoods of ten to fifteen thousand people. Wide avenues between the neighborhoods make traffic flow relatively freely inside the city. Each neighborhood has access to its own commercial center, urban park, and health and education infrastructure. The original plan also called for a business and administrative center, built in the mid-1990s, when the city population grew rapidly more than doubling in ten years.
Three industrial zones were placed adjacent to the port in the northern part of the city, taking into account the prevailing southern winds which take air pollution away from the city. The plan had its problems, however, including asymmetric growth of upscale and poorer neighborhoods and the long-time lack of a main business and administrative center.
The city was planned for a maximum of 250,000 inhabitants, and an additional area in the south was reserved for further development.
In 2012, a plan to build an industrial zone on part of the Ashdod Sand Dune was approved. The plan calls for a hi-tech industrial park, events halls, and coffee shops to be built adjacent to the train station. It will cover 400 dunams (0.4 km2; 0.2 sq mi), including 130 dunams of built-up space, with the rest of the area being preserved as a nature reserve. In addition, the Port of Ashdod is undergoing a massive expansion program.
The Ashdod-Nitzanim sand dune nature reserve is a 20-kilometer (12-mile) stretch of sand dunes on the southern outskirts of Ashdod.
Ashdod has a Mediterranean climate with hot summers, pleasant spring and fall, and cool, rainy winters. As a seaside town, the humidity tends to be high many times year round, and rain occurs mainly from November to March. In winter, temperatures seldom drop below 5 °C (41 °F) and are more likely to be in the range of 10–15 °C (50–59 °F), while in summer the average is 27 °C (81 °F). The average annual rainfall is 510 mm (20 in).
Ashdod is one of the most important industrial centers in Israel. All industrial activities in the city are located in northern areas such as the port area, the northern industrial zone, and around the Lachish River. The port of Ashdod is the largest port in Israel, handling about 60% of Israel's port cargo. It was mainly upgraded in recent years and will be able to provide berths for Panamax ships. Various shipping companies offices are also located in the port area which also is home to an Eshkol A power station and coal terminal.
The Northern industrial zone is located on Highway 41 and includes various industry including an oil refinery, which is one of only two in the country. The heavy industry zone located south of the Lachish River was once the main industrial center in Ashdod. Recently, however, leisure facilities have moved into the area. There is still some industry here, however, such as a Teva Pharmaceutical Industries plant, construction components producer Ashtrom, and Solbar a soybean oil producer. Ashdod is also home to Elta, a part of Israel Aircraft Industries where radar equipment, electronic warfare systems, and ELINT are developed.
Historically each neighborhood of Ashdod had its own commercial center. In 1990, however, when the mall shopping culture developed in Israel, the main commercial activity in Ashdod moved to malls. The first mall to open in Ashdod was the Forum Center in the industrial zone. Restaurants, bars and night clubs were opened in the area. Today, the Forum center is mainly used for offices. Lev Ashdod Mall, which opened in 1993, has been enlarged and upgraded since then. Ashdod Mall, billed at the time as the city's largest shopping mall, has also been redesigned since its opening in 1995. City Mall, Ashdod was opened in a combined building with the central bus station in 1996, following the examples of the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station and the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. The Sea Mall, a three-story mall near the government offices, has a climbing wall and movie theater. Star Center doubled in size in 2007.
In 2013, Ashdod had 500 schools employing 3,500 teachers. The student population was 55,000. The city's education budget was NIS 418 million shekels.
Lycée français Guivat-Washington, a French international high school, is in Givat Washington, in proximity to Ashdod.
Assuta Ashdod Medical Center, the city's only general hospital, began operations on June 4, 2017, starting with outpatient services. It is being opened in stages, and will gradually reach full-scale operation by November 2017. It is a 300-bed hospital, and it's "bomb shelter" design with thick concrete walls offers sufficient protection so as to keep operating without having to transfer patients during a time of war. It is also a university hospital affiliated with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Prior to the opening of the hospital, residents in need of hospitalization had to travel to Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot or Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.
There are public and private clinics operating in the city, as well as a special clinic operated by Hatzalah that operates at times when all other clinics in the city are closed.
Ashdod is located on the historic Via Maris. Highway 4 was developed following this route along the southern sea shore of Israel; it serves as the main connection to the north, towards the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and to the south, towards Ashkelon.Ad Halom junction was planned as the main entrance to the city from the east.
Ashdod Interchange was opened in 2009. The interchange continues the freeway section of Highway 4 further south, by removing the traffic light at this junction, and also added grade separation with the railway. The other main road in the area is Highway 41 which served the city from the start of its modern history. This road runs from west to east towards Gedera and it is the main transport link to the port of Ashdod and the industrial zones, and connects to Highway 4 with an interchange.
In late 2012, Ashdod won a NIS 220 million grant from the Israeli Transport Ministry to improve public transportation and decrease private car use. According to the municipality's plans, a 20-kilometer ring of road arteries will be given priority in public transportation. These arteries will carry four bus rapid transit lines. In the city's more crowded areas, such as Herzl Boulevard or the western part of Menachem Begin Boulevard, a public transportation lane will be paved in the center of the road. In other areas, the right-hand lane will be reserved for public transportation. Buses will also be given priority at traffic lights; electronic devices will allow a bus to signal its approach, causing the light to turn green. In addition, an electric-powered bicycle rental network will be set up, and 22 kilometres (14 miles) of bicycle paths will be paved in the city.
The passenger railway connection to Ashdod opened in 1992 after the renovation of the historical railway to Egypt. Ashdod railway station is on Israel Railways' Binyamina/Netanya – Tel Aviv – Ashkelon line and it is located near Ad Halom Junction. The station was upgraded in 2003 when a new terminal building was built. The station building is modern, but proper road access to it was only organized on September 23, 2008, when a new road to the station was opened.
There is also heavy freight traffic in the area. Port of Ashdod has its own railway spur line as well as a special terminal for potash brought from the Sodom area and exported abroad.
A new central bus station opened in 1996. It serves as the terminus both for inter- and intracity lines. The central bus station is attached to the City Mall. Intercity bus lines connect the city with most population centers in central and southern Israel
The Egged Ta'avura company has been operating urban buses in Ashdod since 2007. In addition, a share taxi service exists in Ashdod, operated by Moniyot HaIr. Most share taxi lines coincide with intracity bus lines.
There is a passenger pier in the Port of Ashdod. The traffic at this gateway is constantly growing, especially due to cruise ship activities. The other sea gateway is Blue Marina.
According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Ashdod had a population of about 221,591 at the end of 2016, making it the sixth largest city in Israel. The annual population growth rate is 2.6% and the ratio of women to men is 1,046 to 1,000. The population age distribution was recorded as 19.7% under the age of 10, 15.7% from age 10 to 19, 14.9% from 20 to 29, 19.1% from 30 to 44, 19.1% from 45 to 64, and 11.3% were 65 or older. The population of Ashdod is significantly younger than the Israeli average because of the large number of young couples living in the city. The city is ranked medium-low in socio-economic grading, with a rating of 4 out of 10. 56.1% of 12th grade students in Ashdod were eligible for matriculation certificates in 2000. The average salary in 2000 was NIS 4,821 compared to the national average of NIS 6,835.
Ashdod has seen much of its growth as the result of absorption of immigrants. The first settlers were Jewish immigrants from Morocco and Egypt. In the 1960s Ashdod accepted a large number of immigrants from Romania, followed by a large number from Georgia (then part of the Soviet Union) in the 1970s. More than 60,000 Russian Jews from the former Soviet Union who immigrated to Israel in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union settled in Ashdod. Recent demographic figures suggest that about 32% of the city's population are new immigrants, 85% of whom are originally from the former Soviet Union. During the 1990s the city absorbed a large number of Beta Israel immigrants from Ethiopia, and in more recent years Ashdod absorbed a large number of immigrants from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Argentina, and South Africa. Many of the 60,000 Marathi-speaking Bene Israel from Maharashtra, India who moved to Israel also settled there. Ashdod also receives a significant amount of internal migration, especially from the Gush Dan region.
Over 95% of Ashdod's population is Jewish; over 30% of whom are religiously observant. Despite this, the city is generally secular, although most of the non-Jewish population is a result of mixed marriages. About 100 families are affiliated with the Pittsburg Hasidic group, established here in 1969 by Grand Rabbi Avraham Abba Leifer and continued today by his son, Grand Rabbi Mordechai Yissachar Ber Leifer. Ashdod has many synagogues serving different streams of Judaism. The city is also home to the world's largest Karaite community, about five thousand strong. There is also a Scandinavian Seamen Protestant church, established by Norwegian Righteous Among the Nations pastor Per Faye-Hansen.
Ashdod was declared a city in 1968. The Ashdod City Council has twenty-five elected members, one of whom is the mayor. The mayor serves a five-year term and appoints six deputies. The current mayor of Ashdod, Yehiel Lasri, was last elected in 2008 after Zvi Zilker has been in office continuously since 1989. Within the city council there are various factions representing different population groups. The headquarters of the Ashdod Municipality and the mayor's office are at city hall. This new municipal building is located in the main culture and business area.
Ashdod is home to the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra, which performs Andalusian classical music. It is an Arabic music style that originates from Moorish Iberia or Al-Andalus, has been jealously preserved in its original form by Arab and Jewish musicians of the Maghreb over the centuries, and has left its mark on the cante flamenco, the flamenco singing style, perhaps better known in the West. The orchestra was awarded the Israel Prize in 2006.
Ashdod also has one of the biggest open theaters in Israel - Amphi Ashdod that can hosts more than 6,400 guests. The Amphi hosts Ashdod's international art festival "Méditerranée".
The MonArt Centre for the Arts, which includes a ballet school, a music center and the Ashdod Museum of Art, is a performing arts center which comprises different galleries, art schools, studios and events. The ambitious architectural complex has been inaugurated in 2003. Theatre and concerts are hosted in several cultural venues; the most important are performed at the Ashdod Performing Arts Center, a new 938-seat concert hall of distinct elegance and originality designed by Israeli architect Haim Dotan and inaugurated in 2012 in the city's cultural center. Ashdod plays host to many national and international music festivals, including the annual Super Jazz Ashdod Festival managed by Leonid Ptashka.
The ACADMA conservatory is a professional educational institute for music and performance studies based in Ashdod. Operated under the supervision of the Ministry of Education, the institute was established in 1966, and serves as a home for 600 young musicians in different fields.
The Corinne Mamane Museum of Philistine Culture is worldwide the only museum dedicated to this topic. It reopened in 2014 with a new interactive exhibition.
The Ashdod Museum of Art, located in the MonArt center (see above at "Music and performing arts"), has 12 galleries and two exhibition halls. In an architectural echo of the Louvre, the entrance to the museum is through a glass pyramid. In 2003 the internal spaces of the museum were redesigned by the architects Eyal Weizman, Rafi Segal and Manuel Herz.
Ashdod's football team, F.C. Ashdod represents the city in Ligat ha'Al, Israel's Premier League. The club is known for its successful soccer school. The city's top basketball team is Maccabi Ashdod. The men squad plays in First League, Israel's First tier league, and the women squad Maccabi Bnot Ashdod plays in top division.
Ashdod plays host to many national and international sporting tournaments, including the annual Ashdod International Chess Festival. The city has a cricket team, a rarity in Israel. It is run and organized by citizens of Indian descent. Ashdod's beaches are a venue for water sports, like as windsurfing and Scuba diving. The Ashdod Marina offers yachting services.
Notable athletes from Ashdod include:
Ashdod is twinned with