The oldest arched gate in the world, located in Ashkelon, has been restored, nearly four thousand years after it was first built.
The Canaanite gate, which was constructed around 1,850 BCE as part of the port city's fortifications, is believed to be the most ancient arched gate in the world. The mostly brick and limestone gate is 15 meters long, more than 2 meters wide and almost 4 meters high.
Its base was uncovered in 1992 during a Harvard University archeological dig led by Prof. Lawrence Steiger, said Ra'anan Kislev, director of conservation at the Antiquities Authority.
The authority has now finished reconstructing the gate, after eight years. Three wooden arches were rebuilt to restore the complete figure of an arch and to provide support for the structure, Kislev said.
"We wanted to give visitors a feeling of walking through a gate that brings you inside a city," he said.
The $700,000 project, which was carried out with a donation from the Council for a Beautiful Israel and in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, is part of a long-term plan to convert the history-rich area to a more extensive archeological park, said Zeev Margalit, head of the authority's conservation and development department.
"The idea is part of a conceptual change from a park that is used for picnics and holiday barbecues and bathing to a park that is also a park of values and content," Margalit said.
Ashkelon, whose history is filled with alternating periods of construction and destruction by invaders, was a major trading center due to its location on the Coastal Road, the main thoroughfare between Egypt and Syria.
A small city shrine was also discovered outside the gate, on a slope descending toward the sea.
Inside the shrine, a bronze figurine of a calf overlayed with silver was uncovered.
The calf was a symbol of the Canaanite deity Ba'al and the shrine may have served for worship
Scholars believe the shrine was located on the way to Ashkelon's port so that those embarking on a sea voyage or returning from one could pray or give thanks to the deity for the success of their journey.
The park, which includes the city's Roman Basilica, its ancient city walls, statues of Roman and Greek goddesses, an ancient waterwheel and well, and the remains of Byzantine period church - all of them located amid lush vegetation - is open to the public throughout the week.