The Ashkelon Outdoor Museum
Years ago, the City of Ashkelon created the Ashkelon Outdoor Museum to house some impressive sarcophagi (the plural for sarcophagus) from the Roman period discovered here on HaTayasim Street in Afridar, Ashkelon in the 1970’s. Ezra Yanuv, a diligent manager in the municipality, saved these two sarcophagi just minutes before the tractor buried it with concrete in the building project. Just as the D9 dug out one sarcophagus they uncovered the second one. After saving the two, Ezra brought them to Beit Eli and later to the Municipal Cultural Center. Only then, did he give the contractor permission to continue his work. We shall never know if there are more antiquities buried under that home on HaTayasim Street.
This outdoor museum was supposed to be temporary, until, hopefully a new Ashkelon Museum of Archaeology would be built to replace the Ashkelon Khan Museum. We are still optimistic……..
Sarcophagi is the plural of sarcophagus, but hold your stomach, sarcophagus means “flesh-eating” which is what a coffin does. These sarcophagi are not the first to be found in Ashkelon. More than once construction workers dug up antiquities in the many building projects in the growing city. Sometimes they hide them for illegal sale and sometimes they hide them just to avoid delays in their schedule.
The Outdoor Museum near the Ashkelon Municipal Cultural Center displays two Roman burial coffins, from Ashkelon and its National Park, made of marble depicting battle and hunting scenes, and famous mythological scenes. These beautifully decorated “sarcophagi” are among the finest ever found in Israel. Other ancient artifacts on display include sculptures, columns, capitals and inscriptions. Archaeologists assume that these sarcophagi were imported from Asia Minor or Greece.
The Inner Sarcophagus
The front side of the inner sarcophagus depicts Hades god of Hell kidnaping Persephone. Hades was the brother of Zeus and the god of the underworld. Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, the Goddess of nature. On the rear side two lions guard a burial urn. On the cover there are two unfinished bust sculptures, male and female, probably waiting to be finished after the demise of the final clients.
The Sarcophagus near the entrance
Here, the front and both sides depict the Greek-Trojan War battle scenes. On the rear side there are two lions attacking two bulls.
Beit Ha’Am – Municipal Cultural Center, HaGefen Street, Afridar Quarter, Ashkelon
Just in case you didn’t know and are curious to learn, South African Olim settled Afridar, Ashkelon in 1951. The first residents of this first neighborhood of Ashkelon called it “Afridar” and the streets in the area near the sarcophagi are called South Africa and Johannesburg. Afridar is compose of two words “Africa” + “dar” which means home.