I have passed by Tel Lachish – תל לכיש before. It was on Shvil Yisrael. We rested in the small grove near the entrance and fantasized about the tasty Tali grapes from neighboring Moshav Lachish. Unfortunately this immensely important site was not yet ready for visitors. Only now are final changes being made to enable visitors to climb the up the mound and view the artifacts. But when it is finished put this on your “bucket list” because you will not forgive yourself if you don’t see this spectacular battle field.
Second only to ancient Jerusalem, Tel Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir – Arabic for “small-round), the site of biblical Lachish, is one of the largest and most prominent mounds in southern Israel. The mound is nearly rectangular, its flat summit covering about 65 dunams. The slopes are very steep as the result of the massive fortifications constructed here in ancient times. Tel Lachish is adjacent to Moshav Lachish, 9KM southeast of the city of Kiryat Gath. The mound is surrounded by deep valleys, providing a natural defense. The top of the ancient site is 273m above sea level, or 50m above the valley on its north side. The meaning of Lachish is not known, perhaps based on the root word “lechesh” – raffia made of palm tree fibers (from the Talmud). Tel Lachish is presently open and there is no entrance fee, however, renovations are in process, planned to be finished April-May 2014, which may change this. At present the mound is not accessible for special needs.
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The highlights of the visit to the ruins of the city include the Assyrian siege ramp, the base of the Judean palace-fort, and the gate complex.
The city was surrounded by two walls including a lower retaining wall. The approach ramp led to the outer gatehouse which in turn led to the inner triple-chambered gatehouse.
Settlement in Lachish started in the Neolithic period, and by the later part of the Early Bronze Age it was already a large settlement. During the Intermediate Bronze Age the settlement apparently shifted to a nearby hillock. The mound was resettled at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age. Remains of a cult place dated to Middle Bronze. During Middle Bronze II Lachish became a major city in southern Canaan.
The Middle Bronze city was destroyed by fire at the end of the period.
During the Late Bronze Age settlement was renewed. The city developed slowly and eventually became one of the largest and most prosperous Canaanite cities in Canaan. A number of letters from the rulers of Lachish were found in the el-Amarna archive. By the time of the 20th Egyptian Dynasty Lachish prospered under Egyptian hegemony. Lachish was completely destroyed by fire, possibly by the invading Sea Peoples, about 1130 BCE, and the site remained abandoned for a long period of time.
A deep (44m) well is located on the north-east corner of the mound. The location of the well is the closest from the top of the mound to the riverbed at the middle of the valley, where the ground water can be extracted. This well was the main water supply of the city, the source of life in ancient Lachish.
Approaching the palace from the east side, the large wall can be seen on the top of the hill. The palace was located on top of this raised platform behind the wall, with an area of 37m wide by 78m long, and raised up to 10-11m high.
The outer gate was located to the west of the inner gate, extended 20m outside of the city walls. This was probably the largest gatehouse of the Judean Kingdom.
At the end of the tenth century BCE, or more probably during the ninth century, one of the kings of Judah constructed here a fortress city, turning Lachish into the most important city in Judah after Jerusalem. The fortress city, built according to an overall town planning, included massive system of fortifications and a huge, central palace-fort complex.
At the end of the Judean monarchy, this governor’s residence was half an acre in size. It is the largest Iron Age structure known in Israel.
A second century BCE temple (called the Solar Shrine by the excavator because it faces to the East), which uses the basic plan of the Israelite temple, but with a courtyard and two rooms. It is not clear whether this temple was used for Jewish worship.
The fortress city, continued to serve as the main fortress of the kingdom of Judah till its destruction by Sennacherib in 701 BCE. See 2 Kings Chapters 18 and 19.
A drawing of one section of the Lachish siege reliefs from Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh, now held in the British Museum. The city wall and towers are clearly marked, as are important civic buildings
After a period in which Lachish was apparently abandoned, the settlement was apparently renewed and re-fortified. This city was poorer, less densely inhabited, and had weaker fortifications than its predecessor. It was destroyed by fire during the conquest of Judah by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE. Lachish is mentioned in Jeremiah 34 7 as one of the fortified cities in Judah that Nebuchadnezzar attacked.
A group of moving Hebrew ostracon, known as the ‘Lachish letters’ was found by the British expedition sealed beneath the destruction debris in the ruined city-gate. They date to shortly before the Babylonian conquest and were sent to a military commander named Yaush. These ostraca form one of the most important groups of pre-exilic Hebrew inscriptions known today.
- Letter No. 4:12–13 reports that the writer could no longer see the signal-fires of Azekah—that means that Lachish itself was the last to go, beginning with the guardhouse in flames.