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Apollonia – Arsuf *

Arsuf  becomes Apollonia

The Phoenicians or Canaanites founded this ancient city and named it Arsuf (ארשוף – ארסוף) after their god Reshef. During the Hellenistic period it was renamed Apollonia (Απολλωνία). The name of the Greek god Apollo culturally replaced the name of the Semitic god Reshef. The city crushed murex snails to produce purple dye for royal robes. The site stands on a calcareous sandstone promontory 30 m above the Mediterranean Sea. This is fine, in theory, however, no archaeological evidence for a settlement prior to the Persian period (ca. 500 B.C.E.)has yet been found.

In the first century B.C.E. Apollonia was captured by the Hasmoneans (Macabbees) and came under rule of the Jewish King Alexander Janneus.

Apollonia becomes Sozusa

Apollonia continued to exist as a city during the late Persian period, Hellenistic and Roman Judea.  In the late Roman era Apollonia was renamed Sozusa (Σώζουσα) which means “city of the saviour.” Soter means “savior” and is also the byname of Apollo as well as of Christ. Sozusa was also called “Sozusa in Palestina” so as not to be confused with Sozusa in Libya). Sozusa was fortified by a wall with buttresses. Herod’s Caesarea, 34 km to the north, and Jaffa, was only 18 km to the south, overshadowed the port of Sozusa.

Arsuf becomes Arsur

Sozusa fell to the Muslim conquest in 640 and was fortified . At the time of the Muslim conquest, Sousa was inhabited by Samaritans. The Muslims renamed the city Arsuf (أرْسُوف‎‎). Thus, the Muslims restored the Semitic name Reshef.

The crusader fortress
The crusader fortress – note the excellent quality of the explanatory signs

Arsuf was re-conquered by King Baldwin I of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1102, after a siege by land and sea, allowing the inhabitants to withdraw to Ascalon. The city was now called Arsur. In 1187 Arsuf was captured by the Muslims.

The Battle of Arsuf

Since Arsuf-Arsur was a strategically important fortress in the Third Crusade, it fell again to the Crusaders on 7 September 1191 after the Battle of Arsuf, fought between the forces of Richard I (Richard the Lionhearted – Richard Coeur de Lion) of England and Saladin. Saladin attacked Richard’s army, following the capture of Acre, when it was moving from Acre to Jaffa.

Richard was a central Christian commander during the Third Crusade. King Richard learned the lessons of the disaster at Hattin. He knew that an army’s greatest need was water and that heat exhaustion its greatest danger. He proceeded at a slow pace, only in the morning before the heat of the day. Richard make frequent rest stops, always beside sources of water. The Crusader fleet sailed close down the coast a source of supplies and a refuge for the wounded. Richard’s forces had to traverse one of the few forested regions of Palestine, the “Wood of Arsuf”, which ran parallel to the sea shore for more than 19 km. Saladin believed that the woodland would hide his army and allow a sudden attack to be launched. The Hospitallers broke ranks thus forced Richard to launch a counterattack on the Saracens.

Arsuf was an important victory

Arsuf had dented Saladin’s reputation as an invincible warrior, and proved Richard’s courage as a soldier and his skill as a commander. Richard was able to take Jaffa – which would have been a strategic, crucial move toward securing Jerusalem. Also Saladin had to evacuate and demolish most of the fortresses of southern Palestine: Ascalon, Gaza, Blanche-Garde, Lydda and Ramleh. In the end, the Third Crusade failed to retake Jerusalem. Instead a three-year truce was negotiated with Saladin. The Treaty of Jaffa signed in 1192, ensured that Christian pilgrims from the west would once again be allowed to visit Jerusalem. Saladin also recognised the Crusaders’ control of the Levantine coast as far south as Jaffa.

In 1265, the Mamluk Sultan Baibars captured Arsuf, after 40 days of siege. The inhabitants were killed or sold as slaves and the town completely razed. It never recovered.

Kurkar Ridges

There are three kurkar ridges in the area. The first one is in the sea. Apollonia lies on the second kurkar ridge. The third kurkar ridge is the ridge of Kfar Shemaryahu, Accadia and Herzliya B.

Apollonia National Park

Apollonia National Park opened in 2002. The site was incorporated in Herzeliya municipality in 1924. At the time, an Arab village called al-Haram existed adjacent to the ruins, but it was depopulated during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The area south of the site was built up as the Shikun Olim (שיכון עולים “immigrant housing”) district of Herzeliya in the 1950s. Archaeologists excavated in the site in 1990, 2015-2016. Apollonia National Park is a station on Shvil Yisrael (The Israel Trail).

The medieval city wall and moat

The medieval city wall and moat enclosing an area of about 90 dunam. The moat is 9 m.-wide and 4.5 m deep.

The Roman seaside villa

The Roman seaside villa was dated to the 1st century C.E. It was destroyed in an earthquake in 118 CE.


The Crusader fortress

The Crusader fortress with a double-wall system with an area of about 4 dunam. Construction of the fortress is dated to 1241, and its destruction to 1265, when the city was captured by the Mameluke Sultan Baibars. The fortress building was influenced by similar fortresses in southern England, and is evidence that the architect was European. The fortress has three systems of fortification: a wide and deep moat around the Crusader fortress – 30 m wide and 14 m deep, first wall (the external fortification array), second wall, Donjon (keep).

The Moat

A wide and deep moat surrounds the Crusader fortress – 30 m wide and 14 m deep

The external fortifications

Here you can find amazing examples of secondary usage of construction elements.

Secondary usage
Secondary usage

The Donjon (keep)

When you get there, look out to sea from the tower at the top of the cliff.

Catapult balls

The large quantity of catapult ammunition gives us an idea of the fierceness of the battle.

The coastal path

The coastal path descends to the Roman villa and then follows the route of the city wall.

Water cisterns

Material evidence of British troops during WWI staying and training at the site between late December 1917 to September 1918 were discovered throughout the site including the water cisterns: ammunition containers, canned food, fragmented helmets, cartridges, musket/shrapnel balls, bullets, buttons of clothes and interestly enough a kit of morphine ampoules still intact.

The glass furnace

The glass furnace was in use in the Byzantine period (6th century CE). So far 12 furnaces have been found around Apollonia. The glass industry was one of the most important branches of the city’s economy.

The small port

The small port, a a natural harbor, with built jetties and a sheltered anchorage, protected by a sandstone reef.

Sidna Ali Mosque

Sidna Ali mosque was built in 1481, and was named after the soldier Ali Ibn Alim (Al-Hasan ibn Ali), who, according to Muslim belief, fell in battle against the Crusaders at Apollonia in 1250. The minaret of the mosque rises to a height of 21 m. The mosque is in use today, and entry is permitted only in modest dress.

Sidna Ali Mosque
Sidna Ali Mosque

Sidna Ali Police Station

The building that stands out the most in the complex was built by the British as a costal police station, and was equipped with a radar to detect ships with Ma’apilim, Jewish immigrants brought into Israel illegally. The Palmach blew up the British coastal Police stations at Sidan Ali and Giv’at Olga on November 25, 1945. However, the British rebuilt the facility in a short time.

Sidna Ali Police Station
Sidna Ali Police Station

The Dinosaur House

Quarrying the caves in the sandstone rock created an interesting and mysterious structure. The upper part of the structure is on the border of Apollonia National Park, but it lies mostly in the area of Herzliya Municipality.

Arsuf Today

Arsuf is an “exclusive cliff-top community.” Notable residents include Israeli business magnates. In the 1930s Jews from Europe purchased land east of Arsuf. In the late 1940s kibbutz Shefayim wanted this land for farming, so a trade was arranged for land on a sandy bluff with amazing views of the Mediterranean sea, north of Apollonia, where Arsuf is today. The original owners had the foresight that a property in Arsuf — a beach house — could be much more valuable than farmland.

Tel Arshaf was incorporated in Herzeliya municipality in 1924. At the time, a village called al-Haram existed adjacent to the ruins, but it was depopulated during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the area south of the site was built up as the Shikun Olim (שיכון עולים “immigrant housing”) district of Herzeliya in the 1950s.

Arrivederci Apollonia
Arrivederci Apollonia

Tourist info

  • How to get here: At Kfar Shemaryahu junction, turn towards Herzliya Pituah (the brown sign will accompany you all the way to the entrance to the park). At the second traffic circle, turn right into Wingate St., and continue straight to the park.
  • Telephone:  09-9550929
  • Facebook: Apollonia National Park
  • Reservations for guided tours and further information about activities and tours at the Yarkon and Coast Education Center – 03-9033130
  • To reserve tickets for shows – call *3639

Click here for site pamphlet

Rishpon or Kashpun?

Rishpon is close to my heart, having volunteered there for a month in 1964. When moshav Rishpon was settled in 1936 the settlers chose the name Rishpon based on an Iron Age Phoenician settlement called “Raspuna” mentioned in an inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III. Later scholars claim that rašpūna is a misreading and should be read kašpūna. Recognition of the misreading would void the identification of Arsuf with Rašpūna. I like Rishpon better than Kashpun.

About Israel and You

Cameling in the holy land since forever
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