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Ashdod - Tampa's Sister City

AshdodTampa’s Sister City

 

Ashdod - Israel's fastest growing city - Like so many cities in Israel, Ashdod is young and vibrant, yet steeped in ancient history and surrounded by nature. By Simon Griver

 

A Mediterranean port city, Ashdod has undergone dynamic growth in the past decade as it has welcomed more new immigrants than any other city in Israel. Nearly 70,000 newcomers, mainly from the former Soviet Union, have swelled the city's population to 190,000, making Ashdod Israel's fastest growing and fifth largest city.

 

But Ashdod is no stranger to new residents. Its strategic location on the country's southern coastal plain has been inhabited for almost four millennia. Archeological excavations have uncovered remains from no fewer than 23 cities since the Bronze Age. While it is best known as the capital of the Philistines in Biblical times, Ashdod was also a major port of the Greek and Roman Empires, and home to a thriving Jewish community until the seventh century. Unlike the modern city, which encompasses the port, the ancient city was situated on the via maris, the trade route near, but not directly on, the sea. A separate port city on the coast was known as Ashdod Yam ("Ashdod-on-the-Sea"). By the Middle Ages all that was left of this once great port was a small crumbling village.

 

Modern Ashdod was founded in 1956 (and received municipal status some 12 years later), as Israel's second deep-water seaport, after Haifa. Ideally placed to serve Jerusalem 66 kilometers to the east, and Tel Aviv 40 kilometers to the north, the port is now on the verge of overtaking Haifa Port in size. Ashdod Port handles 46% of the country's sea freight and the Jubilee Port, completed in 2004, doubling its capacity.

 

"Despite intensive development," stresses Mayor Zvi Zilker, "we have made every effort to build an attractive city which offers residents a high quality of life." Indeed, its broad boulevards, spacious and aesthetic public areas and facilities have not only attracted new immigrants but many young couples from Greater Tel Aviv, drawn by the city's less expensive housing. Moreover, employment opportunities are not lacking: the city is home to major companies in the electronics, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, plastics, metals, paper, wood and furniture sectors.

 

New industrial zones and high-tech parks are planned. In contrast to its pace of development, Ashdod is surrounded by natural reserves, carefully preserved by the city's planners. On the southern bank of the Lachish River near the sea is an attractive park inhabited by moorhens and turtles. The Mevo Ashdod reserve, north of the city, has an East African savannah landscape with herds of gazelles living among huge eucalyptus, fig, pomegranate and almond trees. The Ashdod Sand Park near the port is comprised of huge sand dunes of granite and Nubian stone from the Ethiopian mountains, which reached Israel's southern coast via the Nile River and the Mediterranean currents and winds during millions of years of evolution. The dunes have a Saharan eco-system including rare gerbils and reptiles.

 

"In the next phase of development we intend tapping our tourist potential," explains Mayor Zilker. "With our sea-front promenade, historical sites and natural reserves, we can become a premiere tourist location." Ashdod has more beaches - 10 kilometers of coast - than any other city in Israel. The recent completion of a 550-berth marina and the city's first major hotel is only the first stage in an ambitious plan to make the city a major Mediterranean tourist destination.