|The Canaanite Gate|
|Conservation, presentation and development of the Canaanite gate and its surroundings|
|Orderer||The Nature Reserve and National Parks Authority|
Arch. Lilach Strul|
Engineer Lilya Sukhanov
Yoram Saad - Head of conservation project branch
Arch. Eran Hemo Head of Planning Branch
In 1964 a national park was declared in Ashkelon. This was the first such declaration in the State of Israel following the establishment of the National Parks Authority. The national park extends across an area of approximately 1,700 dunams, of which some 600 dunams are the remains of ancient Ashkelon. Ashkelon was inhabited almost continuously from the Canaanite period until the Middle Ages and it is among the largest ancient port cities in the Land of Israel.
In 1999-2005 a number of conservations measures were carried out on Tel Ashkelon. In 2006 the conservation work focused on developing and preparing the Canaanite gate compound and its surroundings. The work was carried out at the initiative of the Council for a Beautiful Israel, the Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority. The site’s surroundings were prepared according a plan drawn up by David Gat, a landscape architect, and the conservation measures were planned and implemented by the Conservation Department of the Antiquities Authority.
Among the finds exposed in the archaeological excavations that were conducted on the tell in recent years are sections of the city’s fortifications that date to the Middle Bronze Age (the Canaanite period), including an artificial earthen rampart that served as a base for a system of fortifications. In addition a glacis was revealed whose core consists of mudbricks and kurkar and whose outer surface is built of dressed kurkar masonry blocks. The Canaanite city gate, which was uncovered in 1993 in excavations carried out under the direction of Professor Larry Stager of Harvard University, is part of the same system of fortifications and is one of the most valued finds that have been exposed at Tel Ashkelon. The gate, whose arch is the earliest one to be exposed so far in the world, dates to 1850 BCE. The gate structure consists of two towers. It is built of mudbricks and is well-preserved; the inner passage is c. 2 m wide and it is c. 4 m long.
In 2006 the gate structure was damaged by the weather. The problems that were identified include the disintegration of building material and the detachment of the mudbrick mass from the walls. The mudbrick mass was eroded and washed away by the rainfall to such an extent that parts of the building mass have been lost. This damage has undermined the structural stability of the edifice and other built remains in its vicinity. In the wake of this the Nature and Parks Authority initiated measures for the conservation of the gate compound that also included restoration work, new construction (reconstruction) and illustration and presentation .
The intervention at the site included:
• The documentation of the damage.
• The conservation of the mudbricks and their restoration utilizing material consisting of the same original composition. New mudbricks were cast that were identical in their size, texture and production technique as the original mudbricks. The brickwork that was missing from the walls was also completed.
• The stabilization and solidification of disintegrating mudbricks by means of impregnating them with lime water.
• The construction of an arch made of kurkar above the northern entrance for the purpose of illustration.
• The construction of engineering supports for the mudbrick walls at the southern entrance of the gate by means of arches and sheets of laminated wood.
The opinions concering the reconstruction of the gate arch were and remain at odds with each other. At the crux of the matter is the question regarding the shape of the arch. This is because the finds that were uncovered at the site do not provide an unequivocal answer in this matter and such a situation contradicts the norms of international conservation. Nevertheless, after discussing the matter at length and examining alternatives a decision was reached to conserve the arch. Because of this planning, engineering and conservation work was done with the aim of solving technical problems such as the load bearing capacity of the original walls owing to their degraded preservation; the uncertainty with regard to the size of the voussoirs and their original shape remained unresolved. Moreover, it was necessary to stabilize the gate structure with such a degree of new construction as to allow the public to pass safely through the gate.
After consulting with the archaeologists who excavated the gate it was decided to reconstruct the arch based on similar gate structures that were found in Syria and Egypt. It was decided that from an engineering standpoint the arch would be completed using lightweight materials, such as wood, in order to prevent exerting too heavy a load on the original walls. The construction of the arch using kurkar blocks was based on the remains of the original arch – which was also made of kurkar blocks – and was meant to ensure the stability of the materials and their durability in the indigenous conditions.
Upon completion of the conservation, restoration and illustration and development work at the site the Canaanite gate was opened for the public to walk through.
 The construction that was required for illustration and presentation purposes was made possible thanks to a grant specifically donated for this reason.
To view the figures, click on the figure caption