The coast of Israel, its Via Maris, is abundant with ancient cities and ports such as Acre, Nahal Kishon, Atlit, Dor, Caesarea, Apollonia, Jaffa, Ashkelon, Ashdod Yam, and Yavne Yam. Each of these cities has a story and together these stories chronicle the history of the people who lived in the Land of Israel for thousands of years, including the people of Israel. Many of these cities, such as Caesarea, have been thoroughly excavated and serve as tourist attractions today.
Traveling into Haifa from the south, one encounters an artificial hill near the seafront and west of the railway tracks. This is Tel Shikmona, or the remains of the ancient Phoenician settlement Shikmona. The site today is full of promise: it is situated on the beautiful promenade of Hecht Park, yet it is also part of the natural landscape. Its archeological ruins offer a glimpse into several different periods in history. Despite these advantages, the site is abandoned and neglected, and its treasures are hidden. This blog outlines a plan to develop the northern part of Hecht Park or Tel Shikmona.
Haifa is not mentioned before the period of the Mishnah, but archeological excavations in the area indicate human settlement in ancient times. Flint vessels from the Stone Age were discovered around the Haifa plain and Mount Carmel. The fertile environment and mild weather in the area attracted early humans and their families, who settled in various locations but did not establish any city known today. Near the Tel, at the foot of Mount Carmel, burial caves including pottery vessels from the beginning of the Iron Age were discovered.
Haifa itself is not mentioned in the Bible, but surrounding sites, such as the slopes of the Carmel and the Kishon River, were the scene of several important Biblical events. This was the border between the lands of the tribes of Zebulun and Asher. According to scholars, the history of Haifa begins in the period of the Talmud, when it is mentioned in various sources, even though archeological findings indicate humans lived there before that time. The city probably had other names, and even though the name Haifa was given to the city during the Talmudic period, its original names continued to be used later on, and this is a source of confusion. Haifa probably grew out of two ancient towns.
The first, at the outlet of the Kishon River, was called Tsalmon and the second town was located south of Mount Carmel and called Shikmona. Excavations at these two sites revealed remains from the late Canaanite period. Five different layers of human settlement from the Canaanite period onwards were discovered in Tsalmon; in Shikmona, findings from the Canaanite, Israeli, Roman, Talmudic, and Byzantine periods were discovered.
A burial cave carved out in Mount Carmel, attributed to the time of Elijah the Prophet, was discovered near Shikmona and is called the Cave of Elijah the Prophet. Jewish burial caves have been found there from many different periods. Since ancient written sources mention only Tsalmon and Shikmona and not Haifa, scholars believe that Haifa was built later in the Talmudic period.
The Jews named the city Shikmona because of the sycamore trees that grew there in abundance. Shikmona was an important port; its residents were seafarers. According to the Bible, King Solomon handed over part of the coast north of Shikmona to Hiram, King of Tyre and Shikmona became a fortified city along the northern border of the Land of Israel. Flavius Josephus tells of King Ptolemy Latyrus who came by ship from Cyprus in 104 BC, dropped 30,000 soldiers off at the port, and from there turned to Acre to help the city in its war against Alexander Jannaeus. The residents of Shikmona, like other coastal cities, were mainly foreign, e.g., Syrian and Greek traders, but there was also a Jewish community. One of Rabbi Akiva’s students was from this city and he was called Shimon the Shikmonian. The Christian Italian tourist Antonius, who toured Israel in 570 BC, described Shikmona as “a city of Jews located at the foot of Mount Carmel.” The city of Shikmona also had military importance because it was situated on the route between Syria and Egypt. The Greek geographer Strabo, who lived in the first century BCE, mentions Shikmona as a city between Acre and Caesarea. In 333 BCE, an anonymous tourist from Bordeaux in France traveled from Acre through Tsalmon to Shikmona and stayed at a hotel named Mansio Sicamenos. Shikmona existed throughout the Byzantine period. In a religious debate in 630 AD, a few years before the Arab occupation, Shikmona is mentioned as the place of residence of an “elder ” of the Jewish community. A sofer (scribe or scholar) and Cohen are also mentioned. This indicates that the Jewish community of Shikmona was large and organized.
The English Society for the Study of the Land of Israel began excavating Tel Shikmona in 1887. The Turkish government ordered the excavations stopped and nothing was found. In 1936-9, archaeological excavations were carried out by N. McCauley for the British Mandate authorities, following the discovery of a church about 60 meters east of Tel Shikmona during the paving of a road. The mosaic floors of the church were unearthed. In 1951, a monastery located about 200 meters south of Tel Shikmona was also discovered.
Archaeological excavations began in 1963 and lasted about 20 seasons under the supervision of the archaeologist Joseph Elgavish. The excavations revealed findings of human settlement from the Late Canaanite period (16th century BCE) until the Moslem destruction of the city in 638 AD. These findings tell the story of the city; the Egyptians established Shikmona and Zalmona in the 12-11 centuries BCE, and they were inhabited by non-Jews. Four cities from the Israeli period (17th –-5th centuries) were discovered. The Bible tells us that King David conquered the area, but King Solomon was forced to surrender the Zebulun Valley into the hands of Hiram King of Tyre. The stone walls and streets of a city were unearthed. These findings reinforce the Biblical story: if the Zvulun Valley was in the hands of a foreign power, Shikmona was a city on the border, so it needed to be fortified. Remains of an olive press and a dwelling from the House of Omri were also found there.
According to the Bible, during the time that the kingdom was divided, Shikmoma was an unfortified city in the Kingdom of Samaria. Findings show that its residents supported themselves through the production of oil that was exported through the sea. Greek pottery was found in all the archeological layers. In 732 BCE, during the Assyrian conquest, parts of the city were destroyed but a small settlement remained. in the Persian period, the coastal cities were divided between Tyre and Sidon, and Shikmona belonged to Tyre.
Seafarers again took over the city, which thrived again. On one of its hills, a residential neighborhood of a settlement from the Persian period was discovered. In the 5th century, the city moved from the hills to the surrounding plains. Three fortresses were discovered: one from the 4th century BC conquests of Alexander Macedon; one from the 2nd century, the period of Jonathan Hyrcanus; and one from the Jewish revolt against the Romans in the 1st century AD. Five excavation seasons were devoted to the Byzantine (Talmudic) period in which residential, commercial, and public buildings were discovered.
As mentioned above, the Jewish town thrived during the Talmudic period, and many Christians came to settle there at the end of this period. In 638 AD the city was destroyed during the Arab conquest and Shikmona was never rebuilt.
One of the most important discoveries of Tel Shikmona was the House of the Four Spaces, a typical dwelling from the Iron Age (9th century BCE). It features three parallel rooms and one additional room built perpendicular to them. This is one of the most preserved sites of this kind in the country.
In the 1990s, large-scale excavations were carried out east of the tel by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and a number of complexes, including monasteries; upscale residential neighborhoods; public halls with mosaic floors; water and drainage systems and a spacious industrial complex consisting of dozens of plastered pools all indicate the existence of a fairly affluent Byzantine settlement (4- 6th centuries AD).
Thousands of snail shells unearthed at the site may suggest that crimson dye was produced there; this industry was a source of great wealth. In ancient times, a crimson dye that was used to color the robes of emperors was worth its weight in gold.
Of all the buildings that have been uncovered from the Byzantine period, one especially prominent facility was a large industrial area south of the tel. Rooms extend from both sides of a long corridor and there are three sets of plastered pools. The building had a roof, and the entire floor was covered with coarse white mosaic stones. The pool complexes differ from one another, in the size and number of pools. They were separated from the hallway by doors. The pool closest to the door was higher and led to the other pools. It seems these complexes served to produce food but nothing more is known.
Tel Shikmona was declared a national park by the Nature and Parks Authority. Similarly, Shikmona Yam has been declared a marine nature reserve, and there are plans to extend this reserve to include additional areas of the sea facing the Institute for the Study of Seas and Lakes. Notably, there are only seven official marine nature reserves in Israel.
Ruins of a church from the Byzantine period (Photo: Nicole Levin)
Site used for storing snails in water which were used to produce crimson dye. (Photo: Nicole Levin)
Mosaic floors were uncovered at the site. They include the color green, quite rare in mosaic floors. (Photos: Nicole Levin).
The site has historical archaeological and cultural value. The main goals for this site are:
Hecht promenade (Photo: Nicole Levin)
The physical findings from previous excavations must be uncovered again, and conservation work began to prepare the site for visitors. This might be a good opportunity for Israeli and foreign students of archeology and conservation to work and gain experience. Partnerships can be formed with the residents of adjacent neighborhoods such as Bat Galim, Ein HaYam, Wadi Jamal based on the model of the Yam Shelanu (Mare Nostrum ) project that is currently being implemented by the Haifa municipality and the European Union.
The site must be cleaned and made safe, i.e. pits covered and fenced in. The path should be built and railing, benches, and signs installed. Steps will allow easier access from the beach and to the higher parts of the tel. Reading materials can be prepared and distributed at a temporary stand or in coffee shops along the promenade. Proper access paths must be planned above and below the railroad tracks and Hagana Blvd.
The second phase should include the building of a visitors center, where visitors will be able to view findings, mosaic floors (the mosaic floor that was transferred to the Haifa museum can be moved back to the site) and learn about the site through informative videos, presentations and more. Next to the building a cafe or small kiosk can be built.
A parking lot should also be planned, and a series of shuttles can transport visitors to and from the site and connect the site to other tourist attractions in the city of Haifa.
Once the site is up and running and considering that the site is part of the Via Maris of Israel, a small harbor should be established with boats that can take tourists from Shikmona to the docking area of Nahal Kishon and the Haifa and Acre ports. There is already a small cruise line that takes tourists between Acre and Haifa; in the future, this line can be expanded so that the boats go farther south to Caesarea, Dor, Apollonia, and Jaffa.
Making use of the ancient facilities of the site, visitors can also be offered workshops on the preparation of crimson dye or fishing methods in ancient times.
אנו רואים חשיבות עליונה בהנגשת אתר האינטרנט שלנו לאנשים עם מוגבלויות, וכך לאפשר לכלל האוכלוסיה להשתמש באתרנו בקלות ובנוחות. באתר זה בוצעו מגוון פעולות להנגשת האתר, הכוללות בין השאר התקנת רכיב נגישות ייעודי.
למרות מאמצנו להנגיש את כלל הדפים באתר באופן מלא, יתכן ויתגלו חלקים באתר שאינם נגישים. במידה ואינם מסוגלים לגלוש באתר באופן אופטימלי, אנה צרו איתנו קשר