Country - Israel

Locality - Atlit

Coordinates – Latitude: 32º48’46’’

Longitude: 34º57’14’’


Harbour Situation

Atlit is located to the south of Haifa (20 km). It may be reached by the coastal highway or the ancient road to Haifa. The ancient site spreads on a rocky island, on an area of 700 acres. The boarders are: the sea to the west, to the east is the road cut through the kurkar ridge (parallel to the shore) and to the north is the Oren River outlet.

Sea Harbour

The projecting rocky island forms two separate bays: the North Bay and the South Bay. The northern and southern islands found within the North Bay provide a good shelter for water vessels, thus the bay was more suited for a harbor built. The South Bay is the second largest among the Mediterranean coast of Israel, is only partially protected by submerged reefs and not suitable to built harbor installations. The approach to this bay from the west was not difficult but quite dangerous, due to the strip of the reefs at its entrance and their orientation to the storm waves.


Research History

Land excavations carried out by C. N. Johns, in the 1930’s revealed a series of rock-cut shaft tombs and cremation burials along the SE part of the kurkar (sandstone) ridge. The burial and the settlement on the north coast were dated to the periods between the 9th and the 5th centuries BCE. While studying the Crusader’s north walls, Johns found an older understructure beneath. It was at the ground level of the gate with a kurkar-paved passage and two flanking towers. The remains of the Phoenician harbor were first located in 1963, during underwater survey by a team from the Underwater Exploration Society of Israel (UESI). The mapping and trial excavations continued for two years (1963-1965), as part of the "Atlit Map Survey" carried out by the Archaeological Survey of Israel. In the following year (1966), surveys and trial excavations continued. A check was made on the relationship between the structures found along the shore and the gate discovered by Johns’ excavations, near the northern poterna, east of the crusader fosse. Additionally, the remains of a settlement from the 10th to the 6th BCE centuries were found east of the Crusader cemetery.

Within the northern harbor and the area around it were revealed several wrecks. In 1976, Dr. E. Linder and A. Raban (University of Haifa) carried out underwater excavations to study the marine structures, digging down to their foundations. In 1981, within the North Bay and close to the shore was found a very large bronze, one piece cast, battering ram (476 kg) known as the "Atlit Ram", dated to the Hellenistic period of the 4th - 2nd centuries BCE. Other finds were bronze objects from the Late Iron Age, Persian and Hellenistic periods, along with the ammunition from a Mameluk warship, including canons and copper helmets. In the early 1980’, during the underwater surveys carried out by E. Galili from the Institute for Maritime Studies, University of Haifa was revealed the unique site of a Neolithic (7000 BCE) submerged village (7th-12th m). Excavations were carried out between 1984 and 1991.


Historical Development

Cultural context – MB II age settlement and burials

- Phoenican harbor and rock-cut shaft burials

- Crusader Citadel and Fortress

- Centuries – 16th century BCE

- 7th-5th centuries BCE

- end of 1291 Crusader rule was ended by the Mameluk Empire

There is not enough data to give a precise date for the ancient harbor at Atlit. The pottery vessels found during the underwater surveys and trial excavations was not earlier than the end of the 7th century BCE. The mole at Tabat el-Hammam, is dated to the 9th century BCE. The parallels between Akko, Tyre and Sidon are not earlier than 6th-5th century BCE. The Atlit harbor being more sophisticated than that at Tabat el-Hammam, and the pottery finds within the harbor basin, permit an estimated date for its construction to the 7th century BCE or even later. The Hellenistic and Roman pottery finds are quite limited, thus one may assume that during these periods the harbor was not at its high pick and use.


Atlit has no historical reference before the modern era. The local Arabs used the name in recent times. The only etymological resemblance is the Phoenician name Athalia, the notorious Judean queen. The philologists could consider the name as derived from Athal – strong, mighty. On the vertical quarried wall, east to the Phoenician settlement, there are two large lapidaric letters A TH incised into the rock. Their size is so large that they may be seen from the highway. The letters are the abbreviation of the Phoenician script, probably the first two signs of the name of the ancient settlement (6th - 5th century BCE). Even if the name has a Semitic origin it was not found among known Phoenician names.

In the 4th century BCE itinerary book Pseudo-Schylax (Periplus), Atlit is mentioned as being found between Carmel and Dor. In the Roman period it may have been called Adarus or Bucolon Polis (Atlit), was part of the site named Certha, being included in the territory of the port of Dor. During this period it was taken from the Phoenicia boundaries and submitted to Palestina Prima.

The boundary between Atlit and Dor, as mentioned in Pilgrim Bordeaux (9:10) was at Khirbet Dustrey. This site is situated 2 km east of the Crusader Castle, where a deep gorge was quarried through the kurkar ridge and known in Arabic as Bab el-Ajal (the Gate of Carts). During the Crusaders conquest (1099) this passage was used to ambush the rubbers and the road pirates. Dustrey was preserved through the Crusader period by the name Le Detroit or Districtum, also known by the name Petra incisa (quarried rock). The rock cutting at Atlit is much older than the Crusader period.

Selected Written Sources

The Templars established a fort or police station close to the rock-cut passage (1118), the ruins of which are still visible. In 1218, during the Fifth Crusade, the Castle known as Castrum Perigrinorum, was built by the Templars on the rocky promontory, on the ruins of the Phoenician settlement. It was named after the pilgrims (peregrini) who came and helped to build it along with a chapel, a palace, a stable and several dwellings. The site was chosen because it could have a better control on the coastal road and also the way to recovering Jerusalem, which had been taken 1187. The castle was completed while the main army of the Crusade was engaged into the Moslem siege at Damietta in Egypt (1218-1221). The main, east façade of the castle was doubled by the addition of a wall with three towers. A low wall along the outer edge of the fosse further strengthened it.

Through 1220, the Citadel was threatened by the Moslem conquerors. When in 1265, the Mameluk sultan Malik edh-Dhahir Baybars conquered the Atlit settlement he did not attack the Citadel. Only in 1291, when Akko fell under the Mameluk Sultan Al-Malek al-Ashraf, the Citadel at Atlit was deserted. For the fear that the of the Castle will be re-conquered by the Crusaders, the Mameluks destroyed the fortification walls on the eastern side of the promontory. During the Turkish government the stones from the masonry at the stones Atlit were shipped away to be used for building the sea walls at Akko, still surrounding the harbor . After the Mamekuk rule, Atlit fell in disrepair and the sever earthquake in 1837 caused its major damage afterwards. The ruins of Atlit and other sites as they appeared in the 19th century were illustrated in many pictures of the pilgrims and travelers to the Holy Land. One such print shows the ruined Atlit seen from the South Bay. In 1903, Edmund de-Rothschild, who owned the lands at the site, founded the Jewish village of Atlit, 1 km to the south of the Crusader settlement.



Fortifications are visible at the eastern edge between the shore and the rocky promontory

The Phoenician harbor in the North Bay of Atlit is the only one along the Israeli coast with sufficient remains that permitted an investigation of the building techniques and harbor engineering prior to the Hellenistic period. This harbor was connected to the southern settlement (which lay between the water and the Phoenician cemetery excavated by Johns), by kurkar slabs pavement that led from the shore to the gate exposed at the foot of the Crusader poterna. Only the passageway and two square towers remained of the gate, which were built of ashlar headers. Johns assumed that they were much older than the Crusader structures.


The Southern Quay and the N-S Pier


The rampart leading from the gate to the shore is connected to the western edge of the quay. This quay built of narrow headers, 1.2 x 0.5 x 0.5 m, extends eastward, along the shoreline for a length of 38 m.


From the eastern edge of this quay, perpendicularly is a pier that extends northward into the sea, for a length of 100 m and a width of 9.8m. This structure was built of two walls of headers, with a mixture of ashlar and rubble fill. The sides are built of headers 2 m long, 0.4-0.55 wide and 0.6 high each. Another wall of headers was at the tip of the pier that formed the foundations of a rectangular tower, 12 x 20 m, also built in the same headers technique. Perhaps it was a lighthouse

The water depth at the foot of this tower is about 4 m. At the shoreline, east of the N-S mole’s base there are two larger structures of which only the foundation courses survived. The ceramic finds during the trial excavations at the base of the structures date to the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Approximately 6-7 m west of the mole and about 30 m north of its base is a square structure (4 x 4 m). The construction technique and the dimensions are identical to the towers on both sides of the Crusader Gate, on the southern shore. The western tower and the N-S mole are built on the muddy seafloor and the foundation course is laid on a bed of pebbles twice as wide as the mole.


The Islands

Within the North Bay there are two rocky islands that provide protection to the bay and also were used as components of the Phoenician harbor. They are separated by a gap of about 20 m and 2-3 m deep. The seafloor of this gap revealed no evidence of any stones construction to indicate that it had been closed or a bridge had connected these islands at any time. Nevertheless, when the harbor was constructed and functioning, presumably the gap was narrower and no sailing craft could pass through. In ancient times this gap probably provided a good washing channel to scour out the accumulated sediments from the harbor basin. This channel being under the constant waves energy widened during the centuries (2500 years passed), by the erosion of the kurkar bedrock. Nowadays, the gap is wide enough to cause trouble waters within the harbor basin in stormy periods.


The Southern Island

The South Island was artificially connected to the fort promontory by a rampart or a bridge. Its face was quarried and leveled in order to get a large rectangular building of which only the S-E corner survived which is supposed to be a warehouse. Its base was quarried into the rock. In the southern part of the structure survived two or three ashlars header courses.


The Northern Island: The Eastern Quay and the Northern Mole


On the eastern edge of abrasion shelf of the northern island a quay was built, with its base on the seafloor and its top reaches the level of the shelf (figs. 3, 9). The quay is 43 m long; from its eastern corner a headers wall continues eastward, creating the inner side of the northern mole or breakwater. The structure is identical in construction and width with that on the southern shore (c.10m wide; headers built).



This pier continues eastward for a length of 130 m and in some places four or five courses have survived up to the present sea level. The basic course of the pier in some places is under almost 5 m of water. On the western side closer to the island, the foundation courses were laid on the rocky seafloor that artificially had been leveled, in preparation for laying the ashlars headers. It is not clear how it was technically possible to carry out such work at a depth of more than 2 m, in the open sea.

The Layout of the Phoenician Harbor

The eastern and the northern piers together with both islands in the North Bay created a harbor that was divided into two separate mooring areas. The piers acted as breakwaters constructed in such a way that cargo ships could anchor along both their sides and the top surface to be used for loading and unloading the cargo. The distance between the tips of the piers is over 200 m, represents the entrance of the harbor facing east. The maximum wave fetch of only few hundred meters with no risk of storm waves from this direction provided a secure entrance to the ships into the harbor.


At the tip of the pier there is a very wide rampart cause by a collapsed structure. At the eastern tip of the pier there is a rectangular tower (12 x 30 m), identical to the structure on the N-S mole, on the southern shore. Possibly also a lighthouse


The separation of the harbor into two mooring areas enabled a distinction between the "home quay", for the Sidonian or other Phoenician ships to anchor and the "free quay" or emporium for foreign ships, transshipping the cargo in lighters to harbors such as Akko and Sidon.

Function Commercial


The best parallels to the piers at Atlit are found at the southern pier at Akko, Israel, the "Egyptian" harbor at Tyre and the ancient pier at Tabat el-Hammam, on the Syrian coast. The building system is much the same, although the width of the pier at Akko was 12 m (at Tyre and Sidon it was 15 m). Another close parallel to the piers is found at Amathos, in the southern Cyprus. The gap between the two islands at Atlit resembles the 20 m wide gap at the western side in the southern "Egyptian" harbor at Tyre. This opening most probably served for washing out silt from the closed basin of the harbor.



TH – two Phoenician letters incised on the vertical wall of the quarried kurkar ridge east of the Phoenician settlement; the letters are visible from the highway



Wrecks within the Northern Bay and the area around the islands indicate the commercial function of the harbours. Besides these, a bronze battering ram also demonstrates the usage for military ships.

Function Military


Benvenisti M., 1970: The Crusaders in the Holy Land; Israel University Press, Jerusalem

Raban A., 1985: Ancient Harbours of Israel in Bublical Times; in Raban A. (ed.): Habour Archaeology – Proceedings of the First International Workshop on Ancient Mediterranean Harbours. Caesarea Maritima, 24-28.6.83; BAR International series 257: 11- 44

Raban A., 1993: Atlit-Yam; in Stern E. (ed.): The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land; vol. I; The Israeli Defense Ministry



Zaraza Friedman


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