Lawrence E. Stager

The spirits of thespians past linger over the site shown in this aerial photo. Despite its classical appearance, the structure is a modern-day theater; excavators believe that ancient Ashkelonites enjoyed theatrical performances on this very spot, in the city’s Roman-period theater. The site is the only tiered crater in the vicinity and the sole remnant of the ancient theater, a marble seat, was found nearby.

Before the modern theater was built, Christian and Islamic legend referred to the stepped depression as the Wells of Abraham. Author Stager points out that this pious belief could have had a basis in fact—involving water, but probably not Abraham. The theater probably had a parados, or fountain, fed by a nearby spring or well, to freshen the air and to keep the spectators away from the stage.

Ironically, the modern theater was host for several years to regional dog shows. Perhaps the spirits of the many canines that once inhabited Ashkelon (see “Why Were Hundreds of Dogs Buried at Ashkelon?” BAR 17:03, about Ashkelon’s unusual dog cemetery), like those of the departed actors, continued to haunt this lovely coastal city.