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The Ad Halom interchange south of Ashdod is known to most Israelis for its heavy traffic jams twice a day. The thousands of vehicles going in and out of Ashdod led the Israel National Road Company to construct a new interchange, inaugurated some weeks ago. But in the publicity surrounding the inauguration, which starred the head of the road company and the minister of transportation, one element of the interchange project was lost: The preservation of the project's oldest bridge, built 900 years ago by the Mamluks.

The Mamluks, who ruled the Middle East between the 12th and 16th centuries, established many buildings in present-day Israel, including three stone bridges surviving until today: near Yavneh, near the northern entrance to Lod, and the Ad Halom bridge over the Lachish stream. The three were built from local sandstone and have the same design - three pointed arches with the central one slightly taller than the other two.

In more recent history, Ad Halom is known for two daring military operations. In June 1946, it was blown up by the Palmach during the "Night of the Bridges". Two years later, in the War of Independence, the bridge was blown up again, by a Golani Brigade unit, to stop the Egyptian army's advance. The operation's success led to the renaming of the bridge from "Gisser Asdud" (Ashdod Bridge) to "Ad Halom" (up to this stage).

After the war, the bridge was restored without any attention to its historic significance and without any attempt to preserve the ancient stonework. For years, it carried heavy motorized traffic, until being replaced a few years ago by a modern interchange. The road company decided to use the opportunity to restore it again, this time in accordance with strict preservation codes. The Antiquities Authority dismantled the concrete middle arch, and rebuilt the bridge using the same technique as the Mamluks. The project was led by veteran preservation architect Saadia Mendel.

"Mamluk architecture is a milestone in local architecture. Most of the buildings were destroyed, but the bridges' survival shows they knew what they were doing," Mendel said yesterday. The bridge will now be used by pedestrians and cyclists.