The remains of a Byzantine church have been uncovered in Gaza during excavations towards the construction of a new shopping mall, Reuters reported. The announcement was made Monday by the Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry.
The ruins were found in Palestine Square in Gaza City, a popular shopping district. Construction workers made the initial discovery, then called in ministry officials, who identified 15 pieces, including a three meter (almost ten feet) long segment of a column with a Corinthian capital and a 90 centimeter foundation (about 35 inch) stone with the Greek symbol for “Christ” engraved on it. If more pieces are found, Jamal Abu Rida, head of the Antiquities Ministry said, mall construction may be delayed or halted.
The remains date back to between 395 and the late 600s CE. “Our first thought is that the site is a cathedral or a church from the Byzantine period,” said Abu Rida. “During that era, there was a great interest among the Byzantine rulers to build churches in the Gaza Strip.”
He added, “I dare say the place is of historical value.”
During the Roman period, Gaza was a prosperous seaport with a diverse population, including Greeks, Romans, Jews, Egyptians and Persians. In the late fourth and early fifth centuries, many pagan temples were destroyed in favor of churches.
The ministry has great interest in preserving the remains, though it lacks the means. “Our mission is to preserve our Palestinian history before Islam and after Islam,” said Abu Rida.
“The site we are talking about is 2,000 square meters and 10 meters deep and requires hundreds of workers and millions of dollars to carry out proper excavation to extract pieces and read the texts written on them,” he said. The ministry has just 40 excavation workers in its employ.
The Gaza region is mentioned in the Bible as one of the five seats of Philistine power. It is rich in archaeological remains.