Gaza's Archaeological Struggles

By Young, Penny | History Today, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Gaza's Archaeological Struggles


Young, Penny, History Today


IT IS HOPED THAT THE RECENT discovery of a series of fine mosaics from a Byzantine church and the intact walls of the port city into which the generals of Alexander the Great sailed in the fourth century BC will convince the world that the Gaza Strip should be on the archaeological map.

The area always was on the map in the old days as an inspection of the sixth-century mosaic picture of ancient Palestine in Madeba, Jordan, reveals. This clearly shows a village north of the city of Gaza called Nevalya. It is thought this was the area known today as Jabalia which is where the Byzantine mosaics have been located.

The finds are particularly exciting for Gaza's Director of Antiquities, Dr Moain Zadek, who is waging a one-man battle against the indifference of the international community at large and the vested interests of powerful property speculators in the Gaza strip. In 1996, Dr Zadeck spent an unpleasant few days in prison because people with power and influence resented his attempts to stop construction over the newly-discovered site of the Greek port.

`The problem is that Gaza is a small area with a big population. The question is how to protect our archaeological sites and at the same time encourage investment. We have to decide and the decision is sometimes difficult,' said Dr Zadek diplomatically.

Gaza is one of the oldest cities in history. It stood on the ancient Way of the Sea, the main caravan route connecting Egypt and Assyria. It was one of the five cities of the Biblical Philistine League and is referred to in the tenth chapter of Genesis: `And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom and Gomorrah.' It was in Gaza that Samson loved Delilah and was betrayed by her and where he pulled down the temple killing himself and 3,000 Philistines.

The armies of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines Crusaders, Muslims and Ottomans all made use of Gaza's strategic position. You do not have to dig very deep to discover the evidence. Everything from pots to graveyards, mosaics and city walls lie beneath the sand dunes, orchards, towns and villages and refugee camps.

Dr Zadek took me to the site of the Greek port of Anthedon which is slightly to the north of Gaza City. On a high, anonymous pile of sand projecting out over the sea, he tole me, `Now we are standing on the walls of Alexander the Great's port. This is where he had the equipment brought in to carry out the siege of Gaza in 332 BC.

Anthedon dates back to Assyrian times and was in use between the eighth and first centuries BC. The walls that have so far been uncovered are made of five different sizes of mud brick, plastered with mud. Standing eight metres high and six metres wide, the walls run thirty metres eastwards from the sea and appear to be intact. Unfortunately they continue beneath the densely-populated Beach Refugee Camp.

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