The remains of a 1,500-year-old church were uncovered in the Gaza Strip over the weekend by construction workers preparing ground for a new shopping mall, the Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry said on Monday.
Fifteen pieces were discovered, including segments of marble pillars with Corinthian capitals, one of which is nearly three meters long, Reuters reported. A 90-cm foundation stone bearing the Greek symbol for “Christ” was also found at the site located in Palestine Square in downtown Gaza City.
The remains were dated 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 Jamal Abu Rida, head of the Antiquities Ministry, according to Reuters.
“During that era, there was a great interest among the Byzantine rulers to build churches in the Gaza Strip.”
Gaza became a busy sea port during the Roman period (20 BC – 330 CE) with Greeks, Romans, Jews, Egyptians, and Persians living there, the report said. In the early 4th and 5th centuries, there was significant church building until the Muslim conquest of Gaza in 637 CE.
“I dare say the place is of historical value,” said Abu Rida, and noted that construction may be put on hold if more pieces are found.
“Our mission is to preserve our Palestinian history before Islam and after Islam,” he added, but admitted that his ministry doesn’t have the resources to properly excavate the site.
“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,” Abu Rida said.