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Archaeologists Unearth Largest Ancient Roman Basilica of its Kind in Israel

06-01-2021
The Basilica and Theater Complex in Tel Ashkelon National Park. Photo Credit: Yaniv Cohen Nature and Parks Authority
The Basilica and Theater Complex in Tel Ashkelon National Park. Photo Credit: Yaniv Cohen Nature and Parks Authority

JERUSALEM, Israel – Israeli archaeologists have unearthed the largest Roman Basilica of its kind ever to be found in Israel in the coastal city of Ashkelon.

They found the sprawling 2,000-year-old complex during a conservation and restoration project in Tel Ashkelon National Park.

“The huge building is covered with a roof and divided into three parts – a central hall and two side halls,” according to Dr. Rachel Bar-Natan, Saar Ganor, and Fredrico Kobrin, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The hall was surrounded with rows of marble columns and capitals, which rose to an estimated height of 13 meters and supported the building’s roof. The floor and walls were built of marble.”

In ancient Roman times, public life revolved around the basilica. It’s where Roman citizens met for business, social and legal matters, and also enjoyed performances and religious ceremonies. 

The marble used to construct the floors and other structures was imported from Asia Minor in merchant ships. Excavators found roughly 200 marble items weighing hundreds of tons, including dozens of column capitals with plant motifs on them.

Excavation of the basilica in the Tel Ashkelon National Park. Photo Credit: Yoli Schwartz Israel Antiquities Authority

The basilica was destroyed and abandoned by the Romans after an earthquake hit in 363 AD. Archaeologists can see the effects of that earthquake today in the damaged floors. The site was later transformed into an industrial area during the Islamic Abbasid and Fatimid periods, and some of the marble items were repurposed.

Israeli archaeologists have also uncovered a Roman theater at the site.

The public will be able to enjoy the new archaeological finds upon completion of extensive development, conservation, and restoration work at Tel Ashkelon National Park. The work includes erecting sculptures and marble pillars found at excavations at the site.

Statues at the site. Photo Credit: Yaniv Cohen, Nature and Parks Authority.

“The Ashkelon National Park is one of the most important ancient sites, both in Israel and in the world, and time and time again it emerges as one of the most visited sites in the country,” said Ashkelon Mayor Tomer Glam. “I am convinced that the restoration and conservation work in the park, the new archaeological discoveries, and the development work – including new accessible paths – will contribute significantly to the park’s natural beauty and strengthen its status as the most beautiful and well-kept national park in Israel.”

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