Religion and Empire

Timeline of Gaza’s history.

The return of the spies from Canaan, plate 39 (1860) by Julius Schnorr von CarolsfeldThe Barakat Trust

4th millenium BCE

Predating the pyramids and ancient Greece by several thousand years, archaeological sites in the Gaza Strip reveal the development complex civilizations. Scholars believe Gaza was an ancient Egyptian settlement – some pottery fragments were even dated to the late Stone Age. 

Southern Palestine. Gaza, from the west (1900-1926) by American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo DepartmentThe Barakat Trust

Canaanites: 2,000 BCE

Later, Gaza was part of Canaan: an ancient Semitic civilization with various ethnic groups. Canaanites traded with neighboring empires in modern Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Saudi Arabia.

Amarna Letters (14th century BCE) by Osama Shukir Muhammed AminThe Barakat Trust

Amarna Letters: 1360–1332 BCE

Written in ancient Akkadian cuneiform writing, diplomatic correspondences between Canaan (including modern Gaza), ancient Egypt, and Amurru in modern Syria is documented in the Amarna letters. Egyptian pharaohs controlled Gaza for 350 years before the Philistines did. 

Scene from the Great Harris Papyrus: Ramesses III before the gods of Memphis (-1150/-1150)British Museum

Philistines: 1,200 BCE

The name “Palestine” is rooted in “Philistine.” Some scholars speculate that the Philistines migrated from Greece or Egypt. 

The Silk Road and Arab Sea Routes (11th and 12th Centuries) (2020) by Jean-Paul RodrigueThe Barakat Trust

Salem Al Qudwa, Architectural Engineer at Harvard University
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Silk Road: 2nd c. BCE - 18th c. CE

Gaza's role in Silk Road trade route made it permeable to the cultural influences from around the world. It's proximity to the Mediterranean Sea also connected it with the various economically-thriving civilizations bordering their respective coasts. 

Southern Palestine. Gaza, from the west (1900-1926) by American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo DepartmentThe Barakat Trust

Roman Empire: 1st c. BCE - 5th c. CE

At the time the Bible was recorded, the Roman Empire had control over the Gaza strip. With a 500-member senate, the construction of dozens of pagan temples, and a prosperous centre of trade, Gaza was well-known in the Levant region and beyond.

Samson's gate, Gaza (1862) by Francis FrithThe Barakat Trust

Saint Porphyrius Church: 5th c.

Saint Porphyrius encouraged Gaza’s conversion to Christianity. The Roman emperors morphed into the Byzantines, the pagan temples became Christian ones, and Gaza became an infamous stop for religious pilgrimages. Since its establishment, there's been a Christian presence in Gaza.

City of Gaza (1898-1946) by American Colony Photo Department or its successor the Matson Photo ServiceThe Barakat Trust

Muneer Elbaz, Architect, Urban Planner and Lecturer at UCAS
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"We have another project to safeguard the oldest church here in Gaza. I think that supporting Christians in Gaza is supporting the community of Gaza because I believe that respecting the diversity could support the situation... and community of Gaza."

Kateb Welayya Mosque next to Church of Porphyrus (Unknown) by UnknownThe Barakat Trust

Ayman Abu Shaban, Architectural Engineer at Municipality of Gaza
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"One of the symbols of tolerance in Gaza is another mosque called  Katib al-Wilaya Mosque next to the Church of Saint Porphyrius. It’s beautiful because the minaret and the church towers are adjacent to each other."

Mosaic of David playing the harp (508-9) by Dr. Avishai TeicherThe Barakat Trust

The King David Mosaic: 508 CE

In 1965, the ruins of a 6th c. Jewish synagogue was found in Gaza. In its foundations, archaeologists uncovered an exquisite mosaic of King David playing a harp. An inscription states that two merchant brothers donated the mosaic to the synagogue.

Seikilos Epitaph with the Lyre of Apollo
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This mosaic is thought to have initially depicted Orpheus, a lyre player, poet, and prophet in Ancient Greece. According to Greek mythology, he was the son of the god Apollo. Later, the mosaic’s face may have been removed and replaced with the face of a female Christian saint.

At the founding of this synagogue, artisans likely removed the face once again, replacing it with King David of the Jewish tradition. Gaza itself is a mosaic of the various religions that both passed though and grew out out of Gaza’s culture. 

Yousef Aljamal, PhD candidate and Journalist
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Gaza is a Mosaic of Religions

Yousef Aljamal, a PhD candidate in Middle Eastern Studies, describes Gaza symbolically as a mosaic of the Christianity and Islam. As the King David mosaic itself shows, these religious traditions further evolved from ancient Judaism and the Greek and Roman pagan cultures.

Battle of the Trench (626-627 CE) (Unknown) by unknown artist, Published by: Imprimerie Lemercier et cie, established publisher, Public domain, via Wikimedia CommonsThe Barakat Trust

Islamic Conquest of Gaza: 7th century

Only 200 years after Christianity came to Gaza, Islam began to spread across the Arab world. First came the Rashidun Army in the 7th c., followed by the Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, and Tulunids. Under all of these changes of power, Gaza’s trading economy continued to flourish. 

Illuminated Holy Quran with translation by Agha Ibrahim QamiLahore Museum

The Qu'ran standardized Arabic across the region, becoming Gaza's lingua franca, or common language.

Jaffa, Mandatory Palestine, An orange picker in a Jaffa orange grove. Jaffa, Mandatory Palestine, An orange picker in a Jaffa orange grove.Yad Vashem

Jaffa Oranges: 9th century

In the 9th century, oranges were traded along the Silk Road from India to the Levant. The Indian oranges eventually became their own species, known as shamouti in Arabic: a staple crop and symbol of the city Jaffa in modern Israel. 

Kni Order TemplarsLIFE Photo Collection

The Crusaders: 11th - 12th century

When the Crusaders conquered Gaza, the dominant religion of Gaza was once again reoriented. The Crusaders gave control over Gaza to the Templars – a medieval Catholic military society – who built a castle and converted the Great Omari Mosque into a church.  

The Old Town, Gaza. (1863) by Francis FrithThe Barakat Trust

Mamluks: 12th-13th century

It wasn’t long before the famous Ayyubid conquerer Saladin challenged the Templars in Gaza, killing many inhabitants and destroying the city walls. Shortly after, Gaza was conquered by the thriving Mamluk empire based in Egypt. 

Gaza ruins (1898-1946) by American Colony Photo Department or its successor the Matson Photo ServiceThe Barakat Trust

Mongol Invasion: 13th - 15th century

Mamluk rule in Gaza represents both a flourishing art and cultural scene – horse races, new schools, the new mosque library – and political intrigue. The Mamluk administration was riddled with treason and Gaza was eventually reduced to rubble by the Mongols and Sultan Baibars. 

Southern Palestine, Hebron, Beersheba and Gaza area. Gaza, central section (1950-1977) by Matson Photo ServiceThe Barakat Trust

Muneer Elbaz, Architect, Urban Planner and Lecturer at UCAS
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Jewish Neighborhood

In general, medieval and premodern places of worship in West Asia were multicultural and interfaith. A Jewish neighborhood is said to have thrived in premodern Gaza.

Pasha and Bayadère (1858) by Roger FentonThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Ottomans: 16th century

In 1516, Gaza – now a small town with an inactive port – was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. Both the Ottoman Turks and the people of Gaza were Sunni Muslims.

World War I in Palestine and Sinai (1914) by American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo Department, photographer Whiting, John D. (John David), 1882-1951, photographer Larsson, Lewis, photographer Matson, G. Eric (Gästgifvar Eric), 1888-1977, photographerThe Barakat Trust

The Balfour Declaration: 1917

During World War I, the British release the Balfour Declaration, announcing support for a Jewish nation on the Holy Land. A minority Jewish population lived in Palestine and the burgeoning Zionist movement began to advertise it as a "national home for the Jewish people."

Scenes with the expeditionary force in the Egyptian area Advanced field ambulance dressing station on the Gaza front. (1917) by UnknownThe Barakat Trust

British Occupation: 1920

The Ottoman Empire dissolved after joining with German forces in World War I. Palestine changed hands from the Ottomans to the British amidst the Allies' victory. The British Mandate controlled the land between 1920 and 1948, during which it was called "Mandatory Palestine."

By John PhillipsLIFE Photo Collection

Egypt, United Arab Republic: 1949

In 1948, Israel was established. In 1949, Israel signed the Armistice Agreements with the United Arab Republic to establish armistice lines. What became known as the Gaza Strip was marked by a mapped “green line,” which was not considered to be territorial.

Six Day War 1967 by Cohen Fritz, Government Press Office (GPO)The Barakat Trust

Israeli Occupation: 1967

In 1967, the Six Day War broke out between Israel and a coalition of neighboring Arab countries, mainly Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. After launching a ground offensive on Egyptian forces, Israel seized control of the Gaza Strip until the Oslo Accords of 1993.

Oslo Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House (1993-09-13) by Callie ShellThe Barakat Trust

Palestinian Authority: 1993

Brokered between Palestinians, Israel, and Norway in 1993, the Oslo Accords officially gave sovereignty of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. Israel was authorized to control the airspace and the territorial sea to the west of the Gaza Strip. 

Bombed house in Gaza by Marius ArnesenThe Barakat Trust

Now

In 2006, elections were held for which political party would control the Gaza. A close vote between Hamas and Fatah, two opposing political parties, culminated in the 2007 Battle of Gaza, which Hamas won. Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since then.

Destruction of Sites

Because of the contemporary political instability in the region, old and new buildings alike are being destroyed at an unprecedented rate.

Credits: Story

Compiled by Leena Ghannam. The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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