The Ghosts of Europe

Exploring the remnants of Greek, Roman, Norman, and Gothic influence in the architecture and art of Gaza.

Moslem [i.e., Muslim] celebrations at Mejdal (Wady Nemill and Sey'd Hussein Shrine at Ascalon) and at Gaza (el Muntar) April 20th, 21st and 22nd 1943. Gathering at Wady el Nemill, animals to be bathed & healed (1943-04-20) by Matson Photo ServiceThe Barakat Trust

Yousef Aljamal, PhD candidate and Journalist
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Yousef Aljamal, PhD Candidate in Middle Eastern Studies

Centered between the East and West, Gaza was a thriving port city. Not only was it a prominent site for trade in the Silk Road, but throughout its history, Gaza influenced and was influenced by the culture of Europe, especially accessible via the Mediterranean.

Apollo of Gaza (~200 BCE) by UnknownThe Barakat Trust

Ancient Greece

In August of 2013, a statue of Apollo, the Greek god of archery, music, and truth, was discovered in Gaza. The statue was thought to be from 200 BCE, indicating an early interaction with Ancient Greece. Only a few weeks after its discovery, it vanished. 

Due to the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, instances of archaeological discovery in Gaza are territorial by proxy. This is especially true of the Apollo statue as it was fished out from the Mediterranean Sea, brought unto Gaza's western shores.

In the void of legal ownership and potential for financial gain, the statue's whereabouts are still unknown.

Marble statue of Aphrodite (1st or 2nd century) by UnknownThe Barakat Trust

Aphrodite in Gaza

According to Christian scholar Mark the Deacon in the 5th century, there was a large statue of Aphrodite in the center square of ancient Gaza.

The statue of Aphrodite was seen “upon a base of stone, and the form of the statue was of a woman, naked, and having all her shame uncovered. And all they of the city did honour to the statue, especially the women, kindling lamps and burning incense.”

After praying to Aphrodite, the women would “incubate,” or sleep with the intention of having prophetic dreams, hoping that Aphrodite would tell them who to marry. To the dismay of the 5th-century Deacon, their dreams would sometimes tell the women to divorce their husbands.

Zeus of Gaza (2nd century) by UnknownThe Barakat Trust

Ancient Rome

As the chief pagan god of Gaza, Zeus used to be worshipped at the site of the Great Omari Mosque. During the ancient Roman period, the worship of Zeus likely came to Gaza via immigrants from the island of Crete in modern Greece.

In the 5th century, these pagan statues were destroyed by the bishop Saint Porphyry in a fit of idolatry. In its place, he encouraged the local Gaza population to convert to Byzantine, or Eastern Roman, Christianity. 

Minaret doorway front (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

Medieval Europe

In 1100, the Crusades invaded and captured Gaza. This campaign intended to spread European Christianity to the Holy Land after the rise of Islam in the 7th century. The Great Omari Mosque in Gaza was converted to a church: the Cathedral of Saint John.

The Crusaders brought elements of Norman culture to West Asia. The Norman dynasty controlled parts of England and France in the 12th century and developed a distinct architectural style developed from the Romans. 

Wide view of Souk al-Qissariya archway entrance (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

The Norman style eventually developed into the Gothic, whose distinctive pointed arch is found even in pre-Islamic architecture. Al-Qaisariyya's archway, though built by the Mamluk dynasty 200 years after the Crusades, is one such example of this cross-continental feature. 

Gaza (1905-01-12) by David RobertsThe Barakat Trust

Since the occupation, Gaza has been severed from the rest of the world – Europe included. The ghosts of this richly global past still lingers beneath Gaza’s thickly bombed surface; beneath the rubble and, deeper, the sea. 

Gaza Port by Ramez HabboubThe Barakat Trust

Rawan Yaghi, Journalist
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In Gaza, the Sea is highly symbolic: the connective tissue between Gaza and Europe, and the site where the Apollo statue was found. The Mediterranean Sea represents a whole world of archaeology to be unveiled; the submarine is a shadow on the brink of light.

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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