Souk al-Qissariya gold souks (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust
Gaza as a Port City
Throughout history, Gaza’s position next to the Mediterranean Sea has shaped its culture. Gaza has consistently functioned as a port city. Thus, its prominent marketplace, Souk al-Qissariya, has consistently served as a fluid hub of traded goods between West and East.
The Silk Road and Arab Sea Routes (11th and 12th Centuries) (2020) by Jean-Paul RodrigueThe Barakat Trust
Souk al-Qissariya used to sell goods from all over the Eastern hemisphere during the medieval period, when the Silk Road trade peaked. Gaza was the last stop in the ancient incense trade route, which connected ports in the Mediterranean to as far as east China.
"Thinking historically, what makes Gaza special is its location between Asia and Africa. This location gave it great commercial importance, reflected in its architecture heritage still surviving in the city today."
Rainy day at Souk al-Qissariya (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust
These ports traded goods like frankincense, myrrh, Indian spices, precious stones, pearls, ebony, silk, fine textiles, rare woods, feathers, and animal skins. As Yousef Aljamal describes, Gaza’s most popular exports included clay and gold.
Spices at Souk Al-Zawiya (2021-03-28) by Jason ShawaThe Barakat Trust
Souk al-Qissariya was infamous for its role in the spice trade up until the 19th century. In fact, there is a stereotype that the people of Gaza love spice.
"A lot of people make jokes about [Gazans loving spice] being from stubbornness and being able to sustain a lot of pain, but I don't think so... it's just something you grow up with."
Excavations. Wady Ghazzeh (south of Gaza). Wady Ghazzeh mounds. Excavated section looking toward the open valley and the sea (1920-1933) by American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo DepartmentThe Barakat Trust
In the Hellenistic period, between 250 BC and 70 AD, the port city was called Anthedon.
Excavations. Wady Ghazzeh (south of Gaza). Wady Ghazzeh mounds. Excavated area showing height of debris above ancient town (1920-1933) by American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo DepartmentThe Barakat Trust
"Gaza was a Greek port in Byzantine times called the port of Anthedon. The old city was built on a hill around 2km from the sea for security reasons. Gaza’s location is strategic, built at the confluence of Asia and Africa. It's on winter and summer transport routes."
Southern Palestine, Hebron, Beersheba and Gaza area. Gaza, central section (1950-1977) by Matson Photo ServiceThe Barakat Trust
It was a thriving town of mostly Greek immigrants. It had a 500-member city council and a thriving economy based in fishing and shipbuilding.
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. The Shrine of Seyid Hussein from S.E. (1943-04-01 - 1943-04-30) by Matson Photo ServiceThe Barakat Trust
There was a suburb for the aristocrats, who lived in lavishly-painted homes inspired by architecture from the Nabateans: an ancient nomadic Arab tribe.
al-Blakiyeh Port (Unknown) by UnknownThe Barakat Trust
Later, the name Anthedon became Tida or Theda. When the Byzantines conquered Gaza, they also used the port. As Arabic became standardized in the medieval period, it became known as El-Blakiyeh.
al-Blakiyeh Archaeological Remains (Unknown) by UnknownThe Barakat Trust
Excavations at a cemetery in El-Blakiyeh revealed that the port was mostly populated by Roman Christians from the 3rd to 5th century. In the tombs, archaeologists found an iron cross along with other offerings, like Byzantine coins, glass vases, and bronze fishing hooks.
Fisherman on Gaza coast (1936-1937) by John D. WhitingThe Barakat Trust
Now, there is very little trade in Gaza due to the increasingly strict travel measures on the Gaza Strip. Fishermen are afforded very limited access to the sea.
Mavi Marmara, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla (2010-05-22) by UnknownThe Barakat Trust
Many describe contemporary Gaza as an “open air prison.” Because of the poor conditions in Gaza, many have tried to escape via flotillas, leaving from the port on the Mediterranean. A flotilla is a formation of small warships.
In 2010, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was organized by the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish IHH. Intending to break the blockade, its six ships were eventually raided in an Israeli military operation.
Fishermen on Gaza coast with women strolling (1936-1937) by John D. WhitingThe Barakat Trust
Emotional Connection to the Sea
For Gazans, the Mediterranean Sea consistently represents a form of escape. Yousef Aljamal, a PhD student in Middle Eastern Studies, talks about his fond memories of playing by the sea.
Aust. [i.e., Australian] Comforts Fund carnival on Gaza Beach, with three standing (1940-1946) by Matson Photo ServiceThe Barakat Trust
Looking out at the sea evokes not only the desire to have the freedom to leave Gaza, but the memory of what Gaza once represented: a cultural epicenter deeply connected to the rest of the world.
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.