Ruins of ancient Byzantine church discovered in Gaza

The remains of a 1,500-year-old church have been discovered in the Gaza strip, according to the Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry (PTAM).

A man walks past ancient ruins which archaeologists say may be part of a Byzantine church or cathedral dating from around 1,500 years ago, in Gaza CityReuters

Fifteen segments of the ancient building were unearthed over the weekend by construction workers digging foundations for a new shopping mall, PTAM told Reuters.

A 90cm foundation stone inscribed with the Greek symbol for "Christ" was found among the remains at the site in Palestine Square, Gaza city.

"Our first thought is that the site is a cathedral or a church from the Byzantine period," Jamal Abu Rida, head of the Antiquities Ministry, told Reuters.

The remains have been dated between 395 and late 600s AD.

"During that era, there was a great interest among the Byzantine rulers to build churches in the Gaza strip," said Abu Rida.

In the 4th and 5th centuries, before the Muslim conquest in 637 AD, a large number of churches were built in Gaza. It had been a busy, multicultural sea port during the Roman period, with Greeks, Romans, Jews, Egpytians and Persians in the city.

The ruins, which include segments of marble pillars ornately decorated with Corinthian capitals, were uncovered on Saturday. Progress might have to be halted if the excavations discover more pieces.

"Our mission is to preserve our Palestinian history before Islam and after Islam," said Abu Rida.

He admitted that PTAM lacks funding, and the ministry has historically been limited in its excavations due to lack of resources.

"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," he said.