Located on the Mediterranean seashore, 32 km north of the Egyptian border, Gaza City is considered one of the most ancient towns in the world. Strategically placed on the Mediterranean coastal route, ancient Gaza was a prosperous trade centre and a stop on the caravan route between Egypt and Syria.
Gaza was a major Philistine city in the early Iron Age, and the site of the Canaanite God of fertility, Dagon. Gaza City is mentioned a number of times in the Bible, especially as the place, where according to tradition, Samson brought down the Philistine temple. In 734 BC the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III captured Gaza and the city remained under Assyrian control until the middle of the seventh century BC. In the sixth century Gaza became an important royal fortress under the Babylonians. The city of Gaza flourished during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. It was mentioned by the ancient Greek writer Herodouts as Kadytis. In 332 BC, the city was captured by Alexander the Great after a long siege. During the Roman Period, Gaza became a major urban centre, with temples dedicated to Zeus, Aphropdite, Apollo and the major local deity Marnas. The city was expanded beyond the ancient settlement and the ancient port of Maiumas was established. During the Byzantine Period, the name of the city was changed to Constantia and a large church was built on the site of the temple of Marnas in the fifth century AD. The city was depicted on the Madab mosaic map from the sixth century as a large city with colonnaded streets and a large basilica in the centre. It was shown also on the mosaic floor of the church of St. Stephen at Umm Er-Rasas, from the eighth century. In 636, Gaza came under Islamic rule. It became famous as the burial place of Hashim, the grandfather of prophet Mohammed and as the birthplace of Al-Shafia. The church of John the Baptist was built on the site of the Eudoxiana. In 1187 the city was captured by Saladin and became part of the Ayyubid state. Gaza was a regional capital during the Mamluk period. In 1516 the city of Gaza fell to the Ottoman Empire and became the capital of the province of Palestine. It flourished during this period as a main trade centre and a station on the main trade route between Egypt, Palestine, and Arabia. Gaza was under British rule from 1918 to1948, and to the Egyptian rule between 1948 and 1967, when it fell under Israeli occupation in 1967. Following the transfer of authority to the Palestinians in 1995, Gaza was again under the control of its people.
Today, Gaza City is the economic centre for a region where citrus fruits and other crops are grown. The city is famous for its hand-woven carpets, wicker furniture, and pottery. Famous also for its fresh seafood, Gaza has numerous restaurants along the beach as well as public parks where visitors can enjoy the pleasant Mediterranean breeze.
The Great Mosque
Located in downtown Gaza at the end of Omar Mukhtar Street, the Great Mosque or Al-Umari Mosque features a beautiful minaret. It was originally a Norman church built by the Crusaders in the twelfth century. It is said to occupy the site of the first ancient temple of Marnas.
Located on Al-Wahda Street in downtown Gaza, this imposing stone building dates back to the Mamluk period. It is known as Qasr Al-Basha (The Pasha’s Palace) because Napoleon (referred to as the ‘Pasha’) spent a few nights here on his way through the town in 1799.
Saint Porphyrus Church
This fourth century church is where Saint Porphyrus died and was buried in 420 AD. It is located in the Gaza’s Old City and is still used by the Greek Orthodox Community.
Gaza’s oldest quarter, Al-Zaytun contains many beautiful old homes with impressive carved wooden doorways. A Catholic and a Protestant Church are also located in this quarter.
This quarter in the Old City that features the Abdulhamid Public Fountain. This fountain was built in the sixteenth century and renovated by the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid in 1893.
Sayyed Hashem Mosque
Located in the Al-Daraj Quarter, the mosque is one of the biggest and most beautiful in Gaza. The tomb of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandfather Hashem Bin Abdulmanaf, who died in Gaza during a trading voyage, is believed to be under the dome of the mosque.
Anthedon is the first known seaport of Gaza mentioned in Islamic literature along with Tida. The city was inhabited from 800 BC to 1100 AD, and witnessed a series of different cultures: Neo-Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic (Umayyad, Abbasid, Tulunid, and Fatimid).
One km south of the seaport of Anthedon is the ancient harbour of Maiumas, which was once identified as the harbour of Gaza. It has been continuously populated and during the Roman period became a flourishing, well-developed coastal town. Maiumas, which is mentioned only in late classical sources, dates back to an earlier period when Gaza’s trade with Greece began. Maiumas comes from an Egyptian word meaning ‘maritime place.’
The archaeological site of ancient Anthedon has not been precisely identified. There are several heaps of ruins in various neighbourhoods of Gaza City, which have been considered to be the old harbour. However, the site of Anthedon is probably a hill located to the north of Gaza known to the locals as Tida. In the Middle Ages, Anthedon was known as Tida or Taida.
The present site consists of the ruins of a Roman temple and a section of a wall, as well as Roman artisan quarters and a series of villas. Mosaic floors, warehouses, and fortified structures were also found in the area. The site’s archaeological remains date from the late Iron Age, as well as from the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods. The excavated site is about five acres. It consists of a well-preserved 65-metre mud brick wall, which once surrounded the old commercial city centre. The massive walls stretch 30 metres eastwards at the extraordinary height of 8 m and thickness of 6 m.
Tell Um Amer
The first settlement on this site, Tell Umm Amer, was established during the Roman era in Wadi Gaza close to the seashore. It appears on the Madaba map under the name Tabatha and was inhabited from the Byzantine to the early Islamic period (400 to 670 AD). Tell Umm Amer was the birthplace of Saint Hilarion, who had received an excellent education in Alexandria, and had gone to Antonius in the desert for further instruction. He founded a monastery in the third century, and is considered as the founder of monastic life in Palestine. The monastery was destroyed in 614 AD.
The site contains the ruins of the monastery of Saint Hilarion, (born in 291 AD. It consists of two churches, a burial site, a baptism hall, a public cemetery, an audience hall, and several dining rooms. The monastery had many facilities, including water cisterns, clay ovens and drainage channels. Its floors were made of limestone, marble tiles, and coloured mosaics depicting plant and animal scenes. The floors also include a Greek inscription decorated with circular motifs. In addition, the monastery was equipped with large baths that could adequately serve the pilgrims and merchants travelling from Egypt to the Fertile Crescent through Via Maris.
Located 25 km south of Gaza City, Khan Yunis is a market town for the agricultural produce from local villages. It features a fortress built in the thirteenth century as a garrison for soldiers guarding pilgrims on their journey from Jerusalem to Mecca. The weekly market in the town centre is a fascinating picture of traditional life.
Located on the southern tip of Gaza, Rafah is a beach town with sand dunes and date palms. This Canaanite town was called Rafia by the Greeks and the Romans, and some ancient mosques and archaeological sites, as well as a mosaic floor have been found there.
Well known for its beaches and palm trees, recent excavations of this southern Gaza town uncovered a cemetery dating back to the late Bronze Age, along with pottery, tombs, bronze pots, and a mosaic floor. Deir Al-Balah is also home to a monastery that was built by Saint Hilarion, (born in 291 AD).
This wadi is distinct for its twists and turns. It has eight major curves in its path across the Gaza Strip. Its width varies, with its widest point near its mouth where it reaches about 100 m. Six smaller rivers feed into the main valley, the most important of which are Wadi Abu Qatroun to the north and Wadi Ghalbeh to the south.
The location of the Gaza Strip at the corner of the land bridge connecting the continents of Africa and Eurasia, makes it a bottleneck for migratory birds. Thousands of ducks, herons, storks, cranes, flamingos, waders, raptors, quails, passerines, and other birds have been reported to pass through Wadi Gaza. The most common endemic bird is the Palestinian sunbird (Nectarinia osea), which is found throughout the year at the Gaza Strip.
Studies show that there is an urgent need to protect the Wadi Gaza as a wildlife habitat. The threats to the area are quite severe. Wadi Gaza faces many environmental problems. One of the most pressing problems is that it is used to collect sewage from refugee camps and as a solid waste dumping site.