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Archeologists Uncover Roman Temple Underneath Church

August 12, 2008

Ruins of a Roman temple from the second century CE have recently been unearthed beneath the foundations of a church, Israeli archaeologists said.

The building was found during an excavation at Zippori, the capital of Galilee during the Roman period, indicating a significant pagan population during the time.

The site was discovered during a dig led by Professor Zeev Weiss from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The temple walls were plundered in ancient times and little more than its foundations now remain.

The building is located south of the “decumanus” (colonnaded street) which ran east to west through the town and served as the main thoroughfare in Roman and Byzantine times.

Researchers say the temple was located within a walled courtyard and once had a decorated facade.

No evidence remains of rituals once carried out at the site, but some Roman coins minted in Diocaesarea (Zippori), depict a temple to Zeus and Tyche.

The excavation team uncovered a large church during previous seasons that was built over the temple during the Byzantine period.

Researchers hope the new discovery will shed light on religious life in the city.

Professor Weiss and his colleagues partially excavated a monumental building north of the decumanus over the past summer. They’re still unsure of what kind of role it played, although its nature and size indicate that it served an important role.

A courtyard with a well-preserved stone pavement of rectangular slabs was uncovered in the center of the building.

The archaeologists found a pile of columns and capitals that had collapsed, likely the result of an earthquake. These showed traces of decorative work applied in stucco, while two of the rooms in the building were decorated with colorful, geometrical mosaics.

Zippori was a thriving urban centre in Roman and Byzantine times.

Archaeological digs in the area first began in 1930 by an American team.

Since 1990, excavations mostly carried out by the Hebrew University, have revealed a well-planned city that hosted a basilical hall, bathhouses, a theatre, two churches, and a synagogue.

More than 40 mosaics have been found dating from the 3rd to 5th Centuries AD, making it one of the most important for mosaics in the eastern Roman empire.

Image Caption: View of the remnants of the podium, the temple’s façade and some steps. The long wall in the background belongs to the church whose foundations were built on the remains of the temple. Credit: Photo: Gaby Laron

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