Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a 2,000-year-old Roman basilica complex in the Tel Ashkelon National Park, Israel.
“During the Roman period, the public life of Ashkelon revolved around its basilica (a Roman public building), where its citizens transacted business, met for social and legal matters, and held performances and religious ceremonies,” said Dr. Rachel Bar-Natan, Dr. Saar Ganor and Dr. Fredrico Kobrin, excavation directors from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
“The basilica was founded by Herod the Great, and one historical source suggests that his family came from the city of Ashkelon.”
“During the Roman Severan Dynasty, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, the building was renovated, marble architectural features were brought to the site and a small theater was added.”
“Herodian coins discovered in the bedding of the structure’s ancient floors show that it was built at the time of one of the greatest builders ever to have lived in the country.”
“The writings of the historian Josephus mention Herod’s construction in Ashkelon and list fountains, a bathhouse and colonnaded halls.”
“Today, based on the new archaeological evidence, we can understand the origins of the historical record.”
The ancient basilica was covered with a roof and divided into three parts — a central hall and two side halls
The hall was surrounded with rows of marble columns and capitals, which rose to an estimated height of 13 m (43 feet) and supported the building’s roof. The floor and walls were built of marble.
The marble was imported from Asia Minor in merchant ships that reached the shores of Ashkelon.
The archaeologists found dozens of column capitals with plant motifs, some bearing an eagle — the symbol of the Roman Empire. Pillars and heart-shaped capitals stood in the corners of the building.
“The basilica was devastated in the earthquake that struck the country in 363 CE,” they said.
“The effects of the seismic waves are clearly visible on the building’s floor, providing tangible evidence of the events of that year in Ashkelon. After its destruction, the building was abandoned.”
“During the Abbasid and Fatimid periods, the site of the basilica was transformed into an industrial area and several installations were built in it.”
“In one of these, marble pillars and capitals from the basilica were incorporated in secondary use in the buildings’ walls.”
“There is evidence from the Ottoman period that marble items were cut up for use as paving stones and some of the beautiful architectural features were taken for building construction.”
The IAA’s Conservation Department is conducting complex preservation and restoration work on the basilica and the odeon, led by Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority and generously funded by the Leon Levy Foundation.