Since Hamas launched a series of brutal terror attacks on Israel on October 7, the Palestinian enclave of Gaza has been pounded by nearly continuous airstrikes.
The conflict, which has already claimed the lives of 1,400 Israelis and 3,700 Palestinians, has also destroyed countless homes and displaced 600,000 people.
Alongside the enormous damage to the Palestinian enclave’s infrastructure, the bombardment also threatens to wipe out a treasure trove of historical, cultural, and archaeological sites.
These sites include the oldest Christian church in Palestine, a vast Roman burial site, and the ancient ruins of a fourth century monastery.
Many of these sites are in the northern evacuation zone, from which the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has instructed civilians to flee in preparation for a full-scale assault – and some have already been damaged by conflict.
This map shows the location of nine archaeological and cultural sites in Gaza, the vast majority are located in or near the evacuation zone where fighting is likely to be heaviest
READ MORE: Gaza suffers more destruction as Greek Orthodox church hit in strike killing several people as they sheltered inside
Jean-Baptiste Humbert, a French archaeologist who has worked in Palestine for decades, told MailOnline he was ‘ready to attend to a total destruction of the Gaza cultural heritage.’
Although Professor Humbert maintains that no one is intentionally destroying historical sites, he says that the conditions in Palestine have led to an inevitable loss of the region’s cultural heritage.
‘Gaza society is sensitive to its heritage, but the crushing by the occupying forces over the last fifty years has meant that vital priorities such as feeding, caring for and educating the population have been pushed cultural heritage aside as a luxury for affluent countries,’ Professor Humbert said.
As Professor Humbert points out, population growth in the already densely populated region has meant that houses and municipal buildings are frequently built over archaeological sites.
A UNESCO spokesperson told MailOnline that the body already had ‘very serious concerns’ about the conservation of several historic sites in Gaza due to a lack of public policy for their protection.
‘All Israeli and Palestinian heritage sites are currently at risk of damage. UNESCO is of course deeply concerned about the adverse impact this conflict could have on cultural heritage both in Palestine and Israel,’ they said.
UNESCO also points out that the high number of rocket strikes against both Gaza and Israel puts archaeological sites across the region at high risk of damage.
This map of Professor Humbert’s findings shows how historical sites like this Roman settlement are often built over by modern housing
The Church of Saint Porphyrius
The oldest Christian Church in Gaza, the Church of Saint Porphyrius has stood in the Zaytun quarter of the city since the 1150s.
Built by Crusaders, the Greek Orthodox church takes its name from the 5th-century bishop of Gaza whose tomb is located in the northeastern corner.
The church offered services and sheltered members of all faiths during conflicts, however, it has now been seriously damaged in a missile strike which killed a ‘large number of people.
This week, an air strike struck the church, damaging the facade and causing an adjacent building to collapse.
A number of civilians who had been sheltering in the church have been killed according to the Palestinian interior ministry.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem said targeting the church ‘constitutes a war crime’.
The Church of St Porphyrius is Gaza’s oldest Christian church and still offers a place of shelter and worship for the people who live in the Palestinian enclave
As a Greek Orthodox church the building has been used for almost 1,000 years and still conducts services
A missile struck the church this Friday, killing several people sheltering inside and collapsing a neighboring building
Ancient history of Gaza
The history of Gaza stretches back around 4,000 years to the original Canaanite settlement.
During this time the area has been ruled, destroyed, conquered, and repopulated by armies from various empires and dynasties.
In 730 BCE Gaza became part of the Assyrian Empire until the city was besieged by Alexander the Great in 32 BCE.
After changing between Egyptian and Syrian control for hundreds of years, the Romans took control in 63 CE.
After Roman rule the city was again invaded by the Crusaders in 1100 CE before passing into the control of the Mamluk dynasty in the late 1300s.
Tell Umm Amer (Monastery of St Hilarion)
Hidden among the coastal dunes six miles (10km) south of Gaza City, the remains of Tel Umm Amer, or the Monastery of St Hilarion, span four centuries from the late Roman Empire to the Umayyad Period.
The first buildings on the site were founded in 400 CE, over 1,600 years ago, and it was one of the largest Christian Monasteries in the Middle East.
Dedicated to St Hilarion, a native Gazan and the father of Palestinian monasticism, the sprawling site contains five successive churches, baths and sanctuary complexes, intricate geometric mosaics, and a vast crypt.
At its height, the monastery would have served the pilgrims and merchants crossing the holy land from Egypt into modern-day Lebanon and Syria, who stopped to rest and enjoy the Roman-style baths.
However, the monastery was damaged in the seventh century by an earthquake and was abandoned until 1999 when local archaeologists began to excavate the ruins.
The site had been submitted to UNESCO’s tentative World Heritage list in 2012 due to its cultural, religious, and historical importance.
A UNESCO representative told the MailOnline that the organisation was extremely concerned about the site’s conservation, even prior Hamas’ attacks on Israel.
Tell Umm Amer, or the monastery of St Hilarion, was once one of the largest monasteries in the entire Middle East
An important crossroads between Egypt and Mesopotamia, the monastery was a key stop-over for merchants and pilgrims who came to rest and relax in the bath complex
Archeologists have uncovered large monasteries, however UNESCO says it is extremely concerned about the sites conservation
Located in Khan Younis, Southern Gaza, Qalaat Barquq is a 14th-century fort constructed during the rule of the Mamluk Sultan Barquq.
The fort was built during a time of massive upheaval in the region as instability within the elite and the threat of Mongol invasion threatened to overturn the Sultan’s hold on power.
Sultan Barquq himself was originally a slave, sold to a bathhouse in Crimea he tried to escape before being captured by Bulgarian bandits and sold to Egypt.
Rising through the ranks of the Mamluk elite as a court advisor, Barquq was able to kill the previous sultan and seize power for himself.
This fort was used by merchants travelling between Damascus and Cairo and was heavily guarded at all times.
Today, the front facade of the fort and one of the towers survives, while most of the structure has been converted into living spaces and shops.
Qalaat Barquq is a 13th-century fort built by the Sultan Barquq to defend himself against rebellions and the Mongol armies that threatened to overthrow him
The many names of Qasr el-Basha are a testament to its long history and the decades of international activity in Gaza.
Known as Pasha’s Palace, Radwan Castle, or Napoleon’s Fort this 13th-century building has served as a seat of power for everyone from the Ottomans to the British.
Built by Sultan Zahir Baibars, the fort initially served as a defence against the Crusaders and invading Mongol armies still warring in the region.
In the 1600s the fort was taken over and expanded by the Ottoman Empire during the Radwan dynasty, who later became the ‘pashas’ of Gaza.
It was the fort’s defensive prowess that probably attracted Napoleon Bonaparte who spent three days there during 1799, earning its nickname ‘Napoleon’s Fort’.
During the modern period, the building was used as a police station by the British Mandate of Palestine before being converted into a girls’ school.
Currently, the fort is used as a cultural museum, having been converted with the help of the United Nations Development Fund.
Due to tight border controls, artifacts found in Gaza cannot easily leave the country meaning that Qasr el-Basha has become an important repository for archaeological finds made in the Gaza Strip.
Qasr el-Basha was originally constructed in the 13th century as a defense against the Crusaders
It is now a cultural museum housing several important artifacts found in archaeological sites in Gaza
The Great Mosque of Gaza, the city’s oldest and largest Mosque, was built in the Jabaliya area over 700 years ago.
The Omari mosque still serves an important function in the community, offering a place of worship for some 1,000 Gazans.
However, the structure was badly damaged during the brief 2014 incursion into Gaza by Israeli forces.
As part of Operation Defensive Edge, the mosque was hit by an airstrike which flattened a modern wing and destroyed much of the roof.
However, the 13th-century minaret, believed to be the oldest part of the structure, survived the conflict and still stands today.
Built over 700 years ago the al-Omari Mosque is Gaza’s biggest and oldest, making it an important site of religious and cultural significance.
The Mosque was badly damaged by an airstrike in 2014 as Israeli troops entered Gaza to fight Hamas terrorists
Al Ghussein House
The Al Ghussein House is a historical building dating from the late Ottoman period and was the home of the English consul during the British Mandate.
Built by the wealthy Al-Ghussein family in the 18th century, the house is one of many historical buildings in Gaza which fell into disrepair and decay due to the ongoing crisis.
Despite its importance, the building was left abandoned a decade ago until renovations began in 2020 to restore its grandeur and convert it into a cultural hub.
The house now serves the local community as a cultural centre promoting the arts, music, and film.
Having once fallen into disrepair, the former home of the British envoy is now a thriving community centre celebrating art and music
Hammam al Sammara
In the Turkish-style baths of Hammam al-Sammara, meaning the Samaritan bathhouse, locals still come to enjoy the relaxing heat in the same way as they have been for centuries.
Built by the Samaritans, an ancient offshoot of Judaism, records of renovations date the baths back to at least 1320 CE.
Marble tiles and stained glass decorate the domed rooms where you can find hot and cold baths 10 feet (three metres) beneath the busy streets.
The site has fallen in and out of repair over the last 700 years but it currently has been restored and is now the only active traditional bath house in Gaza.
At the Hammam al Sammara Gazan’s can enjoy a moment of peace and tranquility among the ancient steam rooms and baths
For over 700 years locals have been coming here to sweat away their worries on the marble slabs 10ft beneath the streets
Ard-al-Moharbeen Roman Necropolis
In July, archaeologists were amazed to make the ‘unprecedented’ discovery of a Roman necropolis containing at least 130 tombs.
The project, which was partly funded by the British Council to encourage young Palestinians to engage with their cultural heritage, excavated tombs which date back between 200 BCE and 200 CE.
Construction crews initially discovered the site, which is over 43,000 square feet, while working on a housing project near the Jabalia refugee camp last year.
Archaeologists also found two lead coffins, one intricately decorated with grape harvest motifs and the other featuring dolphins swimming through water.
The rarity of lead tombs suggests that members of the Roman elite were buried here, this could mean that the tomb indicates the centre of an ancient Roman city.
Some of the skeletons were discovered with coins placed in their mouths, a practice believed to grant them safe passage through the afterlife.
The tombs were found less than a mile from the ancient metropolis of Anthedon Blakhiyeh, a Mediterranean port city believed to have been inhabited between 800 BCE and 1100 CE by a succession of ancient societies.
Last year, an investigation by Forensic Architecture using Professor Humbert’s research found that Israeli bombing had placed the site under severe threat of destruction.
The ‘unprecedented’ discovery of Gaza’s largest necropolis revealed over 130 Roman tombs less than a mile from the ancient Mediterranean port city of Anthedon Blakhiyeh
Archaeologists uncovered lead coffins decorated with grapes and swimming dolphins, this suggests that the elite of Roman society were buried here
However, reports suggest the ancient Roman city beneath Gaza is at extreme risk of destruction due to building works and bombardment
Tel Rafah Archaeological site
On Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, a large archaeological site spans over an ancient settlement dating back to the Canaanite era.
Excavations at Tel Rafa have uncovered coins, bots, and glass made as far back as 1400 BCE.
Roman-era coins and structures have also been discovered by researchers working in the area.
However, with limited resources and a little governmental support the sites in Rafa have been little explored and much lies excavated.
Archaeologists in Gaza have to work with little funding and government support as cultural preservation remains a low priority for the Palestinian authorities
WHAT DOES BIBLICAL TRADITION TELL US ABOUT THE PHILISTINES?
The Philistines are referred to as the descendants of the Casluchim in Genesis 10:14 and Exodus 13:17.
Known as a seafaring nation, the Philistines were a non-Semitic people who left Crete and arrived in Canaan at the beginning of the 12th century BC.
The Philistines inhabited the Mediterranean coast of Canaan during the period of the Book of Judges.
They founded five principalities – Gaza, Asheklon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath.
Their highly-developed weapons brought a great threat to the Israelites.
During the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites purposely took a southern route to circumvent them.
The Philistines often battled against the Israelites. The first King of Israel, Saul, temporarily weakened them.
Later, a little-known shepherd by the name of David – later second King of Israel – defeated them after his battle with the large Philistine by the name of Goliath.
The Philistines were reduced to mainly commercial ventures rather than military ventures.
Throughout the Books of Kings, different Jewish leaders fought the nation until the Assyrians completely defeated them.
The Philistines then assimilated into the surrounding cultures and ceased to exist as a separate nation.
The name Palestine originates from the Philistine inhabitance of the land of Judea.
After the Romans conquered the region in the second century AD, the Romans used the term Palestinia to refer to the region in an attempt to minimize Jewish attachment to the land.
The Arabic use of the term Filastin is from this Latin root.