Today the largest city in the Palestinian Territories, Gaza City was founded some 5000 years ago (which makes it one of the oldest cities in the world). The name is thought to be derived from the Canaanite word for “stronghold.”

Gaza is mentioned in Egyptian sources from the 15th century BCE onwards. After conquering it in the 12th century BCE, the Philistines included the city in their pentapolis (along with Ashdod, Gath, Ekron and Ashkelon) and built The Temple of Dagon, which was destroyed by Samson.

During the following centuries Gaza was ruled by the Kingdom of Israel, Assyrians, the Persian Empire, Greeks and Hasmoneans. In the era of the Roman Empire, Gaza became a truly multicultural city populated by Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Jews, Nabateans, Bedouins, Persians and others. The city senate consisted of as many as 500 members.

In the early days of Christianity, pagan worship continued to be widely practiced in the region. The first church in Gaza was built only in 406 CE on the ruins of a pagan temple, while some of the pillars were taken from a 3rd century synagogue.

The conquest of Palestine by the Muslims started in Gaza. The Cathedral of John the Baptist was transformed into the celebrated Great Mosque of Gaza, and the official language became Arabic.

During the Crusader reign a small castle was built by Baldwin III on the hilltop of Gaza, and the Great Mosque became a church again: the Cathedral of Saint John.

In 1260 Mamluks invaded the area and remained for almost 300 years. Towards the end of their rule, the city was the third largest Jewish settlement in Palestine, after Safed and Jerusalem.

Gaza had its ups and downs (depending on the local governor) when it was part of the Ottoman Empire between 1516 and 1917, when Allenby defeated the Turks in World War I. Several years later Gaza was included in the British Mandate for Palestine.

The Gaza Strip was supposed to be included in the Arab state according to the UN Plan for the Partition of Palestine, but after the 1948 Israeli-Arab war it was occupied by Egypt and after the Six-Day War in 1967 by Israel.

The Palestinian National Authority with Yasser Arafat as its chairman replaced Israel in civilian administration of the Gaza Strip in 1994. Gaza City, Tel-Aviv and Barcelona became twin cities in 1998. In 2005 Israel withdrew its settlements and the army from Gaza, but retained control over its airspace and sea waters. Today the Strip is ruled by a government which split from the PNA during the 2007 clashes between rival Palestinian factions.

Among the historic sites of the Old City of Gaza are the Church of Saint Porphyrius, the Samarian Bathhouse and the seven city gates. The Great Mosque of Gaza is the major ancient building.

Although recent news does not make Gaza an attractive tourist site, we would like to hope that lasting peace will be achieved in the foreseeable future, and Gaza will receive the tourists’ attention it truly deserves.

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