Israeli archaeologists unearthed one of the biggest basilica, which is a 1,500-year-old church dating back to the Byzantine era in the south of the country, a leading archaeologist told Xinhua on Wednesday.
The structure was unearthed during a salvage excavation near Kiryat Gat in southern Israel. The church's floor is covered with mosaics and inscriptions in Greek, which researchers believe are the names of the donors.
"It's definitely the biggest church from that period in this area, 25 meters long and 15 meters wide. The floor of the whole structure is covered by beautiful mosaics," Daniel Varga, the leading archaeologist on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, told Xinhua.
Archaeologists unearthed the church while conducting a salvage excavation to see if there were any archaeological remains before expanding construction in this area. However, the construction will give way to the significant church, since it was built on a small hill.
"The neighborhood was planned to be built around the hill, so there will be no need to touch the church, that will remain as is, and will become a tourist attraction," Vargas said.
Near the basilica, archaeologists have also discovered a pottery workshop, mainly for the production of jars, that yielded numerous finds, including amphorae, cooking pots, kraters, bowls and different kinds of oil lamps. Glass vessels typical of the Byzantine period were also discovered at the site, indicating a rich and flourishing local culture.
"The area is known to have been a big Byzantine era settlement and the size of the church indicates that probably this settlement was a religious center that served the surrounding villages," Vargas said.
In order to preserve the mosaics, archaeologists will remove it from the basilica's floors and restore them to exhibit in a local museum. The church will also be restored and will be permanently open to visitors.