Byzantine era wine press excavated from under the streets of Jaffa

Excavation believed to be part of wine press or for other fruit-based alcohol from the fertile fields of Jaffa

By Yori Yalon & Israel Hayom Staff


A Byzantine winepress was recently uncovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority in an archaeological dig in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv. The excavation is taking place under Rabbi Hai Gaon Street near the city’s central artery, Jerusalem Boulevard, and provides a rare glimpse into the town’s past.

Under the bustling streets of Jaffa, remnants of its past. – Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

The excavations were conducted before the start of a massive project to modernize city infrastructure for tourist and residential purposes. The project is being carried out on behalf of the Tel Aviv Municipality as part of the Magen Avraham Compound project, which aims to modernize underground infrastructure, roads and sidewalks in a small neighborhood just outside Jaffa’s famous Flea Market near the Old City.

The type of facility that was discovered usually contains wine presses, though it is also possible the presses were used to produce alcoholic beverages from other fruits grown in the region. Jaffa has a rich and diverse agricultural tradition. Its fertile fields are mentioned in ancient Egyptian documents and this renown continued with Jaffa’s citrus orchards in the Ottoman period.

According to Dr. Yoav Arbel, director of the excavations for the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is the first important building from the Byzantine period to be uncovered in this part of the city. The fact that the installation is located relatively far from Tel Jaffa [the ancient architectural mound on which the city was built] adds a significant dimension to our knowledge of the extent of lands that were cultivated in the region in this period.”

Arbel believes the section discovered is a small part of the installation, and other elements are likely to be uncovered through excavations on neighboring streets, slated to take place later this year.

The installation likely dates to the second half of the Byzantine period (6th and early 7th century C.E.), and is divided into surfaces paved with white mosaic tiles. The mosaic tiles themselves are relatively impermeable, and were often used in presses where liquids were extracted. Each unit was connected to a plastered collection vat. Pressing was done over the mosaic surfaces and the liquid was subsequently drained into the vats.

Upon completion of the excavation, the installation was covered over, and new infrastructures placed over it without damaging it, enabling the continued work on the infrastructure without compromising the preservation of antiquities for future generations.

The site has already been declared an official antiquities site. As with many previously discovered antiquities, this project attempts to balance the importance of finding and preserving antiquities on the one hand, and developing the city on the other.

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