New archeological exhibition tells a story of an ancient city in Israel

A mikva was dating from the 1st century AD to the 7th century CE, indicating the existence of a Jewish settlement during the Roman period between the 1st-3rd centuries BCE.

December 26, 2017 16:13
2 minute read.
Masks of Dionysus and Ariadne uncovered at the Castra site.

Masks of Dionysus and Ariadne uncovered at the Castra site.. (photo credit: CLARA AMIT/IAA)


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The 1,500-year-old city of Castra, located on the slopes of Mount Carmel, south of Haifa, was discovered during excavations carried out by the Antiquities Authority in the 1990s.

There, archeologists unearthed a large and prosperous Christian city from the Byzantine period (between the 4th and mid-6th centuries CE), with remains including large churches, affluent homes, workshops and a variety of industrial facilities.

The excavations revealed that economic activity in the city revolved around the production and trade of oil and wine, as evidenced by an abundance of elaborate olive and grape presses, as well as thousands of jar fragments used to store the products.

Additionally, a mikve (ritual bath) was found next to a cemetery dating from the 1st to the 7th centuries CE, indicating the existence of a Jewish settlement during the Roman period between the 1st and 3rd centuries BCE.

Still, researchers found that the character of the city during this period was primarily pagan.

To share their findings and research with the public, the authority, in coordination with the Youth Hostel Association, opened an exhibit at Haifa Hostel retelling the story of the ancient city of Castra through archeological findings.

“The exhibition tells the story of Castra, and completes the visit at the nearby archeological site,” exhibit curator Noit Popovitz said Tuesday. “It focuses on the story of the city during these periods, and attests to the cultural and economic wealth of Castra in antiquity.”

“Among other things,” Popovitz continued, “items are presented that provide a glimpse into the daily life of the local residents: cooking pots, tableware, jewelry, candles and coins.”

Of particular interest, Popovitz noted, are the elaborate burial offerings unearthed in the cemetery, including a “magic mirror” to ward off evil, well-preserved glass vessels, jewelry, a colorful mosaic floor, and stone items from various churches.

An ancient limestone 'magic mirror' to ward off the evil eye.

“One of the interesting items on display is a replica of a pair of clay masks discovered in the cemetery of Castra,” the curator said.

“One mask, adorned with wigs, depicts Dionysus, the god of wine, nature, fertility and growth; the second mask apparently depicts Ariadne, Dionysus’s wife, identified as the goddess of joy, sadness and marriage. The two figures are connected to the world of the dead, and therefore were part of the [burial] offerings.”

Ofer Shapira, deputy director- general of Tourism and Education, said the exhibit is the first in a planned series intended to engage youth, families and tourists.

“The exhibitions will allow the public to be exposed to the remains of the past, to recognize the cultural heritage of the Land of Israel, and to create a connection between the past and the present for the sake of the future,” said Shapira.

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