From Nebuchadnezzar and Vespasian, to St. George and Saladin

Lod's turbulent past stretches back to the beginnings of recorded history. First settled during the Neolithic period and already well established in the Bronze Age, Lod was first recorded on a list of Canaanite cities drawn up by the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III. Bible accounts say that Lod was founded by the tribe of Benjamin after the Israelite conquest of the land. Well-situated for trade and commerce, the town stood on the great caravan route between Egypt and Babylon, close to its intersection with the route that connected the ancient port of Jaffa to Jerusalem and the East. Destroyed by the Assyrians in the eighth century BCE, rebuilt during the next century and then abandoned after the destruction of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar's army, Lod was resettled by Jews returning with Zerubabel from exile in Babylon. The Greeks called the town Lydda - its name in the New Testament - and it became predominantly Jewish during Hasmonean times. In Roman times, after the death of Julius Caesar, the inhabitants of Lydda were sold into slavery by Cassius for failing to pay tribute, only to be freed later by Mark Antony. Subsequently the city was attacked by Cestius Gallus, occupied by Vespasian and then razed to the ground by the Romans during the Jewish revolt. Following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, Lod briefly became a seat of Jewish learning, but was abandoned by the religious schools in the second century CE when the city's "pagan influences" became too strong. During the Byzantine era, Lod became the worldwide center for Christian observances surrounding St. George, who, according to tradition, was born in the city, served as a Roman army tribune and was martyred during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. Following the burial of his remains in Lod, a shrine was erected over the grave, which became a destination for pilgrims. The shrine soon became a basilica, which was destroyed when the Arabs took Lod in the seventh century. Rebuilt by the Crusaders in 1099, the Church of St. George was again destroyed by Saladin and rebuilt in 1191 by the Crusaders under Richard Coeur de Lion, who later made St. George the patron saint of England. The church was sacked again in 1271 by the Mamluks, who quarried the church's stones to build an adjacent mosque dedicated to this same St. George, now an Islamic holy man known to Muslims as el-Chodr. A new church rose once again over the ruins of previous shrines, built by the Greek Orthodox community in 1870 - right next to the mosque. During Ottoman times, the now mostly Arab city of Lod settled into its new role of a sleepy cultural backwater, while becoming a locally admired producer of olive oil. The city was reawakened somewhat during the British Mandate, when Lod became a major center for transportation - first a railroad hub for both passengers and freight, with seven parallel tracks, and later, in 1937, the site of Mandate Palestine's international airport.