Hebrew University archaeologists reveal additional sections of ancient synagogue in Albania

10/19/04

Excavations carried out this fall at an ancient synagogue in Albania have uncovered additional sections of the impressive structure. The excavations, now in their second season, are being conducted under the auspices of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Albanian Academy of Sciences.

The synagogue, which dates from the 5th or 6th century C.E., is located in the city of Saranda, a coastal city in Albania, opposite the Greek island of Corfu. The synagogue underwent various periods of use, including its conversion into a church at its last stage, prior to being abandoned.

Initial excavations at the site were conducted some 20 years ago when Albania was under tight Communist rule. At that time that the building was identified as a church.

Working in the past few weeks at the site, in the framework of the joint expedition, have been Professors Gideon Foerster and Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, together with Albanian archaeologists Kosta Lako and Etleva Nalbani. Also working this year on the project was a French expert on mosaics, Marie-Pat Raynaud.

This year the archaeologists concentrated on revealing additional rooms adjoining the elongated hall whose mosaic floors depict such features as a seven-branched candelabrum (menorah) flanked by a citron (etrog) and a ram's horn (shofar), symbols associated with Jewish holidays. The newly exposed rooms (which in fact were an extension of elongated hall) contain more of the decorative mosaic paving, including representations of fish, a popular theme in the ancient world. The joint Albanian-Hebrew University delegation intends to return soon to the site to continue uncovering the basilica section of the synagogue, which today lies under a main street in Saranda. The construction of the basilica, close to the elongated hall, was the last major development of the synagogue.

It should be noted that in a Jewish cemetery in the southern Italian town of Venosa there is a tombstone dating from 521 C.E. bearing the name of Augusta, daughter of Yishai, head of the Jewish community of Anchiasmon (Onchismus), the ancient name for Saranda. Saranda at that time was located in the Epirus area in Greece.

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