Gaza - Culture

 

            

Gaza Strip is mostly flat and large areas are sandy, often continuing from the beaches, which run along the entire coast. Most of Gaza is governed by the Palestinian National Authority and is the core territory of the new state, while areas of fertile agricultural land are administered by Israel. Gaza's borders are still under Israeli control.

The population is about 750,000, of which 300,000 are indigenous, the rest refugees. The numbers of Israeli settlers (illegal inhabitants) are 4,500, all under the protection of the Israeli military. The main city of the strip is Gaza from which the strip has its name. The majority of the population are Muslims while there is group of Christians as well.

The economical base of Gaza Strip is highly dependent on Israel, where many Gazans find their everyday job. About 35% of Gaza's GNP is from wages earned in Israel. Israel is also a major trading partner and many Gazan agricultural products are exported from Israel as Israeli products. Little has been achieved in recent years to change the economy of Gaza. The coastline is 40 km, the border to Egypt (which is in practice cut off by an Israeli corridor parallel to the border line) is 11 km. The width of Gaza is at its minimum 6 km and at its maximum 14 km. Annual rainfall seldom exceeds 400 mm and arable land is a mere 13%, of which much is in the hands of Israeli settlers.

Gaza is considered to be one of the most ancient and historical towns in the world. It is an Arab Cannaanite town gifted with a location, which has been targeted by invaders for many centuries. The strategic significance of Gaza is no less important than its trading significance. This is due to the fact that most of the important trading routes in the ancient world led to Gaza, where goods from the south east of Asia and the Arab Peninsula such as spices, incense, rosemary and others were exported to all cities of the Mediterranean Sea.

Until the 18th century, the city was fortified with walls and gates leading to seven towns. These gates were given the names of those towns; Balakhiya Gate, Minas Gate, Sea Gate, Ashquelon Gate, Hebron Gate, Monter Gate and Daroum Gate.

Al-Ostakhri, a historian, said that Gaza is the last city in Palestine close to the Egyptian desert. Napoleon said that the city is the front garrison of Africa and the gate of Asia. 

Gaza has a large number of archaeological sites, which date back to different periods from the Cannaanite to the Ottoman period. Aside from all of this, Gaza has one of the most beautiful beaches and extremely friendly locals. Exploring Gaza can leave a profound impact on the visitor.

The recently opened Gaza Airport offers scheduled flights to nearby countries. Direct air travel is also available through Lod Airport.

Jordan and Egypt have open borders with Palestine. 

By sea, Palestine can only be reached through ferries from Haifa, Israel. There are regular ferries to/from Haifia, Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt.

Handicrafts

Cross-stitch embroidery is an ancient art form in Palestine. Using natural homemade materials, women artistically embroider dresses, jackets, vests, cushions, tablecloths, and much more. Jerusalem pottery is another art in Palestine. Ceramic ware decorated with geometric patterns, the stained glass made into crystal wine, and champagne glasses are very popular. Religious ornaments, handmade made from olive wood and mother-of-pearl with a painstaking attention to detail, are especially attractive. Palestine's world- renowned olive wood artefacts are made from the local olive trees. Olive trees in Palestine are not only found in abundance but some date back to the times of Jesus. Exquisite olive wood statues, boxes, crosses, and other artefacts can be found at the numerous souvenir shops in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Accommodation

Most major Palestinian cities and towns offer a variety of conveniently located places to stay, including hotels, hospices and bed & breakfast and Bedoin Villages. Located in Christian convents, hospices offer the same facilities and prices as hotels. B&B is inexpensive and offers the visitor a unique opportunity to become acquainted with Palestinian family life.

Local Cuisine

Palestinian cuisine is very popular among visitors. Diners are offered an appetizing a s s o r t m e n t o f h o r s - d'oeuvres, known as mezze. Humus and baba ghanouj, widely known in Europe and the United States are made to perfection in Palestine. Main courses include a savoury collection of meat, poultry, seafood, and vegetable dishes. Palestine is also renowned f o r i t s s u c c u l e n t s w e e t pastries.

Climate

There are four seasons in Palestine. Winter is mildly cold and rainy while summer is usually hot and dry. Autumn is pleasant and spring is beautiful with the wide array of wild flowers and blooming tress. Average temperatures in Palestine range from 9-18 C in winter and 26-30 C in summer. Regardless of the season, visitors are advised to wear modest dress especially when visiting holy sites.

Communication

International calls can be made from domestic telephones, including public pay phones. Fax and E-mail services are available.

Currency

In the absence of a Palestinian monetary unit, the New Israeli Shekel remains in use. All major credit cards and travellers cheques are accepted. Foreign currencies can easily be exchanged at any bank or money exchange shop.

Economy

Palestine has a developing economy in tourism and agriculture and this generates the country’s main economic income. With seven agro climatic zones with at least 20 different soils, nearly 60 agricultural crops are grown in Palestine. Industry and trade are still small-scale, largely due to Israeli restrictions.

Language

Arabic is the official language in Palestine. English is widely spoken, while Italian, French, Spanish and German are spoken to a lesser extent.

Transportation

Car rental companies in major Palestinian cities provide self-driven cars at reasonable prices. Taxis are both comfortable and widely available. However, since taxis don’t operate on meters, it is best to agree on the price before setting off. Shared taxis operating on regular lines, called Service, are also widely used.

Local time

Palestinian time is GMT +2 hours in winter and GMT +3 hours in summer.

Shopping

Shopping in Palestine is an enjoyable experience, with customers and merchants often haggling over prices. The country’s main streets and old markets are filled with shops selling local and imported items. Especially appealing to tourists are numerous shops selling exotic hand-made items, aromatic Middle Eastern spices, jewellery, tasty oriental sweets and much more.

Working Hours

Government offices open from 8:00a.m. – 2:30p.m. Banks open from 8:00a.m. – 12:30p.m., with some banks reopening again from 3:00 – 5:00p.m. Most shops open from around 8:00a.m. Until around 7:00 p.m. Muslim-owned shops usually close on Friday while the Christian-owned on Sunday. The official weekend is Friday.

Al Omari Great Mosque

Located in downtown Gaza at the end of Omar Mukhtar Street, al-Umari mosque with its beautiful minaret used to be a Norman church built by the Crusaders in the 12th century. It is said to occupy the site of the first ancient temple of Marnas.

Al Qissariya Market 

The structure of Qissariya, which is adjacent to the southern wall of the Al Omari Great Mosque, dates back to the Mamluk period. It is a pointed roofed road with vaults. The small shops on both sides are hooded with cross vaults. It is called the Gold market due to gold trading there. 

Qassr Al Basha

A two storey building that goes back to the Mamluk period. It was the headquarter of the Deputy of Gaza during the Mamluk and the Ottoman periods. There are links to the Redhwan family, who owned the premises at the beginning of the Ottoman period, and it was used as a police station during the British mandate.

Napoleon spent three nights there during his campaign against Egypt and Syria in 1799. This is why it is sometimes called “Napoleon’s Citadel”. The Castle is characterized by the accuracy, strength and beauty of its facades, which are decorated with different patterns such as the emblem of Al Thaher Babers (a sculpture of two facing lions) in addition to geometrical patterns and unique archaeological elements such as domes, fan and cross vaults.

The castle was provided with means of defence such as arrow slits; narrow openings from the outside expanding inside for flexible use of cannons

Sultan Abdulhamid Public Fountain

There were lots of public fountains during the Ottoman period funded with charitable donations. They were established to meet people’s need for water. There were about 200 of them in Gaza during that period as they were cheap compared to other constructions.

Behram Bin Mustafa Basha established this fountain in the 16th century. It was renovated during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid in 1893 AD. It is a recess with a pointed arch having two stone seats on both sides and pipes to bring water out for the people to drink.

El Sayyed Hashem Mosque

Located in al-Daraj Quarter, the mosque is one of the biggest and most beautiful ancient mosques in Gaza. The tomb of Hashem Ben Abdulmanaf, Prophet Mohammed's grandfather who died in Gaza during a trading voyage, is believed to be under the dome of the mosque.

Al Ahmediya Prayer Corner 

It was established in the 14th century by the followers of El Sayyed Ahmed El Badawi who died in Tanta in 1276 AD. Inside is a polygon room with six pointed arches and a big beautiful Mihrab. The high dome, supported by a cylindrical neck has twelve windows. Six spherical triangles support this neck in addition to the crossing vaults roofing the hall and the fan vault roof of the mid western hall, which has a beautiful fountain highlighting the beauty of the place. 

The outside courtyard has a beautiful marble tomb in the corner. Its two stones are decorated by an emblem inside a circle are two polo sticks. 

Kateb al Wilayah Mosque

The oldest part of the structure dates back to the Mamluk period 1334 AD The western additions by Ahmed Bek, the clerk of the state, date back to the Ottoman period. That is why the mosque is called Kateb al Welaya. The minaret of the mosque is adjacent to the bells of Prophyrius Church.

The Greek Orthodox Church 

The original construction of the church from the beginning of the 5th century, while the existing structures date back to the 12th century. The church is a rectangular shape ending with a half-domed roofed temple. The roof of the church has two crossing vaults with a pointed arch between them. There are three entrances for the church: the western one has a portico with three marble columns supporting two pointed arches. 

Its colossal walls supported by horizontal marble and granite columns and pilasters characterize the church. The tomb of Saint Porphyrius, who died in 420, is in the northeastern corner. The church was renovated in 1856. 

There are two other churches in the old city of Gaza: 

1.      The Catholic Church in the el Zaytoon quarter, which was established by the Austrian monk Herr Got in 1879. 

2.      The Protestestant Church, which was erected in 1893 at the then Baptist Hospital, now Al Ahli Hospital.

Ali Bin Marwan Mosque

One of Gaza’s well known mosque with an oratory for women that dates back to the Mamluk period. Inside is the tomb of a holy man (Sheik Ali bin Marwan) who came from Morocco settled in Gaza and died in 1314 AD. The mosque was renovated in 1324 AD. The stones of the tombs in the cemetery, close to the mosque, are considered to be historical documents.

Al Shuja’iya

It is named after the leader Shuja’ el-Din el-Kurdi. The southern part of the area is called el-Torokman while the northern part is called al-Judaida. There are several ancient structures, mosques and tombs.

Ibn Othman Mosque

It is one of the biggest ancient mosques in Gaza outstanding for its wonderful Mamluk architecture and elements of patterns. It was established at different stages during he Mamluke period, and eventually built by Ahmed bin Othman who was born in Nablus, came to Gaza and died there in 1402 AD.

Mosaic Floors

Excavated in 1966 these are decorated with drawings of animals, birds & scripts that date back to the beginning of the 6th century A.D. The Israelis moved the mosaic floor to the Israeli Museumsin the 1970’s leaving part of its frame.

The original written script of the foundation is in old Greek. “We the lumber merchants, Minamos, Izos the sons of Izis offer this mosaic to the holiest place - in the month of Linos of 569 Gaza Calendar, 508/509 A.D.”

Al-Balakhiya

There is the old Port of Gaza dating back to the Greek and Roman periods. In addition there is a Byzantine cemetery, where one of its tombs is decorated with plants and a cross with two pine trees on the sides, and walls made of bricks. 

Tell el Ejoul

One of the most important archaeological sites in Gaza. A Cannaanite town used to be here. Filinders Paterie, who excavated the hill between 1931 - 1934, believes that the site of Old Gaza was here; the people deserted the place because of malaria and moved to the existing location of Gaza. The most important excavation is a wall of 2.5 feet wide and 50 feet high. Tombs of horsemen buried with their horses, a tunnel 500 feet long and five big castles were also found. The earliest of these castles dates back to 3000 BC. One dates back to the Egyptian Family 1580-1350 BC. The rest date back to families in the 16th, 15th and 12th centuries. Clay and copper pots, golden bracelets, earrings, wooden beds, cork pillows and other things were also found there.

Beit Hanoon

The area is well known for it’s fertile soil and fresh sweet water. It was the capital of King Hanoon who fought the Assyrians in the 8th century BC. It has a mosque dating back to the Ayoobi period. Scattered pottery fragments can be seen on the site.

The checkpoint leading to the Palestinian Northern Governorates is called Beit Hannoon. The Ayoobits won a battle against the Crusaders at Um el Nasser Hill east of Beit Hanoon, and built a mosque they’re as a commemoration of the victory. A Mamluk post office was in Beit Hanoon as well.

El Nassr Mosque

The mosque is a unique example remaining from the Ayoobi period and was founded in commemoration of the Ayoobi victory against the Crusaders at the battle of Um el Nassr in 1239 AD. Nothing is left of the mosque apart from the southern portico with its beautiful roof, which consists of fan vaults and shallow dome in the centre.

The hall ends with a room to the east roofed with a dome supported on spherical triangles. The foundation plate is inscribed in Ayoobi script.

 Jabalia

This is known for its fertile soil and citrus trees. The Mamluk ruler Sinjer Alamudin el Jawli owned the area and designated its land for his mosque in Gaza to house his soldiers, who came from the mountains. 

The Omeri Mosque at Jabalia

Nothing is left from the ancient mosque apart from the portico and the minaret. The rest of the mosque is a modern building. The portico is three arcades supported by four stone columns. The arcades have pointed arches and crossing vaults roofs the portico. Recently, a cemetery dating back to the Byzantine and the Roman periods and a mosaic floor of a church dating back to the Byzantine period were excavated. The floor is decorated with drawings of wild animals and birds, plants, trees and written scripts.

The Roman Byzantine Cemetery

It is a hill of rough sand about 48m above sea level. It gets higher (75m) going east. There are stone cisterns covered with rooting to prevent leakage. There are also some pottery fragments and bone remnants. Tombs of different types were found containing skeletons, jewels, glass, pottery, metals and decorated stones.

Beit Lahaia

The word “Beit Lahia” comes from Syric and means “desert” or “fatigue”. It is well known for Its fresh, sweet water and growing berries as well as citrus trees. It has an ancient hill and old destroyed villages. A mihrab is the only thing left from an old mosque to the west of Beit Lahia dating back to the Ayoobi period, and two other mosques dating back to the Ottoman period.

Wadi Gaza (the Valley of Gaza)

There are three valleys in Gaza. The valley of Gaza begins in the at Hebron mountains descends into the Mediterranean Sea. A new bridge was built over the valley in order to link the south of Gaza together with the north of Gaza. There are archaeological sites on both sides of the valley.

Deir el Balah 

Well-known for its beaches and palm trees, recent excavations at this southern Gaza town uncovered a cemetery dating back to the late Bronze Age and filled with pottery, tombs, bronze pots and a mosaic floor. A monastery was built in Deir al-Balah by St. Helena in 372 AD.

Khan Younis

Located 25 km south of Gaza City, Khan Yunis is a market town for the agricultural produce of local villages. An impressive khan bordering the Town Square is a fortress built in the 13th century as a garrison for soldiers guarding pilgrims on their journey from Jerusalem to Mecca. The weekly market near the khan is a fascinating picture of traditional life.

Rafah 

Located on the southern tip of Gaza, Rafah is a Canaanite town described as Rafia by the Greeks and the Romans. The town has some ancient mosques and archeological sites, including a mosaic floor. Rafah's beach is beautiful, offering sand dunes and date palms.

Arts & Crafts Village

A beautifully designed gallery inspired by traditional Islamic architecture, the village offers for sale embroidery, copper, rugs and pottery. It also exhibits modern arts from renowned national and international artists. 


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