Remnants of ancient synagogue in Albania revealed

October 08, 2003

Impressive remnants from a synagogue dating from the 5th or 6th century, C.E., have been revealed in the city of Saranda, a coastal city in Albania, opposite the Greek island of Corfu.

Initial excavations at the site were conducted some 20 years ago when Albania was under tight Communist rule. The existence of the ancient synagogue has now come to light as the result of an invitation from the Archaeology Institute of the Albanian Academy of Sciences, asking the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology to participate in a joint excavation and study project at the site.

Working in the past few weeks there have been Professors Ehud Netzer and Gideon Foerster of the Hebrew University, together with Albanian archaeologists Kosta Lako and Etleva Nalbani.

The synagogue that has been uncovered underwent various periods of use, including its conversion into a church at its last stage. Particularly noteworthy among the finds are two mosaic pavements.

One features at its center a seven-branched candelabrum (menorah) flanked by a citron (etrog) and a ram's horn (shofar), symbols associated with the Jewish holidays.

The other mosaic pavement, in the center section of the structure (the basilica), contains a number of representations, including a variety of animals, trees, symbols alluding to Biblical lore, and the facade of a structure resembling a temple (perhaps an aron kodesh (Torah shrine). Other mosaic pavements at the site preceded the building of the synagogue.

The Israeli researchers stressed the excellent relationship they enjoyed with their Albanian colleagues. In coming years the Hebrew University researchers hope to continue excavations and research in other parts of the structure, which are still covered by buildings and streets.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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