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Raising Awareness of Cultural Heritage in Palestine: Conference in Paris Focuses on St. Hilarion

The Monastery of Saint Hilarion in Gaza was the focus of a two-day workshop at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris in March. French and Palestinian authorities and heritage professionals gathered together to discuss and present to a group of experts and interested people the archaeological and conservation activities developed both in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The seminar outlined the challenges faced in the field by local antiquities authorities and by international institutions due to the complex political and security situations. But despite these complicated conditions and thanks to the dedication of professionals, the French-Palestinian group implemented projects to protect and preserve of the architectural and archaeological heritage sites in Nablus, Bethlehem, Taybeh, Hebron, and Gaza, just to mention a few, and installed both field training programs for local conservators, stone masons, and archaeologists, and developed an academic cooperation with the Universities of Bir Zeit and Gaza.

In the Gaza Strip the local authorities try their best to protect both the historic city center of Gaza City and the archaeological site of Tell Umm al-`Amr. Interestingly, the Monastery of Saint Hilarion is visited regularly by local school groups and often one can see teachers and professors sitting at the site and using it as an open-air book to present to their students, who cannot pass the frontiers of the Strip, the history of the Near East and of their culture: a good example of community engagement in a conflict area.

Since November 2010, after the first phase of a condition assessment of the archaeological remains, emergency structural reinforcements were implemented at the site in the area of the crypt, which is more in danger due to natural movements of a sand dune and to the weight of the walls of the church located five meters above. The first action to prepare the structural work was the cleaning, documentation, and detachment of one of the mosaic pavements of the east section of the south nave of the church. This was followed by archaeological excavations, the results of which will provide information on the creation and development of this monastic settlement starting from the early fourth century A.D.

To protect the work area from the strong winter rains and create a more comfortable environment for the archaeologists, restorers and architects built a large roof supported by a wooden structure.