Page last updated at 11:29 GMT, Tuesday, 12 August 2008 12:29 UK

Roman temple found under church

Temple (Gaby Laron)
Archaeologists say the temple once had a decorated facade

Israeli archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of a Roman temple beneath the foundations of a church.

The building, which dates to the second century AD, was found during an excavation at Zippori, the capital of Galilee during the Roman period.

The temple walls were plundered in ancient times and little more than its foundations now remain.

Coins minted in the town suggest Roman god Jupiter and goddess Fortuna may have been worshipped at the site.

The building is located south of the "decumanus" (east-west road) which ran through the town and served as the main thoroughfare in Roman and Byzantine times.

It was discovered during a dig led by Professor Zeev Weiss from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Religious life

The 24m by 12m (80 by 40ft) temple was located within a walled courtyard and once had a decorated facade.

No evidence remains of rituals once carried out at the site, but some Roman coins minted in Diocaesarea (Zippori), depict a temple to Jupiter and Fortuna (Greek equivalents: Zeus and Tyche).

Coin (Archive of the Archaeology Institute)
Coins depict a temple to Roman gods Jupiter and Fortuna

Exactly when the building ceased to function is still unclear. A large church, the remains of which were uncovered by the excavation team during previous seasons, was built over the temple during the Byzantine period.

Team members said the discovery would shed light on religious life in the city.

During this summer's excavation, Professor Weiss and his colleagues partially excavated a monumental building north of the decumanus.

Its role is not yet known, although its nature and size indicate that it served an important role.

A courtyard with a well-preserved stone pavement of rectangular slabs was uncovered in the centre of the building.

Unknown function

On top of these, archaeologists found a pile of columns and capitals that had collapsed - probably as a result of an earthquake. These showed traces of decorative work applied in stucco.

Monumental building (Gaby Laron)
The columns of one building were probably destroyed in a quake

Two of the rooms in this building were also decorated with colourful, geometrical mosaics.

Zippori was a thriving urban centre in Roman and Byzantine times.

The first archaeological digs there were begun by an American team in 1930.

Excavations since 1990, mostly carried out by the Hebrew University, have revealed a well planned city that hosted a basilical hall, bath houses, a theatre, two churches, and a synagogue.

The site is one of the most important for mosaics in the eastern Roman empire. More than 40 mosaics have been found dating from the 3rd to 5th Centuries AD.

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