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The first settlement in the site was established during the Roman era on Wadi Gaza close to the seashore. It appears on the Madaba map with the name of Tabatha, dated from the Byzantine to the early Islamic period (400-670AD). The site contains the ruins of the monastery of Saint Hilarion (born in 291 AD), which consists of two churches, a burial site, a baptism hall, a public cemetery, an audience hall, and dining rooms. The monastery was provided with good infrastructure facilities, including water cisterns, clay-ovens and drainage channels. Its floors was partially paved with limestone, marble tiles and coloured mosaics, decorated with plants and animals scenes. A great fifth century mosaic was probably laid on the floor of a chapel. The floors include also a Greek inscription decorated with circular motifs. In addition, the monastery was equipped with baths, consisting of Frigedarium, Tepidarium and Caldarium halls. The wide space of these halls ensured that the baths could adequately serve the pilgrims and merchants crossing the Holy land fromEgyptto theFertile Crescentthrough the main route of Via Maris.
Tell Umm Amer (Tabatha) was the birthplace of Saint Hilarion, who had received a splendid education inAlexandria, and had gone to Antonius in the desert for further instruction. He founded his eponymous monastery in the third century, and is considered as the founder of monastic life inPalestine. The monastery was destroyed in 614 AD.
The site of Tell Umm Amer (Khirbet Umm al- Tutt) is located in Al Nusairat village on the coast, east of the shore rifts, and on the south bank of Wadi Gaza, 8.5 kilometers south of Gaza city and 3.5 kilometers south of Tell el -Ajjul.
The monastery of Saint Hilarion is one of the rare sites in its architectural elements and which bears an exceptional historical, religious and cultural testimony. The monastery used to be an important station on the crossroads between Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia.
The site is tangibly associated with the phenomenon of the flowering of monastic desert centres in Palestine during the Byzantine period. St. Hilarion’s monastery was perhaps a centre of missionary work in the Gaza region, seemingly isolated in the desert but actually at the centre of affairs at communications cross-roads.
criterion (ii): Saint Hilarion Monastery exhibits an important interchange of human values, over an important period of time that related to the emergence of Christianity inGazain genera. The monastery itself became a centre of cosmopolitan religion as a station on the trade route.
criterion (iii): The ruins of Saint Hilarion are one of the oldest monasteries inPalestine, so the site bears a unique exceptional testimony to Christianity inGaza.
criterion (vi): The site is directly associated with a significant story related to the origin of Christianity inPalestine, and with an artistic mosaic of outstanding universal value.
Under the Palestinian national cultural heritage legislation and according to the national register, the site is designated as a high priority for protection and preservation.
The Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in cooperation with local and international institutions are planning to protect and enhance this important site.
Monastic desert centers flourished in the Middle East during the Byzantine period, as exemplified by findings in the central Negev and a site of regional Christian pilgrimages in the sixth century, in the Jordan Valley and the el-Bariyah (Jerusalem Wilderness), However, Tell Umm Ammer has a significant and unique narrative aspect which makes it difficult to be compared with any other example.