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Albanian Synagogue Surfaces Volume 57 Number 1, January/February 2004
by Jennifer Pinkowski

[image]Intricately designed mosaic floors in the synagogue show traditional Jewish iconography, including a menorah. (Courtesy the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) [LARGER IMAGE]

Colorful mosaic pavements and the fifth- or sixth-century A.D. synagogue that housed them were unearthed in the Albanian coastal town of Saranda, opposite the Greek island of Corfu. It is the first time such remains have been found from this region and time period.

Albanian archaeologists first discovered remnants of a house of worship 20 years ago during an initial excavation of the site, when Communist prohibition of religion made a more thorough survey difficult. Because the structure had undergone multiple uses throughout the centuries--most recently as a Christian church--the synagogue remained well hidden for years. When further excavations uncovered evidence of the structure's Jewish past, the Archaeology Institute of the Albanian Academy of Sciences teamed up in 2003 with archaeologists from the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology for a joint excavation.

The first mosaic pavement depicts items associated with Jewish holidays: a menorah, a citron tree, and a ram's horn. The other, located in the basilica of the synagogue, includes trees, animals, and the facade of a structure that may be a Torah shrine. Future excavations will venture beneath adjacent streets and buildings, where parts of the synagogue remain.

© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America