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Byzantine Church Discovered in Tunisia

February 22nd 2018

Sfax, Tunisia

A church dating from the late Byzantine period (5th - 7th century AD) was discovered at an archaeological site dubbed "Castilia," located between the cities of Tozeur and Degache in the Tozeur region of Tunisia. The archaeological excavations were carried out at the site by the National Heritage Institute (INP) of Tunisia and began in January and continued until the first week of February.

According to the first results of this discovery presented by the research team led by Mourad Chtioui of INP, and urban archeologist Bassem Ben Saad, the architecture of the church consists essentially of a main entrance or narthex, two secondary entrances, two annexes, and a circular monument. The area of ​​the church covers more than 465 square feet and measures about 10 feet high.

Research leader Mourad Chtioui stated that, in addition to the church columns, there were also found ceramics, pottery, and oil lamps were found next to the church. He stressed that the discovery of the church confirms not only the historical value of the Jerid region , but also the presence of Christians dating well before the arrival of Islam, especially in the southern part of Tunisia.

For his part, INP researcher Larbi Sghaier Larbi said that the excavation revealed other walls adjacent to the church which extend to a nearby oasis. These walls, he said, can be traced back to the remains of dwellings or buildings whose function and role will be revealed by excavations which are still in progress.

The site was discovered during an industrial building project. The government has provided guards and has sought to prevent the site from being buried again by drifting sand.

During the Roman, Byzantine, and Vandal periods, the city of Tozeur was known as Tusuros and was part of the Roman province of Byzacena. In Tozuer was located a bishopric of the Catholic Church, which along with other expressions of Christian faith ceased to exist with the arrival of Muslim invaders in the 7th Century. In an old mosque in Tozeur can be seen the remains of an ancient church. Ancient Tusuros was known for the excellence of its dates, which were exported to Rome before the Muslim jihad. When French troops and traders arrived in the 1830s, there were no Christians left. France protected Christians who arrived during the colonial period.

In 1933, the Catholic Church made Tozuer a nominal titular diocese. There are currently about 20,000 Christians of various denominations in Tunisia, while most live in and around the capital city, Tunis. Before Tunisia’s independence in 1956, about 250,000 Christians of various nationalities lived in Tunisia. However, most of them left after independence from France was declared. There are currently about 2000 Jews living in Tunisia.

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