Post-classical history

Gaza, Town of

A castle and township in southern Palestine (in mod. Gaza Strip), occupying an ancient tell (mound) 4 kilometers (21/2 mi.) from the sea between Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) and Darum.

The castle, with stone walls and towers, was built by King Baldwin III of Jerusalem in the winter of 1149-1150 as one of several fortifications encircling the Fātimid enclave of Ascalon. There were insufficient men or resources to fortify the entire site, and the chronicler William of Tyre records that the castle occupied only part of it. It was granted with its surrounding lands to the Templars and soon afterward withstood a Muslim attack. After the fall of Ascalon to the Franks of Jerusalem (1153), the Arab writer al-Idrisi described Gaza as populous, with a sea port called Tayda. The civilian faubourg (suburb), defended by low and rather feeble walls and gates, occupied the remainder of the tell. The jurist John of Jaffa records the existence of a burgess and justice court.

Together with nearby Darum, built in the 1160s, Gaza remained militarily important as a frontier fortress close to the border with Egypt. When Saladin laid siege to Darum in December 1170, King Amalric withdrew Gaza’s Templar garrison to assist in its defense. Saladin therefore fell on Gaza, destroying the faubourg and slaughtering its inhabitants, who had been denied access to the castle by the temporary castellan, Miles of Plancy. In November 1177, the Templars again prepared to defend Gaza when Saladin raided Ascalon. In September 1187, they finally surrendered Gaza in return for the release of their master, Gerard of Ridefort.

Saladin ordered Gaza’s destruction in September 1191. Although it was refortified and returned to the Templars by King Richard I of England in 1192, Gaza’s fortifications were again demolished under the terms of the Treaty of Jaffa later that year. Thereafter Gaza developed as an Ayyûbid town, with the emir ‘Alam al-Din Qaysar as its first governor. A failed attempt to retake it was made by Count Henry of Bar and other nobles during the Crusade of 1239-1241; and a further attempt in 1244 ended in disaster at La Forbie.

Among the medieval buildings surviving in Gaza are a large three-aisled Latin church (now the great mosque) and a smaller Greek Orthodox church of St. Porphyrios, both dating from the twelfth century; however, nothing now remains of the castle or town walls.

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