Yavne (Israel) (AFP)

Large presses, thousands of fragments of jars, vast warehouses to store the production: the Israeli authorities unveiled Monday the "largest" site of production of wines from the Byzantine period in southern Israel at the gates of the Gaza Strip.

As part of excavations in Yavne, a growing city in southern Israel, archaeologists have unearthed a large 1,500-year-old wine production site over the past two years.

And the site did not have the air of bucolic vineyards, but of a veritable wine factory, with an annual production estimated at two million liters pressed at the foot.

The team of archaeologists led by the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered five presses of approximately 225 m2 for the foot-pressing of the grapes, two vast octagonal vats for collecting the must and pottery kilns for baking the clay from the grapes. Elongated amphorae, called "jars of Gaza" and in which the wine aged.

"We were surprised to find a sophisticated factory here to produce wine in industrial quantities," archaeologists Elie Hadad, Liat Nadav-Ziv and Jon Selingman, who led the excavations, said in a joint statement.

At the time, the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory now under the control of Hamas Islamists, and the adjacent town of Ashkelon, in southern Israel, near Yavne, were known for the quality of their wines sold. in the Mediterranean basin.

Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists excavate the Tel Yavne site in central Israel on October 11, 2021, where a huge wine production facility was discovered MENAHEM KAHANA AFP

These excavations have also made it possible to prove the presence on site of wine presses dating back to 2,300 years, a period when the Achaemenid Persian Empire ruled over a large part of the Middle East, and therefore, according to archaeologists, to show a "continuum" over several centuries of a local wine industry.

The Yavne complex will be "preserved" and will be part of a future archaeological park accessible to the public, Israeli Antiquities assured Monday.

© 2021 AFP