World’s largest Byzantine-era winepresses discovered in Israel

October 12, 2021 by TPS
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A massive and impressive Byzantine-era wine factory, the largest ever discovered in the world, was recently exposed near the coastal city of Yavneh, in the centre of Israel.

A pair of wineries for producing wine from the Byzantine period. (Yaniv Berman/IAA)

The huge 1,500-year-old industrial estate, which produced some two million litres of wine annually, was uncovered in archaeological excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) as part of the development of the city of Yavne.

Yavne was a world wine powerhouse about 1,500 years ago, and the huge and well-designed industrial estate has been under excavation over the past two years.

The plant included five wine presses, warehouses for ageing and marketing the wine, kilns for firing the clay amphorae in which the wine was stored, tens of thousands of fragments and intact earthen jars, well-planned access between the facilities, and more.

Drinking wine was very common in ancient times, for children and adults alike. Water was not always sterile or tasty, and wine was also used as a kind of concentrate to improve the taste, or as a substitute for drinking water.

Each of the exposed winepresses covered an area of ​​about 225 square meters. The treading floor, where the grapes were crushed barefoot to extract the liquid, is surrounded by compartments for fermenting the wine, and next to them, two huge octagonal-shaped vats for collecting the wine.

Decorative niches in the shape of a conch, which adorned the winepresses, indicate the great wealth of the factory owners.

A calculation of the production capacity of these winepresses shows that approximately two million litres of wine were marketed every year, while the whole process was conducted manually.

Four large warehouses situated between the winepresses served as the winery. The wine was aged in elongated amphorae, known as “Gaza jars.”

“Gaza and Ashkelon Wine,” named after the ports from which it was exported, was considered a quality wine brand of the ancient world with a reputation that spread far and wide, a bit like Jaffa oranges today from Israel.

From Yavneh, commercial quantities were transported to the ports, and then throughout the Mediterranean basin.

“Everyone knew that this was a product from the Holy Land, and everyone wanted more and more of this wine,” Dr Elie Haddad, Liat Nadav-Ziv and Dr Jon Seligman, the directors of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, said.

The excavation in Yavne revealed rare and even older winepresses from the Persian period, about 2,300 years ago.

“In the Mishna it is said that after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jewish leadership migrated to Yavne and that the sages of Yavne sat in a vineyard and studied Torah. The excavation shows a continuum of the existence of the wine industry at the site over many centuries of years,” say the archaeologists.

Tel Yavne, at which the factory was found, will be preserved and upgraded to become a focal point for tourism and education in the future.


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