Archaeologists in Russia recently unearthed the ruins of a sprawling ancient building — and discovered the oldest synagogue in the country and one of the oldest synagogues in the world.
The Phanagoria Synagogue was discovered during ongoing excavations in Kuban, according to an Aug. 15 news release from the Oleg Deripaska’s Volnoe Delo Foundation. The site was home to a flourishing ancient city with a robust Jewish community dating to about the first century.
Researchers said they discovered the building’s walls and foundation, along with a trove of ancient treasures.
The nearly 2,000-year-old synagogue was richly decorated, with a tiled roof, painted and marble-tiled walls and strong floors, the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences said in an Aug. 15 news release. Inside the synagogue were lavish marble columns and a fenced off section for Torah scrolls and scripture reading.
Archaeologists also found fragments of at least three luxuriously decorated marble menorahs and several marble tables that were used for religious purposes, the institute said. Several fragments of marble with Greek inscriptions — one translating to “synagogue” — were also uncovered.
Previous excavations in the area revealed tombstones depicting menorahs, confirming the existence of a Jewish community in the city, according to the institute.
The rectangular building, measuring about 70 feet by 20 feet, was composed of two rooms, each about 650 square feet, the Oleg Deripaska’s Volnoe Delo Foundation said. It was destroyed in the middle of the sixth century when tribes attacked and burned down the city.
The synagogue also offers experts insight into Judaism practice during the religion’s “Second Temple Period,” experts with the foundation said. From 516 B.C. until 70 A.D., most Jewish rituals took place at the second Jerusalem Temple, so it was rare for synagogues to be built elsewhere.
Kuban is in southeast Russia, bordering the Black Sea.
Google Translate was used to translate news releases from the Oleg Deripaska’s Volnoe Delo Foundation and the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.