Saturday, July 30, 2011

Al-Mat'haf- Gaza's first and only archeological Museum, one of the few in Palestine (published in TWIP)

Published in This Week in Palestine- August 2011.

Al-Mat’haf, Arabic for museum, is the first archaeological museum in Gaza, and one of the few in Palestine. It is also the realisation of a 26-year-old dream by Jawdat Khoudary, the creator of the museum, who was inspired by the love and appreciation of history when he accidently found an Islamic glass coin in Gaza in 1985. 

Due to the nature of Khoudary’s job as a construction and civil engineer, which meant that he would be revealing layers of ancient history during the process of digging foundations for buildings, he became a collector of everything ancient that he came across. He preserved them at his house for 25 years, until his dream of building Gaza’s first archaeological museum became a reality. 

Artifacts in Al-Mat'haf

Al-Mat’haf is situated in one of the city’s quietest coastal spots. It overlooks a stunning view of the Mediterranean, which stands as a reminder of the unchanged leftovers of the city. In Al-Mat’haf itself, more than 300 archaeological items that were found in Gaza are on display. They come from the many different historical eras that the city commendably survived. 

The creation of Al-Mat’haf did not come easily. Dire problems such as the Israeli siege and war in 2008 (which caused much damage to Al-Mat’haf) and building-material shortages were minute in comparison to a seemingly impossible task - finding curators and archaeologists. The great help of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, namely, Father Jean-Baptiste Humbert, contributed to solving a big part of the problem. However, like other museums, Al-Mat’haf is in need of curators and archaeologists who would be able to visit the establishment in Gaza regularly and offer their expertise to the blooming project. 

The anchors/sea objects corner in Al-Mat'haf

In addition to four books that have been published on the collection (specifically on the exhibitions that are mentioned below) in French, German, and Swedish, an English book about the most important pieces in Khoudary’s collections, with photographs and scientific description and analysis, has just been completed with the help of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. The last edits of the manuscript are being finalised, but a publisher has yet to be chosen.* 

Another imperative aspect of Al-Mat’haf is the international/European exhibitions. The first exhibition was inaugurated in Geneva in 2007 before Al-Mat’haf was founded (in 2008), and it was a huge success due to the great help offered by Dr. Hamdan Taha, assistant deputy minister at the sector of antiquities and cultural heritage of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. The exhibition featured more than 300 archaeological pieces, including a complete statue of Aphrodite and a hoard of Byzantine coins. After seeing what great impact the exhibition had on people who visited it in Geneva, Khoudary was even more determined to build Al-Mat’haf. “It is as important for the people who live outside Palestine to know about Gaza’s history as it is for people who live inside. Because of the dire situation that we live in, we tend to forget about our glorious past and traditions. Al-Mat’haf is a project that stands to preserve this history and, equally important, to remind people of it,” stated Khoudary.

After being hosted by the Landes Museum in Oldenburg, Germany, last year, the exhibition, called “Gaza-Gateway to the Sea,” resides in the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, Sweden, after it was inaugurated there earlier this year. In the exhibition, which will be open until September of this year, more than 300 ancient artefacts that were found in Gaza (including a complete statue of Aphrodite) are exhibited. In addition, old photographs of Gaza, dated to 1956 that were taken by Swedish photographer Per Olow Anderson, are on display. The photographs were originally published in Anderson’s book,They Are Human Too: a Photographic Essay on the Palestine Arab Refugees. They show various perspectives of daily life in Gaza through images of its different people and their strong will to live despite their ongoing suffering. Fifty-five years later, the people have changed but the spirit is still the same.

"Gaza- Gateway to the Sea, Museum of Mediterranean & NE Antiquities, Stockholm-Sweden"

"Gaza- Gateway to the Sea, Museum of Mediterranean & NE Antiquities, Stockholm-Sweden"

The three exhibitions have greatly altered the world’s preconceived image of Gaza for the better, which is why we always welcome invitations from interested museums to host the exhibition. The website of Al-Mat’haf includes links to the many press releases and media reports about the exhibition.

"Gaza at the Crossroads of Civilizations- Museum of Arts & History-Geneva, Switzerland"

Ever since its creation, Al-Mat’haf has been a symbol of Gaza’s yearning for life and its magnificent and undiscovered history as well as a must-see place on visitors’ lists. In addition to an array of various local and international visitors, a number of notable guests have also visited Al-Mat’haf. Amongst the most distinguished visitors are former American President Jimmy Carter (who planted a tree of peace in one of Al-Mat’haf’s gardens), Lakhdar Brahimi of The Elders, Maestro Daniel Barenboim, and a delegation of Syrian actors and actresses headed by Duraid Lahham. 

With that said, you are invited to be next - come visit the museum and the exhibition on your next visit to Gaza! In addition to the banquet hall, restaurants, exhibition and museum halls, and business facilities, Al-Mat’haf has also recently opened its hotel, with 34 royal and presidential suites and classic rooms, all with an outstanding view of the Mediterranean. We invite you to live the Al-Mat’haf experience with everything it has to offer! 

For more information, visit the website of Al-Mat’haf, or view an album of the exhibited photographs at

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