GAZA (or 'Azzah, mod. Ghuzzeh), the most southerly of the five princely Philistine cities, situated near the sea, at the point where the old trade routes from Egypt, Arabia and Petra to Syria met. It was always a strong border fortress and a place of commercial importance, in many respects the southern counterpart of Damascus. The earliest notice of it is in the Tell el-Amarna tablets, in a letter from the local governor, who then held it for Egypt, with which country it always stood in close connexion. It never passed for long into Israelite hands, though subject for a while to Hezekiah of Judah; from him it passed to Assyria. In Amos i. 6 the city is denounced for giving up Hebrew slaves to Edom. To Herodotus (iii. 5) the place seemed as important as Sardis. The city withstood Alexander the Great for five months (332 B.C.), and in 96 B.C. was razed to the ground by Alexander Jannaeus. It was rebuilt by Aulus Gabinius, 57 B.C., but on a new site; the old site was remembered and spoken of as "Old" or "Desert Gaza": compare Acts viii. 26. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries Gaza was a thriving Greek city, with good schools and famous temples, especially one to the local god Marna (i.e. "Lord" or "Our Lord"). A statue of this god has been found near Gaza; it much resembles the Greek representation of Zeus. The struggle with Christianity here was long and intense. Egyptian monks gradually won over the country folk, and in 402, under the influence of Theodosius and Porphyry the local bishop, the Marneion was destroyed and the cross made politically supreme. In the 5th and 6th centuries Gaza was held in high repute as a place of learning. But after it passed into Moslem hands (635) it gradually lost all save commercial importance, and even the Crusaders did little to revive its old military glory. It finally was captured by the Moslems in 1244. Napoleon captured it in 1799.
The modern town (pop. 16,000) is divided into four quarters, one of which is built on a low hill. A magnificent grove of very ancient olives forms an avenue 4 m. long to the north. There are many lofty minarets in various parts of the town, and a fine mosque built of ancient materials. A 12th century church towards the south side of the hill has also been converted into a mosque. On the east is shown the tomb of Samson (an erroneous tradition dating back to the middle ages). The ancient walls are now covered up beneath green mounds of rubbish. The water-supply is from wells sunk through the sandy soil to the rock; of these there are more than twenty - an unusual number for a Syrian town. The land for the 3 m. between Gaza and the sea consists principally of sand dunes. There is no natural harbour, but traces of ruins near the shore mark the site of the old Maiuma Gazae or Port of Gaza, now called el Mineh, which in the 5th century was a separate town and episcopal see, under the title Constantia or Limena Gaza. Hashem, an ancestor of Mahomet, lies buried in the town. On the east are remains of a race-course, the corners marked by granite shafts with Greek inscriptions on them. To the south is a remarkable hill, quite isolated and bare, with a small mosque and a graveyard. It is called el Muntar, "the watch tower," and is supposed to be the mountain "before (or facing) Hebron," to which Samson carried the gates of Gaza (Judg. xvi. 3). The bazaars of Gaza are considered good. An extensive pottery exists in the town, and black earthenware peculiar to the place is manufactured there. The climate is dry and comparatively healthy, but the summer temperature often exceeds 110° Fahr. The surrounding country is partly cornland, partly waste, and is inhabited by wandering Arabs. The prosperity of Ghuzzeh has partially revived through the growing trade in barley, of which the average annual export to Great Britain for 1897-1899 was over 30,000 tons. The dress of the people is Egyptian rather than Syrian. Gaza is an episcopal see both of the Greek and the Armenian church. The Church Missionary Society maintains a mission, with schools for both sexes, and a hospital.