The joint Syro-Polish mission in Hawarte
Place of worship
– Roman and Byzantine period (1st–5th century AD)
– First traces of use of the cave (1st century AD)
– Mithraic wall paintings (4th century AD)
– AD 421 – building of the first church during the reign of Alexandros, bishop of Apamea
– AD 483 – building of the second church during the reign of bishop Photios
Most interesting finds:
– Underground cave used in the cult of god Mithra (mithraeum) underneath the ruins of a Christian basilica
– Mithraeum as a place of a mysterious cult
– Wall paintings adorning the walls of the mithraeum
– Baptistery of the first church built over the mithraeum
History of research:
Dates of PCMA research:
1998–2009 – excavations, conservation project up to 2010
Type of research:
– Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw
– Directorate of Antiquities of the Republic of Syria
Conservation work on the wall paintings was halted in 2010 by the atrocities in Syria.
Description of site and research results:
The excavations in Hawarte began in the 1970s when the ruins of a 5th-century church were explored by a Frenchman, Pierre Canivet. Twenty years later the floor in the middle of the nave collapsed, revealing a mysterious cave which had walls covered with Mithraic paintings. It turned out to be the main room of a mithraeum. Unfortunately, the first to reach it were robbers. While trying to smuggle a fragment of plaster with traces of painting out of the country, they were detained by Syrian customs officers which led to the discovery of the underground temple of the god Mithra.
Soon afterwards, in 1998, the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums asked Prof. Michał Gawlikowski, at the time the director of excavations in Palmyra, to unearth the cave and protect the paintings found inside. This was done by Polish conservators collaborating with the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw.
Salvage excavations under the ruins of a church in a small village of Hawarte begun as an ad hoc intervention developed into a longstanding archaeological and conservation project which led to the uncovering of the underground sanctuary of god Mithra.
The wall paintings depicting scenes from the life of Mithra which covered the walls of the cave are considered to be very important for the research on the Mithraic cult.
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