Ancient Arabic Inscription Discovered in Jaffa Hints at Unknown Grand Mosque

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An ancient inscription dating to the 14th century recently discovered in Jaffa hints at the existence of a previously unknown magnificent mosque. The inscription was discovered during restoration work on a sebil (a public water fountain found in regional Muslim architecture) dating to the Mamluk period. The fountain is located next to the wall of the Mahmoudiya Mosque on the city's Ruslan Street.

In recent months the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, the Tourism Ministry and the Antiquities Authority have been carrying out a restoration of the sebil, which was originally intended for people coming to the walled city. Antiquities Authority employees discovered during the work a marble slab with an inscription that was interpreted with the assistance of Hebrew University Prof. Moshe Sharon, an expert in Islamic history and Arabic inscriptions. The Arabic writing recounts the founding of a magnificent mosque by a local government official during the reign of the Mamluk Sultan Al-Malik Az-Zahir Sayf ad-Din Barquq, who ruled the land between 1382 and 1399.

The inscription wasn't originally designated for the sebil, but its builders used the marble slab with the inscription for its construction material. The proof was that the slab was placed upside down high up so that it is impossible to make out the inscription from street level. Additionally, the original slab was sawed into bits with parts of it mixed into different layers of the construction. The archaeologists cannot finger point the identity and place of the mosque mentioned in the inscription. According to the Antiquities Authority archaeologist Yoav Arbel, the mosque wasn't even located in Jaffa.

"Toward the latter part of the 14th century Jaffa wasn't even an inhabited city. The likelihood is slim that the mosque in question was within city limits," said Arbel. "Historical sources state that the majority of the marble items and large construction stones for rebuilding the city after Napoleon's retreat were brought by [19th century Ottoman governor] Abu Nabbut from the ruins of Caesarea and Ashkelon, but these cities were also destroyed by the Mamluks more than 100 years before the reign of Barquq. The possibility that a 'magnificent mosque' was established in one of them isn't likely."

The sebil with inscription found in JaffaCredit: Nicky Davidov

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