The Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry revealed what is considered to be one of the largest and most important mosaics in the world in recent days. The mosaic adorns the main bathhouse in Hisham’s Palace, a major archaeological site just north of Jericho in the West Bank.
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Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maa’yah said the floor mosaic is an international treasure both because of its size and because it is preserved in its original location. The 827-square-meter carpet mosaic is composed of 38 different scenes in vibrant geometric and floral patterns, in 21 colors, with red, blue and ochre stones.
Archaeologists removed the covering from the mosaic so the public could view it one day last week. The mosaic is being covered again until a protective roof is completed next year and it can be reopened to the public. Japan funded the ministry’s restoration works for almost a year in order to remove the rubble and uncover the mosaic floor. Since being excavated in the 1930s and 1940s, the mosaic largely remained hidden under canvas and soil to protect it against sun and rain.
The Palestinian Authority said it hopes the site will become a major tourism site not just for Palestinians but for foreign tourists too, including Christian pilgrims coming to the Jerusalem and Jericho area. The PA received control of the region as part of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, and it has become the most important archaeological site in the authority.
Jericho Governor Majed Al-Fityani said the archaeological piece depicts a “tree of life,” with a lion preying on a deer on the left side of the tree and two deer living peacefully on the other side of the tree, which symbolize peace and war.
The mosaic is from the Umayyad period and is in the Khirbat al-Mafjar archaeological site. The palace is believed to have been built by the Umayyad Caliph Hisham bin Abd al-Malik, between 724 and 743 C.E., but experts believe his nephew and successor al-Walid II built the palace. Al-Walid II lived in the structure but it was never completed and an earthquake destroyed much of it in 749. The mosaic was found under rubble due to another earthquake that struck Jericho in 947.
While the site was discovered in 1873, the first excavations were conducted in the 1930s by the British archaeologist Robert Hamilton.