Jericho mosaic 311 AP.
(photo credit: AP)
JERICHO — Visitors to ancient Jericho got a rare glimpse Sunday of a
massive 1,200-year-old carpet mosaic measuring nearly 900 square meters
(9,700 square feet), making it one of the largest in the Middle East.
The small red, blue and ochre square stones laid out in sweeping
geometric and floral patterns cover the floor of the main bath house of
an Islamic palace that was destroyed by an earthquake in the eighth
century. Since being excavated in the 1930s and 1940s, the mosaic has
largely remained hidden under layers of canvas and soil to protect it
against sun and rain.
Ancient culture and revelry revealed in new finds
A sad return to Jericho
Starting Sunday, a small section will be laid bare for a week, as part
of Jericho's 10,000th birthday celebrations. The mosaic then will be
covered up again until the money is found to build a roof that would
serve as a permanent weather shield, said Palestinian archaeologist
Biblical Jericho attracts a steady flow of pilgrims, but the small
Jordan Valley oasis is making a major push these days to become a magnet
for tourists, presenting itself as the oldest city on earth. Marking
the 10,000th birthday Sunday is entirely random, though, with
archaeologists saying they could be off by hundreds of years in dating
the first human settlement in the area.
However, throwing a birthday party is a way of spotlighting Jericho's
attractions, including Hisham's Palace, a winter retreat built in the
eighth century during the Umayyad empire. Palestinian Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad held his weekly cabinet meeting in Jericho on Sunday to
mark the town's birthday, and was to tour the palace later in the day.
With the large mosaic mostly covered up, a smaller one in the audience
room next to the bath house has been getting all the attention. It shows
two gazelles nibbling at the leaves of an apple tree, while nearby a
lion attacks another gazelle from behind. A small house was built over
the tree mosaic to protect it.
Now archaeologists are trying to find a way to keep the large mosaic
permanently on display as well, scrambling to raise at least $2 million
to build a roof above it. One proposed solution — a shield that looks
like a large upended wooden crate — was contributed by award-winning
Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. A model of his design is on display at
Taha said a final decision on the design of the weather shield has not yet been made.
During a visit Sunday, several dozen square meters of the mosaic were
visible, the colors of the small square stones unexpectedly bright. A
walkway of blankets separated the exposed part of the mosaic from
covered area, hidden under sand. A guide told tourists they were lucky
to get a peek at the mosaic.
Archaeologist Iyad Hamad, who is in charge of the palace site, said he
expects far larger crowds of tourists once the large mosaic is on
display permanently. He said turnout had surged during brief periods in
recent years when the mosaic was uncovered for research.
Hamad said it's the largest carpet mosaic in the Middle East, a claim
backed by Marwan Abu Khalaf, an archaeology professor at Al-Quds
university and a fellow at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological
Research in Jerusalem. Abu Khalaf said the fine workmanship suggests
that the Umayyads hired master artists instead of ordinary craftsmen to
lay the mosaic.