Tag Archives: mosaic floor

Mosaics at Bet Qama

Israel Antiquities Authority reported on excavations it is carrying out prior to construction of the extension of highway 6 north of Beersheva.

Byzantine crossRemains of a settlement that extends across more than six dunams were uncovered in the excavation being conducted in the fields of Kibbutz Bet Qama. The site seems to have consisted of a large estate that included a tower, a church, residential buildings, presumably an inn for travelers, and storerooms, a large cistern, a public building and pools surrounded by farmland. Also found was a stone with a Byzantine cross in secondary usage. It seems to me that this would be a good candidate for a monastery. Bet Qama excavationThe public building was a large hall 12 meters long by 8.5 meters wide. A spectacular colorful mosaic dating to the Byzantine period (4th–6th centuries CE) was exposed in recent weeks. The well-preserved mosaic consists of 3 square sections each surrounding a circle decorated with geometric patterns. One has amphorae (jars used to transport wine) in two opposite corners, one with a pair of peacocks, the other a pair of doves pecking at grapes on a tendril. These are common designs that are known from this period; however, what makes this mosaic unique is the large number of motifs that were incorporated in one carpet.

North carpet

Middle carpet

South carpet

Pools and a system of channels and pipes between them used to convey water were discovered in front of the building. Steps were exposed in one of the pools (not a ritual bath, miqve, according to IAA) whose walls were covered with multiple layers of colored plaster (fresco) implying that whatever the pool was later used for, it continued for some time – no theory about what it might have been used for.

Pool w frescoArchaeologists in the Antiquities Authority are still trying to determine the purpose of the impressive public building and the pools whose construction required considerable economic resources. No destruction layer was found, the site was vacated in the Early Arab period.

In other excavations nearby, two Jewish settlements were found. At Horbat Rimon a synagogue and miqve were exposed. At Nahal Shoval the remains of two Jewish ritual baths and two public buildings were uncovered. Both of the public buildings feature raised platforms along the walls facing Jerusalem, a feature of Jewish synagogues of the period.

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Hirbet Midras Vandalized!

Just reported by Ynet (in Hebrew), Hirbet Midras, the site of the Byzantine church in the Ella Valley with the incredible mosaic floors, uncovered just two months ago and visited by tens of thousands of people was deliberately and brutally vandalized Wednesday night. The Antiquities Authority had made considerable effort to prepare the site and had decided to leave the mosaics uncovered so that people could visit and see them. The supervisor and archaeologist in charge, Alon Klein of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Crime Prevention unit was shocked to find the destruction this morning when he arrived at the site.

Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

“Someone took a hammer and attacked the mosaic, digging them up in a large number of spots. A person hiking in the park had reported the damage. The mosaic looks like it has been hit by mortar shelling. It’s a sad sight, heart breaking. The mosaics suffered serious damage as a result of brutal vandalism. ” said Klein.

Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

The Antiquities Authority has filed a criminal complaint with the police who are investigating. The mosaics will now be covered to protect them. When asked about whether the damage could be repaired the response was that it would be time-consuming and require a significant outlay of money but hopefully it could be done (at least to a certain degree).

This on the heels of the explosion yesterday near the entrance to Jerusalem and the escalation of rockets and mortar being fired on Beersheva and the coastal cities of Israel from Gaza. Sigh.

Mosaics at Hirbet Midras

All of the floors recently uncovered in the church at Hirbet Midras have incredible mosaics, that are extraordinarily well preserved. The mosaics include both intricate geometric designs and floral, fauna, fish, birds and fruit. The tesserae are fine, 7mm cubes in an assortment of colors enabling the artists to create realistic images. You can click on any of the images to see it in higher resolution.

The apse of the church with a geometric rectangular carpet; the curved part has an image of a rooster and duck in a design of grapevine tendrils and bunches of grapes.

Display of mosaics in the aisle, geometric patterns on either side of a panel with chukar birds.

Close up of the chukar bird panel.

Panel that combines birds, fish and lotus.

Image of a lion attacking what looks like an ibex among grapevines. Interesting to compare it with the image of the lion attacking the deer under the tree from Hisham’s Palace (Khirbet El-Mafjar, 7th century) near Jericho.

Byzantine Church, Hirbet Midras

Amir Ganor is not your usual archaeologist. Although he works for the Israel Antiquities Authority he packs a handgun because his primary responsibility is apprehending thieves who plunder sites for valuable artifacts to sell on the antiquities market. In this case a group of Palestinians were breaking into the complex of tunnels and caves in the Judean Coastal Plain or shefela in the area of Beit Guvrin, specifically Hirbet Midras, looking for coins and other treasure. This led Ganor to the site where a large stone lintel was uncovered.

The same lintel was first uncovered in the 1980s and based on the expert opinion of Prof. Amos Kloner was thought to be from a synagogue since it was almost identical to one found in the north at Hirbet Nevoraya. Ganor requested approval and support from the Antiquities Authority to excavate the area to discover more about the public building. Within a short time very impressive and beautiful floor mosaics were uncovered. Large dressed stones with what look like Byzantine crosses were discovered when the plaster covering them fell off. Combined with the architectural details, an apse, a crypt, mosaic floors, it seems that the building was a church. The church was destroyed by an earthquake some 1,300 years ago and lay mostly covered until the 19th century. The columns and capitals are displayed exactly as they were found, lying parallel on the ground and the northern wall is angled out from the movement of the earthquake.

There are several construction phases, in the last two the building was used as a splendid church. However, in the first phase the excavation shows that the later church was built inside a large public compound from the Second Temple period. The church, in its last phases, was built as a basilica, a central nave and two wide aisles that are delineated by eight marble columns with magnificent capitals which were specially imported (the eight bases can be seen but only 3 capitals and columns remain). The front of the church had a large flagstone courtyard, a narthex, and at the end of the nave is a raised bema or platform (that was added later – you can see that the mosaic floor continues under the bema).

All of the floors in the building were adorned with incredible mosaics, that are extraordinarily well preserved; these include both geometric designs and floral, fauna, fish, birds and fruit. Today I went out to the site to photograph the mosaics (before they are covered to protect them until the site can be readied for visitors). You can view them at https://israeltours.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/mosaics-hirbet-midras/

Located behind the bema are two rooms, one paved with a marble floor and the other that led to an underground tomb that was empty.

Beneath the entire building is a subterranean complex in which there are rooms, water installations, traps and store rooms for hiding. Among the artifacts discovered are coins from the time of the Great Revolt (66-70 CE) and the Bar Kokhba uprising (132-135 CE), stone vessels, lamps and various pottery vessels that are characteristic of the Jewish population from the settlement at that time.

Scholars who visited the site during the excavation proposed identifying the crypt as the tomb of the prophet Zechariah. Early Christian sources identified his burial place in the village of Zechariah which was discovered in 415CE. In light of these sources, including the Madaba Map (the building with the apse with the Greek, ΒΕθΖΑΧΑΡ to its left is Bet Zechariah), scholars think the church at Hirbet Midras is a memorial church meant to mark the tomb of the prophet Zechariah.

Caesarea-Maritima, Herod’s Promontory Palace

On the Mediterranean coast, 40 km north of Tel Aviv was a small, sleepy Phoenician town founded about the 3rd C BCE with a modest port called Strato’s Tower. All that changed when Herod chose the site for the development of a large, protected harbor. This boosted trade and commerce (and made a lot of money for Herod) and enabled closer ties with the centers of the Roman empire. Caesarea was a well-planned urban center, a walled city with streets laid out in a grid, warehouses, a Roman temple, a large theater (the first one in Israel according to Netzer), a stadium/hippodrome, public baths and according to Josephus several palaces. There was plenty of water for the city brought by an aqueduct. To date, only a small percentage of the city has been excavated.

In Josephus there is a detailed description of Herod’s palace, preceding even the harbor which was an exceptional feat of engineering and probably a great source of pride to Herod. Its location on a promontory jutting 100 meters out into the sea makes it unique and the placement of a pool in the center (where one would expect to find an internal courtyard) shows Herod’s exceptional building style. The other two natural promontories at Caesarea were used to anchor the harbor. All of the pool is hewn into the kurkar sandstone bedrock, coated with hydraulic plaster and from the outset was filled with fresh water and was intended for swimming and bathing. Evidence that pozzolana cement was used in the construction of features of the pool is further evidence that it was constructed at the same time as the harbor.

Some scholars regarded the pool as a fishpond and the entire structure a piscine, or fish market of sorts based on a network of open channels, intermediate pools and sluices linking the pool with the sea but according to Netzer this was at a later stage, 600 years after Herod when the pool was put to secondary use. Many fallen drums, pedestals and capitals were found at the bottom of the pool presumably from rows of columns that framed a peristyle courtyard. The pool is bordered on the east by the triclinium (formal dining room) and on the west by additional rooms closer to the sea (see layouts of the palace).  The floors of the triclinium and smaller rooms on each side had elaborate, geometric mosaic floors. Caesarea was battered by a strong storm in December 2010 (see Haaretz article) and 1000 year old artifacts were swept into the sea and lost forever (on my recent visit to the park I saw Park Authority staff working to cleanup the damage to the palace).

Additional excavations in 1976 followed the development of the east wing during the Roman period. Beside the triclinium was added a small caldarium, whose hypocaust and furnace were well preserved. One of the tiles of the furnace has the stamp of the Legion X Fretensis. Excavators found two inscribed marble columns with six dedicatory inscriptions that reveal important new information about officials of Caesarea from the 2nd-4th C CE.

Besides the architecture there is also the human drama. Josephus describes many incidents in peoples lives that happened in Herod’s palace. Agrippa I died in the palace after opening the Games and blaspheming in the stadium (Acts 12:20-23). A hall in the Upper Palace was the destination of the apostle Paul for a hearing before Antoninus Felix (Acts 23:35.). Later, Herod Agrippa II and his sister Berenike visited a new governor, Porcius Festus, and heard Paul’s self-defense there (Acts 25:23). Josephus relates a demonstration outside of the palace demanding the removal of Roman standards with the images of humans and animals from Jerusalem. Pilate had the Jews held in the stadium and threatened to kill them but backed down. In fact, the only archaeological evidence that Pilate existed is a dedicatory inscription with the name Pilatus that was found here (there is a copy at the site, the original is on display at the Israel Museum).

Walking through the hippodrome don’t miss the mosaic floor with images of birds, animals and people from a public building near the bath house. Interesting to compare it with the Bird mosaic from a 6th C mansion/palace nearby.

Bird Mosaic at Caesarea

Caesarea Maritima was a city and harbor built on the ruins of Straton’s Tower by Herod the Great about 25–13 BCE. It’s a very popular site, the archaeological park lies on the Mediterranean coast of Israel about halfway between the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. The city of Caesarea was described in detail by the 1st century Roman Jewish historian Josephus.

The city became the seat of the Roman praefecti soon after its founding. In 1961 Italian archaeologists excavating the theater found a stone inscription with the name of Pontius Pilate, according to the New Testament the Roman Governor responsible for ordering that Jesus be put to death, the first archaeological evidence that Pilate existed.

While visiting the Herodian, Roman, Byzantine and Crusader ruins of Caesarea make sure to see the nearby aqueduct and Bird mosaic, a large rectangular mosaic ‘rug’ on the floor of an extravagant palace first uncovered in 1950 but only conserved and viewable by the public in 2004. It’s a tapestry of the land of Israel and includes fruit trees and animals native to Israel (lion, tiger, bear, wild boar, ibex, dog, elephant, deer and bull) bordering 120 round medallions, each of which contains a different bird.

The owner of the palace is unknown but was obviously extremely wealthy. Built in the sixth century, the palace included a hall with the mosaic floor, columns, an open roofed yard and a second floor. The findings indicate an exceptionally developed water and drainage system that included inclined floors, water canals and recessed wells.

Mosaics at Inn of Good Samaritan

On the main highway <1> between Jerusalem and Jericho is a site identified with the Inn of the Good Samaritan (mentioned in the parable in Luke 10:25-37). Remains from the first century BCE to the first century CE were found throughout the area. Abundant finds from this period include pottery, clay lamps, glass vessels, metal implements and numerous coins attesting to intensive activity that befits an inn for Jewish and then Christian pilgrims and travelers making their way between Galilee and Jerusalem.

Byzantine artifacts

In the Ottoman period, a rectangular structure was built over the southern wall of the Crusader fortress. This building underwent numerous alterations and was restored after being damaged during WWI. It served as a roadside inn guarding the Jerusalem-Jericho road from attacks by brigands as it had for centuries.

Since the parable of the good Samaritan includes men of three faiths, the newly opened museum has chosen to display the mosaic floors and other artifacts found in churches and Jewish and Samaritan synagogues in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. It is fascinating to see the similarities and differences among the images displayed in mosaic.

Mosaic Khirbet Huriya

The art of mosaic began in the Greek world around the 4th C BCE and reached Israel during the Hellenistic period. It continued to develop and by the end of the Second Temple and Roman periods simple, plain and geometric mosaics became more ornate, complex with representations of flora and fauna, people, instruments, religious symbols. It became the chief means of paving public buildings, private homes, bath houses, churches and synagogues.

Mosaic floor

Places Nearby

Take the cutoff to Maale Adumim to visit the Martyrius monastery (there is a combined entrance ticket; note you need to phone in advance), the largest in the Judean desert. Inside the complex the main church was paved with colorful mosaics in geometric patterns interspersed with pictures of animals; the refectory floor, discovered intact, is covered with mosaics in geometrical designs and the kitchen was also paved with mosaics.

On the opposite side of the road along Wadi Qelt visit one of Herod’s fortresses, named after his mother, Cypros. There are 2 bath houses with remains of mosaic floors.

If you are planning a trip down to the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi don’t forget to take a few minutes to check out the mosaic floor in the synagogue (your entrance ticket to the nature reserve is good for the antiquities park). The synagogue has a detailed 18 line inscription in Hebrew and Aramaic including the 12 signs of the zodiac (indicated by their names but not depicted graphically as in most other synagogues of the same period, eg. Tiberia, Bet Alfa, Tzippori). The central hall has 4 birds within a medallion, peacocks grasping a bunch of grapes, a menora and geometric patterns.