Tag Archives: mosaics

Samaria-Sebaste

After leaving the archaeological park on Mount Gerizim I went looking for the ancient city of Samaria-Sebaste. Samaria was the site purchased by Omri for two talents of silver from Shemer and made the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Kings I 16:24-28). Omri’s son Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel and they built a temple to the pagan god Baal which was later destroyed by Jehu, who had Jezebel and 70 princes of Ahab’s family killed. Sebaste, was the Greek equivalent of the Latin Augusta, was Herod’s name for the city when the area was given to him by the Emperor Augustus. Herod rebuilt the city, in full Roman style, a kilometer long cardo of 600 columns, a forum, a Roman basilica, stadium, temple, hippodrome and theater surrounded by a wall and gates.

I picked up 2 trampistim (hitchhikers) who were on their way to Shavei Shomron who pointed me in the right direction to Samaria-Sebaste. The road loops around the settlement, a tall concrete separation wall on the left and then heads north. I stopped for directions at an impromptu stand by the side of the road where a Palestinian fellow was selling two kinds of plums, yellow and purple ones – he gave me 2 to taste and pointed to a dirt road on the right heading up the hill. The road is passable by car, just. A short drive and I was on a straight road through a grove of olive trees with two rows of Roman columns, standing along the road and in a row among the trees (cardo).

Continuing along the road I passed some excavated ruins and noticed a set of stairs to the left going up the hill (acropolis) as I approached the town. Left turn and I pulled into an open area (forum) bordered by rows of columns and parked the car.

A fellow stepped out of the Samaria restaurant and souvenir shop and greeted me. Sari, who had lived in Alabama for a number of years, there are decals of Alabama sports teams on the window, introduced himself and offered to show me around. First stop was the Hellenistic tower and Roman theater.

From there we walked to the top of the hill, the acropolis where Herod built a temple to Augustus over the administrative buildings and parts of the palace of Omri from the 8th century BCE.

There is a great view of the surrounding area and specifically the Roman cardo below.

The monumental steps leading to the temple were redone with the rebuilding of the temple during the reign of Septimus Severus (193-211CE).

From there we walked to the ruins of a small 7th century Byzantine church with Crusader additions where according to one tradition the head of John the Baptist was kept. It’s then a short walk back to the square. In walking through the forum I noticed a section of a fine marble lintel with egg and dart carving.

A great day trip that I would be happy to guide – the ruins at Mount Gerizim and Samaria-Sebaste. To fill out the day, you can cross Samaria to the Jordan valley and add some of these sites: the mosaic zodiac at Bet Alfa synagogue, the archaeological site at Bet Shean, the Crusader fortress at Belvoir, the monastery in Wadi Qelt, the mosaic museum at the Inn of the Good Samaritan depending on your interests.

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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.

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.

Roman Bath House from Herodium

One of the most exciting new installations that I saw in the Israel Museum’s renovated archaeology galleries was the display of a part of  the laconicum (hot dry room) next to the calderium of the Roman bath house that was found at Lower Herodium. I arrived to see the museum staff putting the final touches to the installation that shows clearly all the components: the hypocaust, the underfloor heating system where the floor is supported by stone pillars (pilae stacks) and the clay tubes in the walls to let the heat pass through; the plasterwork and fresco paintings on the wall; the mosaic floor.

Nearby is another square mosaic floor with a geometric, intertwined circle and pomegranates (one of the 7 species that grows in the land of Israel and characteristic Jewish motif of this period) in each of the corners. You can see this mosaic on site at Lower Herodium in the main tepidarium if you climb onto the roof of the bath house (though I learned that the one in the museum is the original and on site is a copy). If you look to the right, there is another mosaic in the small tepidarium designed as an opus sectile pattern of tiles.

I didn’t see any other artifacts from Herodium being readied for display – I was hoping to see the 3 sarcophagi that were discovered.