New museum showcases one of region’s most extraordinary mosaics
Following their whirlwind tour of major museums around the world, the ancient Lod mosaics have returned home. The mosaics—which date to the late third or early fourth century C.E.—are some of the most exquisite and best-preserved mosaics ever discovered in Israel. Now housed in the spectacular Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center on the same site where they were first discovered, these beautiful Roman-era mosaics are Israel’s new must-see attraction.
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Crafted towards the end of the Roman period (37 B.C.E.–324 C.E.), the mosaics originally paved the entry hall to an elite residence in a wealthy neighborhood of Lydda (Lod’s ancient name). Unusual in their quality, construction, and contents, the mosaics are evidence of the incredible wealth of their original patron.
The main mosaic floor measures 56 by 30 feet and is comprised of colorful images depicting wild animals, birds, fish, plants, fruits, and even sailing vessels. However, unlike other mosaics from the Roman era, there are no depictions of people within the scene. This group of mosaics is made up of more than 2 million tesserae (small stone tiles) of more than 30 different colors, each measuring less than 0.3 inches wide.
According to Hagit Torga, archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the Lod mosaics were most likely created by the same artist or school of artists that crafted other lavish mosaics around the Mediterranean. “The artists who planned this mosaic were professional artists who traveled around the Roman world, and they offered in a book of scenes all kinds of scenes, and people would choose what they want for their houses and so we have parallels to this mosaic from Carthage and Sicily from the same period.”
Little is known about the wealthy individual who commissioned the mosaic. As the mosaics lack depictions of people, it has been suggested that the owner could have been Christian or Jewish, although much of the region’s Jewish population had been expelled following the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the early second century. According to Torga, “We have an educated guess that maybe [he] was a pagan Roman whose family converted to Christianity.” Torga further suggests that the diverse imagery and nautical scenes raises the possibility that the owner was a merchant who had a close connection to the sea.
The house was inhabited through the Byzantine period (324–634 C.E). During this time, other mosaics were added, including a courtyard mosaic in the fifth century and a mosaic stripe that was inlaid into the earlier Roman-era mosaic in the sixth century. Although the overall themes of these later mosaics were similar to the original, artistic and stylistic differences can clearly be distinguished.
The extended habitation of the site contributed to its great preservation, as the residents continually maintained the mosaics. The main reason for their incredible preservation, however, is due to the Umayyad period (634–1099 C.E.) inhabitants, who carefully covered the mosaics with soil before laying a stone floor overtop.
The Lod mosaics were first uncovered in 1996 by IAA archaeologist Miriam Avissar during a salvage excavation. At the time, due to a lack of funds for their preservation, the mosaics were covered over after excavation. In 2009, the IAA received funding from the Leon Levy Foundation and Shelby White to complete the excavation and preserve the mosaics for the future. After they were uncovered and restored, the mosaics were removed from the site to allow for the construction of an archaeological center where they could be properly displayed. During the construction, the mosaics were exhibited at many of the world’s most notable museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Altes Museum in Berlin, and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
With the completion of the Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center, the mosaics have since returned to Lod and are now presented to the public in the place where they were first discovered. “Our dream for this city is being realized today right before our eyes as we dedicate this most important museum, placing Lod on the world tourism map. We will enable people from around [Israel] and the world to view this amazing treasure here in its original location, exactly where it was found,” said Leon Revivo of the Lod Mayor’s Office.
Eli Eskozido, IAA Director-General, echoed this sentiment, saying, “Today, after years of effort, the final piece of the Lod mosaic project has been put in place, with the dedication of this visitors’ center. This is a thrilling milestone for the Antiquities Authority, whose experts uncovered, preserved, and promoted the public display of this amazing mosaic.”
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