Medieval Arab mansion unearthed in Ramle

Complete with fountain and intact plumbing, unique 11th century villa was likely abandoned after pair of earthquakes struck region

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

Fountain and plumbing from medieval mansion in Ramle (photo credit: Ron Peled, Israel Antiquities Authority)
Fountain and plumbing from medieval mansion in Ramle (photo credit: Ron Peled, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists have unearthed a medieval villa in the central Israeli city of Ramle, complete with a water fountain and intact plumbing dating to the 11th century — just before the beginning of the Crusades. The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the find, located on the outskirts of the city, on Sunday.

Excavators working on a new road connecting Ramle with nearby Lod stumbled upon the remains and contacted the IAA.

Two bedrooms were uncovered in the villa, which was constructed of hewn stone, and it was dated to the turn of the 11th century, the period during which the Egypt-based Fatimid empire ruled Palestine. To the west of the building, fragments of the mosaic-covered fountain were found with the pipes and water channels connecting them to a large cistern still intact. A blacksmith’s furnace was dug up south of the villa as well. Oil lanterns, ceramic jars, a child’s rattle and parts of dolls made of bone were also found at the site.

During the Fatimid period, Ramle was the Arab capital of Palestine, in large part because it was located at the intersection of the sea road connecting the Fatimid capital of Cairo with the major Syrian city of Damascus, and the road connecting the port of Jaffa with Jerusalem.

Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi described the city in the 10th century in resplendent detail and with no shortage of superlatives.

The capital, he wrote, was “a fine city, and well built; its water is good and plentiful; its fruits are abundant. It combines manifold advantages, situated as it is in the midst of beautiful villages and lordly towns, near to holy places and pleasant hamlets. Commerce here is prosperous, and the markets excellent…The bread is of the best and the whitest.”

Villas and fountains like the one uncovered recently find mention in al-Muqaddasi’s description of Ramle. “This capital stands among fruitful fields, walled towns, and serviceable hospices. It possesses magnificent hostelries and pleasant baths, dainty food and various condiments, spacious houses, fine mosques, and broad roads.”

Hagit Torge, the archaeologist managing the dig, said she believed the building “was the private residence of a wealthy family and that the fountain was used as decoration.”

“It’s the first time a fountain was found outside Ramle’s ancient, known wealthy quarters. Most of the fountains we known from this period in Ramle were located around a white tower, which was the center of the old city of Ramle,” Turge was quoted in a press release saying. “Additionally, this is the first time a fountain’s plumbing was found totally complete. The pipes of other fountains didn’t survive the earthquakes that struck the country in 1033 and 1068.”

Much of the city, and likely the villa Torge’s crew dug up, was destroyed in those earthquakes, and the villa abandoned.

The fountain was removed from the site, restored, and will be displayed at the city’s Pool of Arches.

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