Palestinian authorities on Thursday unveiled one of the largest floor mosaics in the world, in the West Bank city of Jericho, after years of restoration.
Resembling a fine carpet, the vast, ancient mosaic covers 836 square meters (8,998 square feet) at the Hisham Palace, an Islamic desert castle dating from the eighth century. The palace and its stone mosaic, with intricate geometric patterns, were built during the reign of the Umayyads, the first hereditary Muslim dynasty, which ruled from Damascus. The palace was the winter resort of Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, who ruled from 724 to 743 CE.
The images, seen on dozens of panels, include a lion attacking a deer to symbolize war and two gazelles which symbolize peace, as well as delicate floral and geometric designs.
Hisham Palace had lain forgotten for centuries until it was rediscovered in the 19th century and explored in the 1930s. It was then that the mosaic was uncovered beneath the dust.
But it still remained neglected until five years ago when the site was closed to visitors as a $12 million Japan-funded restoration effort was launched.
“This mosaic contains more than five million pieces of stone from Palestine which have a natural and distinctive color,” Saleh Tawafsha, the under-secretary at the Palestinian tourism and antiquities ministry, told AFP during the unveiling ceremony.
He said he hoped that the restoration will draw tourists to Jericho.
The project included the construction of a large dome to protect the mosaic from the elements. Tourists can now view the mosaic from a new walkway suspended above it.
The project was originally supposed to be completed in 2018 but was delayed, in part because of the challenge of anchoring the dome without disturbing the archaeological remains.
The Hisham Palace near the Dead Sea covers about 150 acres (60 hectares) and comprises baths and an agricultural estate.
The Ummayad Dynasty lasted from 660 to 750 AD.
AP contributed to this report.