The mosaic of interwoven geometric designs is one of the largest in the Middle East, although it remains partially covered by a layer of sand. (MaanImages)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Japanese government on Monday agreed to fund a project that will see a colossal mosaic in Jericho's famed Hisham Palace completely uncovered and preserved for display.
Palestinian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Rula Maaya made the agreement in a memorandum of understanding signed with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan's official development assistance body.
She said in a statement that the mosaic, boasting complex geometric designs, was one of the best preserved in the Middle East and, at 825 square meters, also one of the largest.
She said that uncovering the mosaic and putting it on display would increase the number of tourists visiting Hisham Palace and Jericho at large.
Maaya added that the ministry would provide the Japanese team with support to ensure the project is implemented as carefully as possible.
Located in Hisham Palace's open-air Great Bath Room, much of the mosaic is currently covered by a thin layer of sand that has protected it from natural erosion.
The ruins of Hisham's Palace, built during the Ummayad empire, stand on 60 hectares (150 acres) in Khirbat al-Mafjar, west of the Jordan Valley and 260 meters below sea level.
The site was discovered in 1873, but the first excavations took place in the 1930s, when British archaeologist Robert W. Hamilton began work there during the British mandate in Palestine.
The winter palace is representative of early Islamic architecture, with several residential floors, a courtyard with a portico, a mosque, a fountain and a steam room modeled on Roman baths.
The site was long believed to have been built during the reign of Ummayad caliph Hisham bin Abd al-Malik, between 724 and 743 A.D., but experts now believe his nephew and successor al-Walid II built the palace.
Al-Walid II lived in the structure but it was never completed and an earthquake destroyed much of it in 749. Preserving what remains, including its spectacular mosaics, is an urgent matter in the eyes of UNESCO.
Louise Haxthausen, director of UNESCO's Ramallah office, told AFP that "Hisham's Palace has all the potential for becoming a World Heritage Site."
The palace is famed for its mosaics, including the incredible "Tree of Life," which depicts the mythical tree with two deer grazing peacefully on one side of it, while a third deer is attacked by a lion on the other side.AFP contributed to this report.