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One of the world's largest floor mosaics to be opened to public in Jericho

Oct. 17, 2016 6:16 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 17, 2016 6:16 P.M.)
JERICHO (Ma’an) -- The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has announced that it will uncover one of the largest floor mosaics in the world on Thursday, located in the district of Jericho in the occupied West Bank.

The floor mosaic, located in the Islamic archaeological site Hisham’s Palace just north of central Jericho, is composed of 38 connected large tiles and spans a total area of 826 square meters.

The mosaic covers the floor of the reception hall and the large bath of Hisham’s Palace, “and is considered one of the largest and most beautiful mosaic floors in the world,” the ministry said in a statement Monday.

The mosaic depicts a “tree of life,” with a lion preying on a deer on the left side of the tree, and two deer living peacefully on the other side of the tree, meant to symbolize peace and war.

The statement added that complex geometric patterns featuring constructivism patterns compose the overall mosaic, “demonstrating the skills that were conducted” in creating the piece of art.

First discovered in the 1930s, the mosaic was found covered with rubble due to an earthquake that struck Jericho in 947 A.D.

With the help of Japanese funding, the Palestinian ministry has been conducting restoration works for over a year to remove the rubble, and “has successfully uncovered the mosaic floor,” which will be opened to the public on Thursday, according to Eyad Hamdan, the general director of the ministry in Jericho.

He added that the mosaic floor, which originates from the Umayyad era, is expected to significantly increase the number of tourists coming to Palestine and especially to Jericho.

He confirmed that the number of tourists who visited Jericho reached one million since the beginning of 2016, including approximately 600,000 foreign tourists.

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 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, previously told AFP that "Hisham's Palace has all the potential for becoming a World Heritage Site."

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