By Anees Barghouti
The Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry on Thursday unveiled the Middle East's largest ancient mosaic in the Palace of Umayyad Caliph Hisham bin Abdul Malik, located in the West Bank city of Jericho.
On the sidelines of the unveiling ceremony, Tourism and Antiquities Minister Rula Maayah explained that the 827-square-meter mosaic consisted of 38 different artistic themes linked to each other with thousands of stones of 21 distinct natural colors.
"It is a work of great precision and beauty," she told Anadolu Agency.
According to the ministry, the mosaic -- located in the palace's open-air audience hall -- dates back some 1,400 years to the first era of the Umayyad Caliphate.
"This mosaic portrays the history of the Palestinian people," Maayah said. "It is of great historical value."
Iyad Hamdan, ministry director-general, for his part, told Anadolu Agency that some 200,000 tourists -- local and foreign -- visited the site every year.
"After the unveiling of this mosaic, however, we hope to see double this number," he said.
Hamdan went on to note that Thursday’s unveiling was only the first phase of a larger project.
"Soon we will begin renovating damaged parts of the mosaic, above which we will build a roof to protect it from the elements," he said.
Funded by the Japanese International Development Agency, the renovation project is slated for completion by 2018.
Built during the Ummayad era, Hisham's Palace stands on 150 acres of land in the West Bank’s Khirbat al-Mafjar area, roughly two kilometers from the city of Jericho.
Discovered in 1873, the two-story palace is considered one of Palestine’s best examples of early Islamic architecture.
The site includes royal courts and a bath complex (replete with steam room), along with agricultural and residential areas and a mosque.
The caliph's "winter palace", the site is commonly believed to have been built during the reign of Hisham bin Abd al-Malik, the 10th Ummayad caliph, between 724 and 743 AD.
Some experts, however, believe the palace was built by Hisham’s successor, Al-Walid II.
Although the site was badly damaged by an earthquake in 747 AD, archaeologists believe it was inhabited during the subsequent Abbasid and Ayyubid periods.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.