Archaeological excavations carried out in the past month by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the city of Lod,in preparation for the construction of a Visitors’ Center that will exhibit mosaics previously exposed here several years ago, have revealed an additional colorful mosaic dating from the Roman period. The mosaic was carefully removed for conservation in order for construction of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center to continue.
The Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center project is a joint initiative of Shelby White and the Leon Levy Foundation, the Lod Municipality, the Lod Economic Development Corporation and the Israel Antiquities Authority. When complete, the Center will display the mosaics, enclosed within a modern building that relates to and respects the plan of the ancient villa in which they were originally laid. In 1996, road workers discovered by chance a mosaic floor at the entrance to Lod, adjacent to the Ginnaton Junction.
In the subsequent excavation, directed by the late IAA archaeologist Dr. Miriam Avissar, the remains of a luxurious villa with exceptionally well-preserved, unique mosaic floors dating to the 4th century CE were found. According to Dr. Amir Gorzalczany, the director of the present excavation, “the excavations at the site exposed a villa that included a large luxurious mosaic-paved reception room triclinium, and an internal columned courtyard, also with mosaics, and a water system. We found evidence for Mediterranean luxury that characterized the Roman Empire, including attributes such as fresco wall paintings”.
The extraordinary mosaics uncovered in the Lod villa depict realistic and imaginary animals, complex geometric designs and marine scenes, incorporating a multitude of fish and two ships. The variety of colors, the extraordinary quality and the exceptional state of preservation led to local and world-wide interest. The central panel of the mosaic served as a worldwide ambassador for Israel, as the mosaic was exhibited in special exhibitions in museums many of which had never before borrowed artifacts from Israel. These museums included the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Frost Museum in Miami, Florida, the Altes Museum in Berlin, the Cini Foundation in Venice, the Field Museum in Chicago and the Art Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of visitors saw the mosaics worldwide, and the media and scientific coverage was extensive.
Shelby White, the generous donor of ‘The Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeology Center’ said, “The Lod Museum will be a dream come true, that began when my husband Leon Levy and I first saw the magnificent mosaic more than twenty years ago. This initiative could not have materialized without the strong support of the Lod community and the Israel Antiquities Authority.”
According to Lod Mayor Adv. Yair Revivo, “It is fascinating to learn how many centuries ago the centrality and the potential of the Lod environs was appreciated by the ancient residents. The establishment of the Center exhibiting aspects of the rich history of Lod will provide an impressive gateway to the town.”
Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Israel Hasson said, “After twenty years of the IAA’s perseverance we have succeeded in reaching a worthy and committed cooperation with the Lod Municipality. I am happy that the citizens of Israel and worldwide will be able to appreciate the cultural heritage that has waited patiently for world recognition, and will now receive the honor it deserves”. The mosaic that was discovered recently will also be displayed in the new Center.
“The archaeological excavation that we carried out this month was relatively small, but contributed significantly to our understanding of the villa building” says Gorzalczany of the IAA. “Thankfully, the main central panel of the mosaic was preserved. The figures, many similar to the figures in the earlier mosaics, comprise fish and winged creatures. A fairly similar mosaic was found in the past in Jerusalem, on the Mount Zion slopes. The Lod mosaics, however, do not depict any human figures that are present in the Mount Zion mosaic. It is quite probable that the same artist produced both the mosaics, or that two artists worked from a similar design. This type of mosaic is better known in the Western part of the Roman Empire. Also noteworthy,” continues Gorzalczany, ”are the rectangular marks that may denote the placing of the couches on which the participants of the banquet or feast reclined. These marks are common in similar villas and are an indication of the use of the space in the reception halls.”
The professional treatment of the mosaic in the course of its exposure and its removal from the site for conservation, are carried out by the Conservation Department of the IAA, under the supervision of the Head of the Artistic Conservation Branch Jacques Neguer, and the Head of the Mosaics Department Galeb Abu-Diab.
Gorzalczany considers that the newly discovered mosaic paved an additional reception room next to the sumptuous reception hall uncovered in 1996. “If this is the case, then the villa may be much larger than we supposed. The discovery, in close proximity to the earlier hall, raises new questions: How large was the building? Did the villa comprise several reception halls? Where were the private living rooms? Was there a second story? These issues may be resolved in future excavations.” The Center will enable visitors to appreciate the mosaic from different angles and with the aid of various visualizing aids. Additional artifacts from the excavation and from the rich history of Lod will also be displayed.
The Visitors’ Center of Lod Is part of the wider plan to develop other parts of the historic city of Lod as a touristic route. The mosaic is located in the northeast of Lod, next to the Ginnaton Junction. It is accessible from the Ben Gurion International Airport, and from the two main arteries of the country, the Tel Aviv to Jerusalem Highway No. 1, and the north to south highway No. 6. The Visitors’ Center is planned to open within two years.