After 1,700 years, the Lod mosaic has a permanent home

With the conclusion of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center, the renowned Lod mosaic will soon have a permanent home. (Niki Davidov, Antiquities Authority of Israel) After a world tour, Israel’s most remarkable mosaic will eventually have its own port. Before docking at the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center upon its anticipated conclusion in 2019, the mammoth mosaic adorned with nautical motifs had its own voyage.

The vibrant mosaic was discovered by accident in 1996 during salvage excavations in Lod’s central plaza. Lod Mayor Yair Ravivo, Israel Antiquities Authority Director Israel Hasson, and the center’s primary donor Shelby White deposited the cornerstone of the Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center at the site of its discovery on Thursday.

After determining the significance of the Roman artifact from the late third to early fourth century, the IAA was faced with a difficult decision. Without a budget and the means to preserve and exhibit it, its splendor would be lost, despite the fact that it is largely extant and magnificent. At the conclusion of the 1996 excavation, it was once again covered with dirt until a donor was found.

The mosaic was rediscovered in 2009, when funding was secured through the Leon Levy Foundation and Shelby White. It was viewed in Paris, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities around the globe as the Lod archaeology center was being painstakingly designed.

Regarding the long process preceding this groundbreaking, IAA director Hasson stated on Thursday, “It gives us great pleasure to be able to provide visitors from around the world with access to a 2,000-year-old cultural treasure that has been patiently awaiting its unveiling and appreciation.”

At the Israel National Maritime Museum in Haifa, a section depicting sea vessels, fish, and sea creatures is on exhibit this summer for the first time in Israel. It will remain there until April 2018, alongside replicas of vessels based on the mosaic.

The IAA stated that travelers will be able to view “a world-class find in situ, within a modern complex related to the villa where this mosaic was discovered” when the site opens in 2019.

The Lod mosaic was found in what appears to be a sizable Byzantine-era Roman villa. It is 17 meters long and 9 meters wide, with a surface area of approximately 180 square meters (1,940 square feet). The colorful illustrations on the mosaic include elephants, lions, raptors, fish, and crustaceans, among others. There are also flora and plants, ships, and geometric patterns.

The villa’s proprietor may have been a wealthy merchant, based on the scale of the opulent residence and the mosaic depicting sea motifs in vivid colors.

According to a recent Haaretz article citing Dr. Zaraza Friedman, an archaeologist and expert on the iconography of ships in mosaics, the proprietor was “involved in maritime trade” and “had widespread connections with North Africa,” where the mosaic artist is believed to have originated. Friedman also hypothesized that the proprietor was a traditional Jew whose family moved to Lod after the devastation of the Second Temple in 70 CE. In support of this theory, the IAA stated in a press release that “unlike other mosaics found from that time period, there are no human figures.”

The well-known Lod mosaic. (Niki Davidov, Antiquities Authority of Israel) A second colorful mosaic was discovered south of the primary mosaic; it was also part of the villa and will be added to the museum, which is conveniently located near Ben-Gurion International Airport.

At the ceremony on Thursday, Ravivo, the mayor of Lod, stated that the new center “will provide a dignified front and an impressive gate to the city, and will connect the visitors to a touristic route which will include marvelous historic sites which we are preserving within the development of the old city, such as Khan El-Khalil, the arches house, the famous local market, and the Tana’im museum, as well as the new municipality complex which we are building for our residents… “Old Lod is revitalized!”

For donor White, the Lod Museum “will be the realization of a dream that began twenty years ago when my husband Leon Levy and I first saw the magnificent mosaic.” Without the unwavering support of the Lod community and the Israel Antiquities Authority, this would not have been possible.”

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