Archaeological excavations carried out over 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 there several years ago, revealed an additional, colorful mosaic dating from the Roman period. The mosaic was carefully removed for conservation.
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 IAA.
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 down. In 1996, road workers discovered a mosaic floor at the entrance to the city of Lod (near Ben Gurion International Airport). In a 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 adorned 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 displayed in special exhibitions in museums, many of which had never before borrowed artifacts from Israel. These 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 worldwide have viewed the mosaics, and the media and scientific coverage has been extensive.
“The archaeological excavation that we carried out this month was relatively small, but contributed significantly to our understanding of the villa building,” said Dr. Gorzalczany. “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 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,” Gorzalczany explained. “Also noteworthy 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.”
Donor Shelby White said in a statement: “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 IAA.”
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 IAA, 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.