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lod mosaic

Discovered by chance in 1996, the Lod mosaic covers an area of 56 by 30 feet. Over 2 million square stones (“tessera”) in 30 different colors were used for its creation. Being perhaps the most beautiful mosaic ever found in Israel, in 2022 it was finally presented to the public.

In 1996 I was a young archaeology student, and just started a new job in the Israel Antiquities Authority’s guiding department. One day the phone rang. I was asked to “quickly report in Lod” where an ancient beautiful mosaic floor had just been uncovered during salvage excavations. Being exceptionally big and beautiful, the rumor of this exceptional discovery spread. Every day crowds reached the site to admire the ancient beauty, and there was a need to maintain the order and provide explanations. Without really knowing too much about this discovery I happily reported and got a short briefing by Zvi Greenhut (known for his own discovery of the Caiaphas ossuary).
The mosaic was indeed stunning. Covering an area of 56 by 30 feet, it depicted in great detail wild animals, hunting scenes, birds, fish of different size, plants, fruits, and several sailing vessels. Most incredible is its center piece, a detailed image of African wildlife, including a girrafe, a rhinoceros, two reclining lions on cliffs, an elephant, and more.  The scene looked surprisingly similar to a scene from the movie “Lion King” which aired just 2 years earlier.
Despite the sensational discovery there was no certainty as to its future. With no funds to ensure its conservation and public display, the Israel Antiquities Authority was planning to cover it “till further notice”.  Many felt this might be a last chance to see the mosaic floor for many years.

The Mosaic Goes on a Grand Tour

Indeed the Lod mosaic was eventually covered up, and for more then a decade. Only in 2009 two donors, Shelby White and Leon Levy foundation, gave their consent to finance a museum over the mosaic. As a result, the mosaic was pulled out, and until the museum was to be built, the mosaic was sent on
a “grand tour” around the globe. It was on display in the Metropolitan museum in New-York, in San Francisco, Chicago, at the Penn museum in Philadelphia, the Louvre, Berlin, London, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Venice, Miami, and more.
During the construction of the museum another section of the mosaic floor was uncovered. This time it was left in its place (“In situ”) and treated so visitors can walk on it.

A New Museum Opens

The museum was completed and opened in June 2022. During my recent visit to the site it seems that it was still in run-up. The multimedia was still being tested, and the English audio was not available. But the mosaic itself was fully displayed, well lit, and, well, was quite a spectacle!
Stylistic and stratigraphical analysis leaves no doubt that the mosaic was part of a 3rd or 4th century CE Roman mansion in Lod, then called also Lydda. Sadly, no inscription was found that could indicate the landlord’s identity. But the lavish style of decoration leaves no doubt he was a pagan, probably a high ranking figure in the Roman local administration, or a wealthy merchant. One peculiar note is that it seems that the landlord deliberately avoided human figures. Perhaps he was sensitive to Jewish dwellers of Lod at the time who could consider figurative images offensive to their faith? The existance of a Jewish community, and even a Rabbinical center in Roman Lydda is well known from Jewish sources.

Visiting the Lod Mosaic

The new museum is located in northeastern Lod, a merely 10 minutes drive from Ben Gurion airport and highway no. 1. Currently it is open Sunday to Thursday, from 9:00 to 16:00.

Contact me to set a private tour to Lod and the Lod Mosaic.

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