Magnificent Lod Mosaic Is the Heart of a New Museum
Guests invited to the mansion of a wealthy merchant in the fourth century C.E. Roman province of Syria Palestina were treated to a feast for the eyes: a sumptuous mosaic floor depicting elephants, tigers, giraffes, a rhinoceros, rabbits, dolphins, fruits and ships, set in an elaborate frame of cable patterns.
This magnificent mosaic, dating to around 300 C.E., was discovered in 1996 during road work in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod, which is near Ben-Gurion International Airport. After being on display since 2010 at different museums around the globe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and Paris’s Louvre, the mosaic is now on permanent view at the discovery site, the centerpiece of a dedicated new museum designed by Israeli architect Amit Nemlich.
Visitors to the Shelby White and Leon Levy Mosaic Archaeological Center will see the approximately 1,650-square foot mosaic surrounded by pebbles like those that formed its foundation. Also on view is a large mosaic that was in the mansion’s courtyard.
All texts in the museum are in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Six digital stands surround the main mosaic, offering videos, descriptions and games for children and families. One, for example, explains the stages of an archaeological dig.
The Lod mosaic is unusual for several reasons, explained museum director Rocio Meneri. One is its excellent preservation. Another is the use of relatively small tesserae, the cubes—in this case made of glass—that form a mosaic. It is also unusual for combining animal hunting and maritime scenes as well as for its lack of human figures.
But it is, perhaps, the mosaic’s location that excites Meneri most. “It was found in a low-income mixed neighborhood,” she said. As a focal point for developing tourism in Lod, she said, “it gives hope to the city.”
Esther Hecht is a journalist and travel writer based in Jerusalem.