Beautiful Roman mosaics return home in new Israeli museum

JERUSALEM (AP) — A series of exceptional 1,700-year-old Roman mosaics have returned to Israel, where the collection was shown to the public for the first time Monday after more than a decade of touring the world’s top museums.

The mosaics were first discovered in the central city of Lod in 1996, but the Israel Antiquities Authority did not fully excavate the vast, well-preserved works of art until 2009.

The collection stretches 17 meters by nine meters (56 feet by 30 feet). The mosaics contain a menagerie of animals, from fish and fowl to beasts that would have been exotic to the ancient inhabitants of Lod: an African elephant, rhinoceros and giraffe. Archaeologists believe the mosaics adorned an affluent villa in the 3rd or 4th century, after Lod was rebuilt as the Roman city of Diospolis.

But for more than a decade, while Israeli authorities raised money for a museum, the mosaics had no permanent home. They have been exhibited in museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris and The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The New Home of the Mosaics at the Shelby White and Leon Levy Mosaic Lod Archaeological Center offers guided tours and interactive exhibits in Arabic, English, and Hebrew. The museum is free to residents of Lod, a mixed Arab-Jewish city that saw sectarian violence in the Gaza Strip in May 2021 during Israel’s war against Hamas.

“Like a mosaic that brings many pieces together to form one beautiful image … we try to bring together all the local people – Jews and Arabs,” the museum’s project manager, Raanan Kislev, told The Associated Press.

The museum hopes it will be a major attraction for tour groups, as Lod is strategically located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and next to the country’s main international airport. The museum was designed to recreate an ancient Roman villa such as one that would have housed the mosaics.

“Our dream for this city – itself a mosaic of cultures – is being realized before our eyes today as we inaugurate this most important museum and put Lod on the world tourism map,” said Mayor Yair Revivo.

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