In a remarkable exploration, the ruins of a luxurious estate from the Byzantine era and a unique rural mosque have been discovered by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
The focal point of this excavation is the intriguing mosque, believed to predate an astonishing 1,200 years. Situated in the Bedouin city of Rahat, these mosque ruins were unexpectedly unearthed during the construction of a new neighborhood, approximately two kilometers away from another rural mosque that was previously discovered in 2019.
The structure’s distinct characteristics include a square chamber, an orientation towards Mecca, and an intriguing half-circle niche within the southern-facing wall.
Dr. Elena Kogan-Zehavi, an archaeologist and co-director of the Israel Antiquities Authority excavation, emphasized the mosque’s historical significance, stating, “What is unique about our mosque is the proliferation of 7th-century ceramics on the site, making it one of the earliest mosques in the world.”
The mosque was found in the Bedouin town of Rahat in Israel’s Negev desert. Credit: by Menahem Kahana / AFP via Getty Images
Aerial photograph of the 7th-century luxurious estate building found near today’s Rahat. Credit: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
Adjacent to this extraordinary religious discovery, the archaeological team also revealed the remains of an extravagant estate hailing from the Byzantine era. The estate, believed to have been constructed by Muslim architects, boasted a series of interconnected rooms bordering expansive open courtyards.
These spaces, replete with numerous clay-lined ovens, likely served as culinary hubs. A treasure trove of artifacts, including ornate tableware and exquisite glassware adorned with intricate depictions of flora and fauna, testified to the affluence enjoyed by the estate’s inhabitants.
IAA archaeologist Dr. Oren Shmueli and colleagues provided a fascinating glimpse into the estate’s layout, describing a Byzantine farmhouse graced with a fortified tower and chambers fortified by sturdy walls, all encircling a central courtyard. The evidence strongly suggests that the estate was inhabited by Christian farmers, adding to the tapestry of religious and cultural diversity within the region’s history.
The mosque and estate discoveries are particularly significant against the backdrop of the rise of Islam. Despite the Arab conquest of the Holy Land in 636 CE, it was only in the ninth century that Islam emerged as the dominant faith in the region.
Dr. Kogan-Zehavi stressed the importance of comprehending the spread of Islam during the transition from the Byzantine era to the early days of Islam in the Holy Land. As the excavation efforts continue, the world eagerly anticipates the revelations that will continue to reshape our understanding of this storied region’s rich history.