Weary travelers have always needed a place to rest and recuperate, from the harsh conditions and terrains of the Silk Route, to the more plush comforts that accompany modern travel. In Israel, an ancient Byzantine mosaic has been restored with the help of local residents on the Trans-Israel Highway, or a ‘Byzantine Route 6’.
The mosaic, which was located at the Horvat El-Bira archaeological site in the central town of Shoham, was built over 2,000 years ago during the Roman era as part of a rural villa with agricultural processing installations and homes for the residents, reports The Times of Israel .
The mosaic is intricately patterned with bright red flowers that are believed to be kalaniyot or anemones, which add bursts of color to the surrounding hillside during the winter months. The mosaic, which is made up of tiny, colored stone chips, is a testament to the skill and artistry of the Byzantine mosaic-makers.
The mosaic includes what looks like kalaniyot or anemones, which are flowers found on the hillside. (Emil Algam/ IAA)
“The needs of humans haven’t changed over thousands of years, because after a few hours of traveling I have to stop and get some water,” said Yair Amitzur, the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Central Region Educational Center. The IAA has been leading the dig and has collaborated with local residents for the restoration.
The Horvat El-Bira site with a view of the offices of Israel Antiquities Authority Central Region in Shoham (Emil Algam/ IAA)
Horvat El-Bira: From the Iron Age to Byzantine Rome
The history of the Horvat El-Bira site dates back to the Iron Age , around 1000 BC, or possibly even earlier during the Chalcolithic Age from 4500-3500 BC, as discovered during excavations in the 1980s by professors Zeev Safrai and Shimon Dar.
The original rural villa site was converted into a church during the Byzantine period, between the 4th and 7th centuries AD.
Horvat El-Bira was one of many rest stops along the route every few kilometers, where travelers could find water, food, a place to pray, or rest. It served as a rest stop along the main road of the Judean flatlands from Lod to Antipatris (Tel Afek/Yarkon National Park), similar to the route of the present-day Route 6.
“This spot is amazing, because you’re in the middle of an industrial area, right next to Route 6 and it feels like the most urban place, but then you climb 300 to 400 meters on top of a hill and you’re in a totally different place surrounded by nature and with beautiful views,” Amitzur said. “I’ve seen a lot of things as an archaeologist, but I’ve never seen something so drastic.”
The mosaic was a feature of the Byzantine church floor. (Emil Algam/ IAA)
Today, the site is located within the Shoham Industrial Park, just a few steps away from the Israel Antiquities Authority’s new offices for the Central Region in Shoham. It’s also next to the Israel National Trail, an 1,110-kilometer (683-mile) path that spans Israel from north to south. The restoration of the mosaic will transform the site into a rest stop for hikers on the trail, offering them an opportunity to learn about the area’s rich history while taking a break from their journey.
Restoration Project: Community, Care, and Restoring Glory
The restoration project was carried out during last week’s Good Deeds Day, an annual event in Israel where thousands of volunteers engage in community service projects throughout the country. The Israel Antiquities Authority and local residents worked together to clean up the overgrown site and restore the ancient mosaic to its former glory, reports Israel Hayom .
The renewed Horvat El-Bira site will not only serve as a rest stop for hikers but also as an opportunity for the Israel Antiquities Authority to provide assistance to those on the Israel National Trail. The Authority’s new offices in Shoham will serve as “trail angels” who can offer hikers water, a cup of coffee, or some local advice.
The site will also offer visitors a chance to see an important piece of Israel’s history and witness the ancient art of mosaic-making, a technique that was widely used in the region during the Roman and Byzantine periods.
“It’s really important for us to connect the residents, visitors, and hikers to their heritage. When you’re here in the winter there are kalaniyot and poppies in a huge concentration, and it’s really stunning. It probably really excited people thousands of years ago, and the flower is likely part of the local story,” concluded Amitzur.
Top image: The flower mosaic at Horvat El-Bira being excavated. Source: Emil Algam/ IAA
By Sahir Pandey
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