Huge restored mosaic unveiled in Jericho desert castle

Palestinian authorities have unveiled one of the largest floor mosaics in the world in the occupied West Bank city of Jericho after years of restoration.

Resembling a fine carpet, the vast mosaic covers 836 sq metres (8,998 sq feet) at the Hisham’s Palace, an Umayyad Islamic desert castle dating from the eighth century.

The images, seen on dozens of panels, include a lion attacking a deer to symbolise war and two gazelles, which symbolise peace, as well as delicate floral and geometric designs.

Hisham’s Palace had lain forgotten for centuries until it was rediscovered in the 19th century and explored in the 1930s. It was then that the mosaic was uncovered beneath the dust.

But it still remained neglected until five years ago, when the site was closed to visitors as a $12m (£8.7m) Japan-funded restoration effort was launched.

A view of the ‘Tree of Life’ mosaic after restoration at Hisham’s Palace.
A view of the ‘Tree of Life’ mosaic after restoration at Hisham’s Palace. Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

“This mosaic contains more than 5m pieces of stone from Palestine, which have a natural and distinctive colour,” Saleh Tawafsha, the undersecretary at the Palestinian tourism and antiquities ministry, told AFP during the unveiling ceremony on Thursday.

He said he hoped the restoration would draw tourists to Jericho, which lies in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Hisham’s Palace near the Dead Sea covers about 60 hectares (150 acres) and comprises baths and an agricultural estate.

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