Thursday, March 18, 2010

Israeli archaeologists identified Caliph Mu’awiya’s Lakeside Palace

Israeli archaeologists report that they have identified the palace of the Umayyad caliphs at al-Sinnabra – modern Beth Yerah or Kh. el-Kerak – on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The discovery is based on results of the recent Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology excavations headed by Raphael Greenberg and on research conducted by Taufik Deadle of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The existence of a palace at al-Sinnabra is reported by early Arab historians, but its precise location was long unknown. Between 1950 and 1953 the archaeologists Guy and Bar-Adon excavated a large fortified structure on Tel Bet Yerah which they dated to the Byzantine period (c. 330-620 CE). A large hall in the center of the complex had a curved apse facing south and colorful mosaic floors. When they discovered a stone bearing an engraved depiction of a seven-branched candelabrum, they quickly dubbed the entire building a synagogue, and it was soon incorporated in the Beth Yerah National Park – a popular tourist destination during the 1950s and 1960s, now abandoned. Over the years the identification of the structure was questioned, but only in 2002 was a new interpretation offered by Donald Whitcomb of the University of Chicago: the “synagogue” was in fact the Palace of al-Sinnabra, where Umayyad rulers used to spend the winter months near the regional capital at Tiberias.

The 1950’s excavations were hasty, and hardly any finds from the complex have survived. This required archaeologists to carry out a methodic reexamination of the structure, of which only the foundations remain. Preliminary study of the meager finds and of coins discovered beneath its floors soon showed that the central building could have been built no earlier than 650 CE, and that a sumptuous bathhouse attached to the outer wall dates to the end of the same century. Many remains of water conduits and ceramic pipes attest to the existence of a sophisticated water-distribution system, fed by an aqueduct.

Early historians of the Umayyad dynasty report that this palace was used by the first Caliph, Mu’awiya, as well as by Abd al-Malik, the builder of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The palace was a center of royal activity, with the fate of princes being decided within it. After the fall of the dynasty, al-Sinnabra declined and the palace was dismantled down to its foundations. However, the surviving remains – thick wall-stubs over two meters deep – permit the reconstruction of the layout of the palace, the bathhouse and the wall and towers that protected them during the first century after the birth of Islam.

“This discovery is significant not only because of the importance of the Umayyad palace”, notes Greenberg, “but because of its unique location next to an earlier Byzantine church and a short distance away from the historical cemetery of early Zionist pioneers. Taking into account the more ancient remains at the site as well as the lake itself, we have a remarkable convergence of natural and historic values that represent the full complexity of the heritage of present-day Israel.”

Source: Tel Aviv University