Luxurious 1,200 year old estate discovered in southern Israel

With marble floors, stone walls, and colorful frescoes adorning various parts of the house, and its own on-site water cistern, the estate likely belonged to a powerful landowner who lived during the 8th or 9th century.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

An ornate ancient mansion, believed to have been constructed some 1,200 years ago and was likely the home of a wealthy landowner, was discovered recently in southern Israel, Israeli archaeologists announced Tuesday.

The site was uncovered by an excavation team from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), just outside of the Bedouin city Rahat in the Negev desert.

With marble floors, stone walls, and colorful frescoes adorning various parts of the house, and its own on-site water cistern, the estate likely belonged to a powerful landowner who lived during the 8th or 9th century.

Large traditional ovens, likely used for cooking, and a complex of underground vaults probably used for food storage, reinforced the researchers’ belief that the people who lived at the site enjoyed far-above-average income for the time period.

“The luxurious estate and the unique impressive underground vaults are evidence of the owners’ means,” said Oren Shmueli, Dr. Elena Kogan-Zehavi and Dr. Noé D. Michael, the directors of IAA excavations, in a joint statement.

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“Their high status and wealth allowed them to build a luxurious mansion that served as a residence and for entertaining; we can study the construction methods and architectural styles, as well as learn about daily life in the Negev at the beginning of Islamic rule.”

The excavation team noted that the estate was located near the remains of two ancient mosques, which may be the oldest ever discovered.

“By good chance, and much to the local population’s interest and excitement, the Islamic building remains have been discovered in the area planned for expanding the town of Rahat,” said Eli Eskosido, director of the IAA.

“The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Authority for the Development and Settlement of the Bedouin are planning together to conserve and exhibit the finds to the general public.”

The IAA is opening the site to the public on Thursday, inviting Israelis to participate in digging and sieving at the estate.