From December 2002 to June 2003, a salvage excavation was conducted south of the White Mosque in Ramla (Permit No. A-3772; map ref. NIG 1873/6480; OIG 1373/1480), prior to construction. The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, was directed by G. Avni, Y. Baruch and G. Parnos (Areas A, D, E), H. Torge (Area C) and M. Avissar, with the assistance of F. Vito (Areas B, F), Y. Arbel (Area C5), G. Kotovsky, A. Re’em, R. Toueg , V. Shlomi, B.A. Artzi, T. Awwadalla (assistant area supervisors), S. Ya‘aqov-Jam and R. Abu Halaf (administration), A. Hajian, D. Porozky, V. Pirsky and T. Kornfeld (surveying), T. Sagiv (photography) and Y. Gorin-Rosen and N. Katsnelson (glass).
The excavations were conducted over an extensive area (300 × 500 m), south of the White Mosque and west of the municipal stadium (Fig. 1). Five areas (a total of c. 4,400 sq m) were excavated, revealing an urban sequence from the eighth to the eleventh centuries CE. Three main construction phases from the Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid periods, as well as several sub-phases were discerned.
Evidence of a complex urban array of residential buildings that were partly of an opulent character, industrial installations, cisterns and water conduits was discovered in all the excavation areas.
Areas of dense residential construction were adjacent to vacant areas that consisted of fills and numerous potsherds without architectural remains. None of the excavation areas yielded any evidence that indicated continued activity after the middle of the eleventh century CE. It seems that this part of the city of Ramla was abandoned in the wake of the earthquakes that struck in 1033 and 1068 CE and was not reoccupied until the modern era. Remains of installations and sections of poor walls, dating to the Mamluk period, were discovered in isolated sections of the excavation areas.
A massive robbing of masonry stones occurred after the abandonment of the area and the remains are therefore in a degrading state of preservation. The course of the walls could only be traced via the robber trenches which served for removal of masonry stones.
The largest excavated contiguous area (C1–C3) in the northwest part and c. 80 m south of the White Mosque (Fig. 2) comprised the remains of massive construction (55 × 65 m) of private residences and public buildings. Three main building phases were discerned.
Phase I, the earliest, dated to the eighth–ninth centuries CE. It comprised parts of a large building that included a hall (8 × 20 m), oriented north–south. A small section of a fine quality polychrome mosaic pavement of small tesserae, arranged in a continuous pattern of floral and geometric motifs, was found in the hall (Fig. 3). Only the mosaic bedding had survived in most of the hall’s area. Repairs and layers of plaster that covered the mosaic pavement were discerned in several places, evincing the prolonged usage of the building. The mosaic floor followed in the mosaic tradition of the Byzantine period.
The walls of the hall in the east and west (width 0.7–0.8 m) were built of dressed limestone, but only a few masonry stones survived in situ. Smaller rooms, which may have been living quarters that were poorly preserved due to destruction in later periods, were apparently located north and south of the hall.
Phase II exposed remains of small residential buildings on top of the large building. These remains dated to the ninth century CE and included installations and water cisterns. Fragmentary remains of a small building with a central courtyard were discovered in the east of the area; it was surrounded with small rooms and a water cistern. North of the building were installations and elongated rectangular pits that probably served as cesspits.
Phase III comprised the remains of a large public building, dating to the tenth–eleventh centuries CE, which extended across most of the excavated area and even beyond it to the north and included several inner courtyards with living quarters around them. A section of a carelessly made polychrome mosaic pavement of large tesserae (Fig. 4), in whose southern part floral patterns could be discerned, was exposed in one of the courtyards. Water cisterns, small pools and channels for conveying water were noted between the rooms and the courtyards.
In the northwestern part of the area (C4), remains of residential buildings that had two construction phases, dating to the eighth–ninth centuries CE, with installations near them, were discovered. Some of the buildings’ walls were preserved c. 1.5 m high. Although the walls were built of ashlar stones, their course was irregular and sometimes, the adaptation of a later building phase to earlier phases was apparent. Ceramic pipes were found incorporated in numerous spots in the walls of the buildings, evincing a developed system of draining and conveying water from the roofs to collecting cisterns. A large firing kiln was discovered and nearby was a mold for lamps, as well as fragments of lamps that had been cast in this mold. In the southern part of the area were two straight parallel walls, which formed a kind of long corridor. It should be mentioned that the large building excavated in Areas C1–C3 did not continue into Area C4 and no remains that dated to the tenth–eleventh centuries CE were discovered. It is possible that a garden or an open space without construction was between the two areas.
The excavation area in the southern part (C5) contained a large, north–south oriented building from the Fatimid period that consisted of water systems, including pipes, channels, pools and probably an ornamental fountain. One of its walls (length 15 m, average height 1.5 m) was built of dressed stones on the exterior and the fieldstones on the interior were coated with plaster and decorated with herringbone patterns. Adjacent to the wall on the west was a row of rooms, of which five square ones were exposed. The building was accessed from the south and the entrance, whose eastern doorjamb was exposed, was well built. Flat square mud bricks, set close to each other, formed the floor of the building, which survived in small sections in one of the rooms. A channel built of stones and plaster and covered with mud bricks was found below the floor. A section of a courtyard, which contained a water system that included pools and channels, was exposed north of the building. An octagonal pool in the center of the courtyard contained an installation that was fed by ceramic pipes and was probably an ornamental fountain (Fig. 5). The floors of the pools were coated with red plaster. It seems that the entire building was destroyed by an earthquake in the eleventh century CE. Two rectangular installations from the Mamluk period that were discovered above the building were the only significant remain in all the excavation areas that post-dated the eleventh century CE.
Area D (20 × 30 m) in the west was excavated in continuation of another area to its west, which had been excavated in 2001 (Permit No. A-3459). A series of residential buildings from the Fatimid period that included square rooms built around central courtyards was exposed. The north–south direction of the buildings’ walls had a slight deviation to the west. A large residential building that comprised a system of rooms built around a courtyard was discovered in the northern part of the area. The masonry stones were all robbed and the course of the walls was traced according to lines of robber trenches. A large water cistern, whose top was built like a dome and several conduits that conveyed water to it was found in the courtyard. One of the building’s rooms had remains of plaster on its inner walls, decorated with blue-painted ornamentations. The floor of the room was meticulously plastered. The building probably bordered on another residential structure that extended south, beyond the limits of the excavation area. The construction method of the buildings’ walls is noteworthy. A foundation trench was dug in the ground and a layer of sand was deposited on its bottom; the building’s foundation was set on top of the sand.
The southwestern corner of Area E (15 × 35 m) was excavated. Fragmentary remains of a large building from the Fatimid period were discovered in the southern part of the area. It was survived by the foundations of the walls, several installations dug in the ground and a fragment of a polychrome mosaic floor decorated with geometric patterns. A courtyard or rectangular entrance area in the center of the building was paved with a white mosaic. Incorporated in the center of the mosaic, which was probably opposite the entrance of the building, was a colorful geometric pattern composed of two interlaced squares, in whose center was a bowl and a floral pattern within a shaped frame (Fig. 6). The remains of the building’s residential quarters were fragmentary. South of the courtyard or the entrance area were elements that belonged to a series of square rooms, whose floors were plastered.
A water cistern with a dome-like top and channels approaching it from various directions was discovered to the north of the building. This was, apparently, an outer courtyard that connected between the building and another structure to its north that was survived only by sections of walls and remains of installations.
It should be noted that the remains from the Fatimid period in this area were built directly on layers of natural sand. Fragmentary remains from earlier periods, including installations and several large jars that were buried in the sand, were found.
Four areas (A1–A4; 10–15 × 15 m) were excavated in the southeast; a sequence of residential buildings from the tenth–eleventh centuries CE, built on top of the meager remains from the eighth and ninth centuries CE, were discovered.
Area A1 in the south, revealed part of a large building that had two distinct phases. The early phase from the eighth–ninth centuries CE included two square rooms with plastered floors and fieldstone–built walls. The inside surface of the walls was meticulously plastered. A round pit, whose use is unclear, was installed in the floor of the eastern room. A large storage jar was imbedded in the floor of the western room (Fig. 7).
The later phase from the Fatimid period revealed a large building that was erected atop the former building and its walls were sometimes incorporated in the walls of the earlier building. Only part of the late building was excavated; however, it seems to have consisted of a system of rooms, which opened onto an open courtyard to the east that included a large water cistern. The floors of the building, 0.7 m higher than those of the earlier building, were carefully plastered, as was the inner surface of the building’s walls, which had partially survived to c. 0.5 m high.
Areas A2 and A3, to the north of Area 1, contained remains of installations and mud-brick walls from the eighth–ninth centuries CE and sections of walls from the Fatimid period above them.
A complete water cistern was excavated in Area A4. A cluster of masonry stones at its bottom contained some ashlars, including voussoirs that had been discarded into the cistern.
Two areas (each 10 × 15 m) were excavated in the north and east.
Area B3 in the north, c. 50 m south of the White Mosque compound, revealed a section of a large building that was probably constructed in the eighth century CE. The building’s walls, founded on sand, were built of massive ashlar stones and preserved three courses high in several sections. At one end of the walls was a large pilaster built of ashlar stones that may have been part of a gate.
Below the crushed-chalk floor of the building was an arched room (1.5 × 2.5 m) built of dressed stones, which was used as a cellar or a cesspit. During the Abbasid period, the room was turned into a refuse pit and contained pottery vessels and numerous glass vessels that dated to the Umayyad and Abbasid periods, including vessels that bore inscriptions in Arabic, as well as several Luster Glass-type vessels that were decorated with animals and floral patterns (Fig. 8); a few bore Arabic inscriptions. The quality of the finds indicates that they originated from a villa, or even a palace.
Area F1 in the east, within the precincts of the municipal stadium, yielded a large building, whose preservation at surface level enabled solely to discern sections of walls and floors. A large square room (5 × 5 m), as well as other smaller rooms that were all paved with a white mosaic and marble slabs were exposed. West of the building was a water cistern, probably situated in the middle of an open courtyard, with a system of channels and pipes that conveyed water to it. It seems that the building was founded in the Abbasid period. Based on the finds recovered from the fill in the water cisterns, the building continued in use during the Fatimid period.
The extensive excavations conducted south of the White Mosque make enabled the reconstruction of settlement sequence in this area during the Early Islamic period. It seems that the beginning of massive construction in this part of ancient Ramla was in the eighth–ninth centuries CE. At this stage of research, it is impossible to clearly define the buildings founded in the Umayyad period, except perhaps for the large public structure in the northern part of Area B3, adjacent to the White Mosque. In all other areas, finds from the Umayyad period included dug installations and buried jars in the sand. Nevertheless, the residential buildings of the Abbasid period probably have their beginnings in the latter part of the Umayyad period.
During the Abbasid period, mostly private residences were constructed in the area, among them at least one spacious structure that was decorated with mosaic floors (Area C1-C2).
The massive construction throughout the southwestern region of Ramla and in the area took place during the Fatimid period, when opulent residential buildings were erected around central courtyards that contained sophisticated systems for the conveyance and collection of water. Decorated mosaic floors were found in several of the buildings. This period seems to have been the apex point in the settlement of this area. It should be noted that the construction did not cover the whole area, but occurred in clusters of buildings, separated by open areas, courtyards and gardens. The absence of remains from the Fatimid period in several of the excavation areas implies a sparse built-up.
The end of the settlement in the southwestern region of Ramla was in the middle of the eleventh century CE, probably after a strong earthquake. During this century two mighty earthquakes struck the city in the years 1033 and 1068. It seems that following the second earthquake, which destroyed most of the residential buildings in the city, the entire area was abandoned and not resettled until the modern era.