During November 2007, a salvage excavation was conducted in the Sarayabuilding in Yafo (Jaffa; Permit No. A-5280; map ref. 177155–70/662529–49), prior to restoring its façade from the end of the Ottoman period. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Mishlama Le-Yafo, was directed by L. Talmi, with the assistance of S. Ya‘aqov-Jam (administration), D. Porotzky (surveying and drafting), T. Sagiv (field photography), A. de Vincenz and P. Gendelman (ceramics), M. Shuiskaya (drawing) and A. Zivand Y. Arbel (consultation).
Part of the Sarayabuilding’s foundations and two Muslim tombs were revealed in the excavation (3.0 × 7.4 m; Fig. 1). The ceramic finds dated mostly to the nineteenth century CE. The Sarayawas founded in 1897 and served as the seat of the Ottoman government in Yafo. The construction of the building was part of the process whereby Yafo expanded beyond its city walls. Four columns in the classical style, topped with Ionic capitals and an arched entrance bearing a dedicatory inscription, stand in the façade of the building. The structure was destroyed during the War of Independence and remained in ruins until the beginning of the 1980s. It has been renovated in recent years and its façade was reconstructed.
The Saraya’sfoundations (L180—2.7 × 2.8 m; L181—c. 2.6 × 3.0 m; Fig. 2), which were built of dressed limestone (average dimensions 0.20 × 0.35 × 0.55 m) and bonded with whitish gray mortar, were exposed. The foundations were constructed upon a limestone basis, which was c. 0.5 m wider than the foundations and lined with the same type of mortar used for the foundations. The remains were severely damaged over the years by mechanical equipment that conducted various infrastructure works. A corner of a room that was probably a cellar and part of the Saraya was revealed in the southeastern corner of the excavation. The room was paved with grayish black, cast concrete floor tiles (L108; 0.3 × 0.3 m).
Two Muslim tombs (Loci 104, 105; Figs. 3, 4), oriented east–west and covered with kurkar slabs (0.35 × 0.65 m, average thickness 0.1 m), were exposed below the level of the building’s foundations, west of the Saraya. A cemetery that dated to the Mamluk period had previously been uncovered c. 10 m west of the excavation (HA-ESI 121). It seems that these two tombs were located along the eastern edge of the cemetery and therefore, dated to the Mamluk or the beginning of the Ottoman periods.
Most of the ceramic finds recovered from the excavation dated to the nineteenth century CE and included Gaza Ware-type bowls (Fig. 5:1, 2) and jars (Fig. 5:4), as well as a lid fragment (Fig. 5: 5) and the top of a hookah (Fig. 5:6). The rim of a bowl from the fifth century CE (Fig. 5:3), decorated with stamped reed impressions and slipped red, was exposed ex-situ.
The main innovation of the excavation is the discovery of tombs beneath the Saraya building, which contributes to our understanding of how the area was utilized over the course of years.