The Second Largest Mosaic In Syria, Belonging To An Early Byzantine Church, Discovered

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The remains of a large mosaic belonging to the early Byzantine period have been unearthed at the Uqayribat archaeological site, around 65 kilometers north of the Hama province in central Syria. Measuring about 450-square-meters in area, it is believed to be the second largest mosaic fragment found in the country, after the one discovered in Taybat al-Imam.

As per the Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), the mosaic was once part of a church floor dating back to circa 5th century AD. The limestone church building, parts of which exist even today, consists of three major sections: a main area in the middle flanked by two pavilions, one on each side.

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Made of small pieces of colored stones, the uncovered mosaic depicts a variety of figures that seem to bear religious significance. Elaborating further, DGAM director Mahmoud Hamoud said –

The scenes show a variety of rare geometric, vegetative and animal forms with known religious connotations, including peacocks, hippos, terrestrial pigeons, sheep and deer, as well as the life-tree scenes of fertility and renewability.

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Apart from the artwork, the Byzantine church mosaic also features 14 pieces of text, written in the Greek language and placed inside geographical frameworks. The texts, according to Hamoud, refer to the names of the people who funded the work.

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Situated in the Salamiyah District of Syria’s Hama Governorate, Uqayribat (also spelled Uqeirbat or Uzeiribat) is considered to be the site of the Roman-era town of Occaraba. Captured by ISIS in 2014 as part of the Syrian Civil War, the town was regained by the Syrian Arab Army in September 2017.

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The archaeological site at Uqayribat was uncovered three months ago by the Syrian army, with excavation works currently underway. As stated by Hamoud, the artifacts unearthed at the site are being transferred to the Hama National Museum.

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Syria: Home To Some Of The World’s Oldest Mosaics

It must be noted that Syria is home to some of the world’s oldest mosaics, with some going as far back as circa 1500 BC. Although created using different materials, ranging from colored stones to glass and even shells, Syrian mosaics can largely be categorized into two types: stone mosaics and wood mosaics. Archaeological evidence points to stonework being the original tradition.

On the other hand, the more recent wooden mosaics are believed to go back some 300 years. Many of the mosaic fragments discovered over the years are now kept at Syria’s Maarrat al-Numan Museum, which incidentally is the largest mosaic museum in the Middle East. As a result of the ongoing Syrian Civil War, however, much of the country’s famous mosaics have been destroyed.

In March last year, for instance, a group of archaeologists stumbled across a 2,600-year-old palace entrance beneath a shrine that was demolished by ISIS (back in 2014). The 12th century Nabi Yunus shrine was one of the ruinous names in a deplorably long list of historical casualties brought upon by ISIS. This mosque, which served as a church earlier, was locally revered as the final resting place of prophet Jonah, known as Yunas in the Qur’an.

Quite to their surprise, while assessing the damage caused by Daesh terrorists, archaeologists discovered a previously unknown temple and (possible) palace entrance, dating back to a period some 2,600-years ago, thus corresponding to the epoch of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

Source/Image Credits: Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA)

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About the Author

Sukanya Mukherjee
With a master's degree in English Literature and several years of writing experience under her belt, Sukanya specializes in creating content particularly related to history, science, and technology. In the past, she worked as a business journalist at a reputable digital media company. Apart from being an avid fan of Victorian literature, she can found spending her free time baking and exploring the Great Himalayas!
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