Palestinian authorities have unveiled one of the largest ancient mosaics in the Middle East after years of restoration.
Resembling a fine carpet, the mosaic covers 836 square metres at Hisham's Palace, an Ummayad castle dating from the 8th century, near the city of Jericho in the occupied West Bank.
"This mosaic contains more than five million pieces of stone from Palestine which have a natural and distinctive colour," Saleh Tawafsha, undersecretary at the Palestinian tourism and antiquities ministry, said at the unveiling ceremony on Thursday.
He said he hoped the restoration would draw tourists to Jericho.
The palace near the Dead Sea had lain forgotten for centuries until it was rediscovered in the 19th century, and explored in the 1930s. It was then the mosaic was uncovered beneath the dust. But it remained neglected until five years ago, when the site was closed for restoration.
The $18 million project, which included the construction of a large dome to protect the mosaic from the elements, was partly funded by the Japanese government. Tourists can view the mosaic from a new walkway suspended above it.
The project was originally supposed to be completed in 2018 but was delayed, in part because of the challenge of anchoring the dome without disturbing the archaeological remains.
Abdel Raheem Zahran, a local tourist who came with his children on Thursday, said he had been to the site seven years earlier, but it was “not as developed”.
"The dome that they made is great, you don’t have the sun beating down on you,“ he said.
The palace was the winter resort of Caliph Hisham ibn Abd Al Malik, who ruled from 724 to 743 AD. It covers about 60 hectares and comprises baths and an agricultural estate.
The Ummayad dynasty lasted from 660 to 750 AD.