While Jewish people (at least a remnant) have been in the Promised Land since the days of Joshua in the Bible (thousands of years!), there have been others that have ruled here, such as the Romans in Yeshua’s day and the Ottomans (Muslims that ruled from Turkey for several hundreds of years).
On Tuesday, archaeologists digging in the Negev Desert in southern Israel announced they had unearthed an impressive mansion dating back to the 800s when the Ottoman Empire ruled much of the Middle East, northern Africa, and even Europe (they were in Vienna, Austria!).
The newly discovered desert mansion is situated between two mosques in the Bedouin city of Rahat. Researchers believe it was owned by a wealthy landowner who had the technology to construct quite an impressive underground living structure to escape the blazing summer heat in the Negev.
The Israel Antiquities Authority said that the owner of the estate was likely to have been someone who oversaw farms in the region. The discovery of the sprawling estate was made during excavations that are part of a planned expansion of Rahat (which is just north of Beersheba).
The mansion dates back to the 8th or 9th century, in what is known as the early Islamic Period. The structure has four wings centered around the main courtyard area. There are colorful frescoes on the walls and floors and a large cooking oven.
The most unique feature, though, is the structure under the courtyard. There is a 10-foot-deep cistern dug into the rock, which provided the family and other residents with cool drinking water year-round. And then, around the cistern, there are vaulted rooms, where archaeologists believe that the landowner and his family stored food and even lived at times, so they could avoid the extreme heat of the desert in summer.
“The luxurious estate and the unique impressive underground vaults are evidence of the owners’ means,” Oren Shmueli, Elena Kogan-Zehavi, and Noé D. Michael, archaeologists directing the IAA excavation, said in a statement.
“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,” they said.
Eli Eskosido, the director of the IAA, added that the mansion “was uncovered in an area located between two ancient mosques, perhaps among the earliest ever discovered… 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.”
According to the IAA, the new Negev site will be open for free public tours, including some fun for amateur archaeologists, such as digging and sieving activities.