Ancient rest stop with flowery mosaic to host tired travelers once again


A stunning mosaic that greeted weary travelers as they crossed the Byzantine version of Route 6, the Trans-Israel Highway, is getting a reboot as a tourist rest stop on the Israel Trail, after the Israel Antiquities Authority teamed up with residents during the last week. Good Deeds Day to clean up the archaeological site in Shoham town centre.

Horvat El-Bira was built around 2,000 years ago during the Roman era as a rural villa with agricultural processing installations and houses for some of the residents.

A church was built on the site during the Byzantine period, as it was located along the main road of the Judean flats from Lod to Antipatis (Tel Afek / Yarkon National Park), similar to today’s Route 6 route.

Horvat El-Bira was part of a network of rest stops along the road every few kilometers for travelers who needed water, food, a place to pray or sleep.

Today, the site is located within the Shoham Industrial Park, just steps from the new offices of the Israel Antiquities Authority for the Central Region in Shoham. It is also near the Israel National Trail, a 1,110-kilometer (683-mile) route that crosses Israel from north to south, and will allow the IAA to position its office as a “trail angel” that helps hikers complete the journey and may need water, a cup of coffee, or local advice.

“People’s needs have not changed for thousands of years, because after a few hours of travel I have to stop and get some water,” said Yair Amitzur, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Central Region Education Center.

The Byzantine-era mosaic floor at Horvat El-Bira in Shoham greeted travelers along the main road from Lod to Antipatis, pictured here on March 14, 2023. (Emil Algam/IAA)

He noted that the other archaeological sites, including Tel Tinshemet and Horvat Hani, have found more rest stops along the way. The ancient Roman road traces a path similar to today’s Route 6, which continues to offer motorists rest stops today.

“This location is great, because you’re in the middle of an industrial area, right next to Route 6 and it feels like the most urban place, but then you climb 300 to 400 meters on top of a hill and you’re in. a completely different place surrounded by nature and with beautiful views,” said Amitzur. “I’ve seen a lot of things as an archaeologist, but I’ve never seen anything so drastic.”

The site was first excavated in the 1980s by Professors Zeev Safrai and Shimon Dar, and revealed a settlement from the Iron Age (around 1000 BCE) or possibly even earlier from the Chalcolithic Era (4500-3500 BCE). The site was abandoned around the Islamic period (around 600 CE), according to Anan Azab, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Central District.

The most beautiful part of the Horvat El-Bira is probably the colorful mosaic floor patterned with bright red flowers intestineor anemones, bursts of color that paint hills in winter.

Red anemones near the mosaic at Horvat El-Bira in central Israel on March 14, 2023 may have inspired the mosaic’s floral pattern. (Emil Algam/IAA)

When the IAA moved into its new regional offices in Shoham, the staff saw that the site had grown completely. Starting in January, they got the help of local residents every Wednesday to clear the weeds and dirt and turn the site back into a place where travelers or hikers could rest.

On Good Deeds Day, celebrated in Israel on March 14, they made a big push to prepare the area to receive visitors again, working with the Shoham Local Council and the residents of the area to install a table and seating area under a shade tree. In the future, the IAA hopes to install signs and other information for visitors explaining the history of the site.

Yair Amitzur, director of the Education Department of the Central Region of the Israel Antiquities Authority, at Horvat El-Bira in Central Israel on March 14, 2023. (Emil Algam/IAA)

“It’s really important for us to connect the residents, visitors and hikers to their heritage,” explained Amitzur.

“When you’re here in the winter yes intestine and poppies in a huge concentration, and it’s really amazing,” he said. “It was probably enjoyed by people thousands of years ago, and the flower is probably part of the local lore.”

Amitzur said the IAA is looking forward to working with the town of Shoham to further develop the area for visitors, especially the floral mosaic.

“You have this beautiful mosaic on the other side of this hill, but most people didn’t know it was there,” he said.

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