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Ramle, The White Mosque
The EXcavations

Institution: IAA


J. Kaplan

According to scholars, the name Ramla derives from the Arabic word raml, meaning "sand", probably referring to the sand dunes on which the city was built, about 4 km (2.5 mi.) south of Lod and 15 km (9 mi.) southeast of Tel Aviv. Ramla was founded in the early eighth century (712 - 715 CE) by the Umayyad caliph Suleiman ibn 'Abd el-Malik (brother of Walid I), the former governor of Jund Filistin (the District of Palestine). It is the only city in Palestine founded by Arabs. Ramla was first made the capital of the newly created province Filistin, which included the regions of Judea and Samaria. According to accounts by Arab geographers, Ramla was built from the ruins of nearby Lod. This destruction was not only expressed in the preferred status granted to Ramla, but also in the reuse in its construction of building materials from the ruins of Lod. To promote its growth, part of the population of Lod was also moved to Ramla.
With the city's founding, many installations and buildings, such as cisterns, a drainage channel, the House of Dyers, and the mosque, were erected. Most of the Umayyad city is now covered by later construction. Only in the Umayyad mosque, called the White Mosque (which was later renovated, probably in the Ayyubid period), were several remains of that period preserved. Its minaret, which was rebuilt in the Mameluke period, is the most prominent structure of medieval Ramla.

Excavations at the White Mosque were conducted by J. Kaplan in 1949 on behalf of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums. The excavations attempted to ascertain which buildings, both above ground and subterranean, belonged to the original mosque enclosure. It was revealed that the mosque enclosure was built in the form of a quadrangle (93 by 84 m), with its walls oriented to the cardinal points. It included the following structures: the mosque itself; two porticoes along the quadrangle's east and west walls; the north wall; the minaret; an unidentified building in the center to the area; and three subterranean cisterns.

The mosque was a broadhouse; the long wall (the qibla) faces Mecca, with the mihrab in the center of the rear wall. The roofed area was divided into two parts by a central row of pillars. The facade was pierced by thirteen openings. The roof was cross-vaulted and flat on the top. However, the roof apparently belongs to a later phase of renovation, carried out in the Ayyubid period. Excavation disclosed that the right half of the mosque deviates some 6 degrees north of the traditional east - west orientation.
Of the west portico, only the foundations have survived. Of the east portico, a structure remains that includes the main entrance. The north wall of the enclosure is divided in two by the minaret, which stands on the foundations of the wall. In the eastern part of the wall is a pointed arch; a wide mosaic pavement extends along its western part. An Arabic inscription over the entrance to the minaret states that it was built by Sultan Muhammad ibn Qala'un in 1318 CE (although it is known that the minaret was repaired earlier, in the reign of Baybars).

There is an unidentified structure in the center of the enclosure, of which only the foundations remain. It appears to have been a pool for ablutions. The three subterranean cisterns were uniformly constructed of pillars topped by arches that supported barrel-shaped vaults. The southern and western cisterns were supplied by an underground water duct fed by a spring (probably from the vicinity of Gezer); the eastern cistern received the run off rainwater collected from the mosaic floor near the north wall. Also found in the excavations were two inscriptions that mention repairs made to the mosque. The first inscription relates that Sultan Baybars built a dome over the minaret and added a door to the mosque. The second inscription states that, in 1408 CE, Seif ed-Din Baighut ez-Zahiri had the walls of the southern cistern coated with plaster.
Both the writings of the Arab geographers and the evidence uncovered in the excavations indicate that the mosque's building complex was constructed in three main stages. The first stage is dated to the period of the Umayyads, when the enclosure was erected in its original form. Of the earliest buildings there remains only the left side of the mosque (oriented east - west), the east wall with the portico, the north wall (aside from the minaret), and the three subterranean cisterns. The construction of the right side of the mosque, the western enclosure wall and the central ablutions building are attributed to the second phase, in the time of Saladin. The third phase included the minaret, the portico east of the minaret, and two halls attached to the eastern wall, outside the area of the mosque enclosure.
*Kaplan, J., Ramla in Stern, E (Ed.), The new encyclopedia of Archeological excavation in the Holy Land (1267-1269) Vol 4, The Israel exploration society, Carta, Jerusalem, 1993.

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