Israel discovers 1,200-year-old mosque in Negev desert

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Israeli archaeologists have discovered a rare rural mosque dated to about 1,200 years ago and a luxurious estate, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said on Wednesday.

The estate and the mosque, among the earliest known worldwide, were uncovered in the southern Bedouin city of Rahat in the Negev desert, according to the IAA.

The mosque includes a square room and a wall facing the direction of the holy city of Mecca, and a half-circle niche in that wall pointing south, the IAA said.

The excavation at Rahat sheds light on the beginnings of Islam in the Southern Levant, and provides graphic details of the gradual transition from Christianity to Islam, the IAA noted.

It thus revealed that buildings with Christian and early Islamic characteristics are in close proximity to one another.

This includes a farmhouse of the Byzantine period that apparently housed Christian farmers. It had a fortified tower and rooms with strong walls surrounding a courtyard.

On a nearby hilltop, the team uncovered Muslim estates constructed about a hundred years later in a completely different manner, with lines of rooms next to large, open courtyards.

This building includes halls with stone pavement, some paved with marble, and walls decorated with frescos painted in red and yellow.

Remains of fine tableware and glass vessels, some decorated with drawings of plants and animals, evince the wealth of its inhabitants, according to the IAA. 

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