Sunday, May 9, 2010

THE MONA LISA OF THE GALILEE and THE WHEEL OF ZODIAC

This stunning beauty with her mysterious smile can be found at the ancient city of Zippori, also known as 'Sepphoris', which is nestled on a hill at the heart of the enchanting Lower Galilee, not far from Nazareth, midway between the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee, established around the year 100 BC.
Her very life like picture is part of a huge mosaic floor in the remains of a Roman villa, which was built in the third century. Perched up high on the acropolis, this luxurious home was clearly the residence of one of Zippori's more important citizens, a man with great wealth and power.
This particular mosaic located in the large guest room, exhibiting a high level of artistic work,  has 15 panels and  is mostly devoted to the Greek god Dionysus, the god of wine and harvest. 

The woman wears gold earrings and a laurel wreath and it seems, that her eyes and gaze follow you in every direction you move. Her captivating image is situated at one end of the mosaic floor in the midst of some medallions, showing flora and fauna, and due to the hints of her smile she was dubbed by the researchers 'The Mona Lisa of the Galilee'. Of course her identity is completely unknown and only speculations can be made. Was she the lady of the house? Did she come only from the artist's imagination who maybe created a radiant image taken from his own life? Was she a known personality of her time? We will never find out, but we do marvel at her smile and her magnificent face.

This is only a small portion of the wonders which can be discovered at Zippori, which got its name, according to the Talmud 'because she sits on top of the mountain, like a bird (tsippor)' and was even chosen as the site of the Sanhedrin, which was moved there from Beit Shearim, at the time of Rabbi Judah HaNasi, who lived there for 17 years, was the head of the Sanhedrin and compiled the Mishna, which is the first written compilation of the Oral Law of Judaism.

Many more mosaics in good condition and well preserved can be admired at the site, about 40 in all, some very different from each other. Another famous and marvelous one would be the 'Wheel of Zodiac', which can be found in the synagogue, dating back to the 6th century. The synagogue itself gives evidence of an interesting fusion of Rome and its culture and the Jewish community during the Talmudic period.

The Wheel of Zodiac includes more than 20 inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic. It is divided into the four seasons of the year, each season represented by a woman, wearing the clothes appropriate to the weather of the season depicted. Human figures accompany the twelve signs and the name of the month is written in Hebrew near each sign. The god Helios sits in the middle in his sun chariot, with the moon and a star next to it. Along the sides of the Zodiac are bands showing Biblical scenes, including offerings of fruit and grains and sacrifices.
Excavations at Zippori uncovered a rich legacy from the Judean, Roman and Byzantine period and the site features not only Jewish homes and one of the oldest synagogues in Israel, but also a Roman theater and a Crusader fortress.
Today Zippori is a national antiquities park, that was opened to the public in 1992. Visitors should take enough time to explore the site, two to three hours  would be the appropriate amount of time to study and enjoy what is calling to us from ancient times.

2 comments:

Dawn of LaTouchables said...

I would love to spend an afternoon looking at these beautiful mosaics. I'd like to touch them!

glazedOver said...

These are amazing works of art indeed. How the ancient mosaicist was able to duplicate the character of a painting--with subtle gradations of colors, hightlights, and subtle shadows--is a true marvel.

When I was in college, I was in Tzippori excavating a site where we found what we understood to be a series of shops. We found some mosaics there too, but they were more limited in scope than these and were confined to the "stalls" that we understood to be the shops. It was fascinating.