Two areas, a western and an eastern one, were excavated in an unbuilt up area to the north of the White Mosque in the center of Ramla, between Danny Mass Street, Weizmann Street and Shafiq Ades Street. In the western area, 55 squares were excavated (c. 1375 sq m; Fig. 1) and in the eastern area 36 squares were excavated in six sub-areas (Areas I–VI; c. 900 sq m). Area VI is not described as no architectural remains were found here. The excavation unearthed sections of stone-paved streets, shops, architectural remains, installations and a large water reservoir, the fifth of its kind to be found in Ramla. All the remains date to the Early Islamic period. Two trial excavations were previously conducted in the area (Gutfeld 1999; 2010; Toueg 2017).
The Western Area
Sections of an east–west street (length 50 m, width 3.5 m) were paved with well-dressed, hard limestone paving slabs (0.2 × 0.3 × 0.5 m) laid on a plaster bedding, set on a layer of natural local sand. Two walls, one on either side of the street, were carefully constructed of dressed stones, and coated on their external face with gray hydraulic plaster. A few carefully built entrance thresholds were found along the walls. About ten shops (each 3.15 m wide; Fig. 2) were uncovered near the southern side of the street. The shop walls were built of two rows of soft, well-dressed limestone blocks (width 0.8 m). Some of the walls, particularly in the eastern part of the area, were preserved for four to five courses (Fig. 3).
An open courtyard on the northern side of the street was probably an open-air market square. A poorly preserved water tower was uncovered at the western end of the courtyard. A drainage pipe preserved in the eastern wall of the water tower probably led from the upper part of the tower, and a valve was preserved in situ at the bottom of the drainage pipe. At the base of the eastern wall of the water tower was a wide north–south water conduit (width 0.6 m) sloping steeply down to the north. A probe dug in the conduit exposed an earlier, similarly aligned channel (width 0.35 m). The conduit channeled water northwards to a large water reservoir (24.5 × 26.0 m, depth 6–7 m; Fig. 4) that was only partially excavated.
The reservoir was built of well-dressed limestone blocks and coated with hydraulic plaster (thickness 4 cm). Its floor was made of a 4-cm thick layer of gray plaster with inclusions and reddish pink crushed pottery, applied over a thick layer (over 0.25 m) of white plaster and tamped crushed chalk. The reservoir was originally roofed with multiple arches (not preserved), supported by cross-shaped pillars, two of which were excavated. The reservoir probably had five rows of pillars. Inside the reservoir, the distance between the two pillars was 4.1 m, as was the distance between the end pillars and the reservoir walls. The general plan of the reservoir, including the spaces between its pillars is identical to that of other arched pools dating from the Abbasid period in Ramla.
The excavation in this area yielded finds from the Early Islamic period that date the architectural remains.
The Eastern Area
Area I. The foundations of a massive north–south wall were built into the natural local sand layer; some of the stones had been robbed and a deep robbers’ trench was uncovered. A wall (width 0.8 m), built of two rows of well-dressed soft limestone blocks preserved for three courses, lay parallel to and west of the robbers’ trench. The wall was abutted on the west by a thick plaster floor that was overlain by the remains of an opus sectile floor made of slabs of colored marble, white limestone and black bitumen in various geometric designs, and by the remains of a wall mosaic made of small glass and different colored stone tesserae, some gilded; and by a large quantity of mother-of-pearl shells (Fig. 5). The discovery of the wall and the magnificent finds prompted the excavation of two additional squares to the west. An identical parallel wall was exposed 3.15 m west of the massive wall, and it was adjoined at right angles by another ashlar wall, built on an east–west alignment. Additional rooms were found to the west of these walls, as well as impressive paving made of stone slabs and resembling the street paving discovered in the western area. A coin and potsherds dating from the Abbasid period were retrieved beneath the stone paving. The architectural remains probably belong to one of Ramla’s main, shop-lined streets from the Abbasid period. Soil fills in all the squares contained Abbasid and Fatimid pottery (eighth–tenth centuries CE).
Area II. Two segments of stone-paved streets were found, one aligned east–west and the other north–south. A water cistern adjacent to the east–west paved segment was coated with white and pink plaster and roofed with a vault; its southern side had been damaged by a tractor, and it was not excavated due to safety considerations. A circular installation containing large potsherds from the Abbasid period (second half of the eighth century CE), exposed below the north–south paved segment, was probably an installation to drain rainwater from the overlying street (Fig. 6). The northern part of the area contained mainly collapsed stone rubble that may probably be attributed to the 1033 CE earthquake, and beneath it a well-built pillar made of soft, dressed limestone blocks was exposed. If the two paved segments belong to two orthogonal streets, they contribute significantly to our understanding of Ramla’s street network in the Early Islamic period. In the area’s northernmost square, two large baggy-shaped jars lay one on the top of the other in the natural sand.
Area III. Segments of a wide northwest–southeast channel (Fig. 7) probably belong to one of the water conduits in Ramla that led to a central aqueduct. The channel was lined with stones and coated with thick gray hydraulic plaster containing grits and ash. Most of the northeastern side of the channel had been robbed. To the north of the channel were the poorly preserved remains of stone paving, some extending into the robbers’ trench that had apparently originally abutted the side of the channel.
A few deep pits to the west of the channel contained many potsherds and animal bones, but no architectural remains were detected here. The inverse relationship between the number of potsherds and animal bones, and the architectural remains may possibly reflect a nomadic type of settlement. The activity in this area may be associated with the ziarah (زِيارة; ‘pilgrimage’) to the tomb of Nebi Salah, located in the White Mosque compound.
Area IV. The main find was a large plaster surface (over 100 sq m). On its southern side, the plaster surface abutted a plastered water channel roofed with a rounded vault (Fig. 8). At the southern end of the channel, a complete jar lay buried in the sand. Poorly preserved remains of a drainage pit or sump were found to the east of the water channel. In the southernmost square another well-built channel, aligned east–west, was exposed; its construction was identical to that of the channel in Area III. Collapsed stones were found next to the southern side of the channel. A southeast–northwest ashlar wall was also exposed in the northeastern part of the area.
Area V. A thin plaster surface and a few dressed stones were uncovered in the area, without any significant architectural remains.
The excavations to the north of the White Mosque in the Old City of Ramla uncovered architectural remains and small finds dating from the Early Islamic period, dating between the city’s foundation in the Umayyad period and the 1033 CE earthquake. The excavated remains add new important data that contribute significantly to our understanding of Ramla’s urban planning.