Khirbat al-Minya (also known as Ayn Minyat Hisham) is an Umayyad-built palace in the eastern Galilee, Israel, located about 200 meters (660 ft) west of the northern end of the Lake Tiberias. It was erected as a qasr complex, with a palace, mosque, and bath built by a single patron.
Khirbat al-Minya was built during the reign of the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I (705-715 CE) and an inscription on a stone found at the site mentions his name. The supposed patron of the palace was al-Walid's son 'Umar ibn al-Walid, who served as the governor of Tiberias during his father's reign, but fell out of favor when his uncle Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik assumed the role of caliph.
Khirbat al-Minya served a number of purposes, including as local administrative center for a subregion of the Jund al-Urdunn ("District of Jordan") and as a contact point for 'Umar and local Arab tribes. It also could have served as a caravanserai for merchants traveling along the Sea of Galilee or northeast from the lake shore to the coast. Another purpose of Khirbat al-Minya was a winter retreat for the governor of Tiberias or an alternative for the traditional summer retreat for the governor at Baysan.
Khirbat al-Minya was abandoned at an uncertain date, but was later temporarily resettled. There is evidence that the palace was in use until at least the end of the Umayyad period in 750 CE. Moreover, based on the stratification established in the western part of the site and the discovery of Mamluk pottery in 1959, the palace was settled again during the late Mamluk period (14th-15th centuries). It is likely that the building was used as a khan in this period, due to its position at a cross-road between the main Damascus-Cairo (Via Maris) route and a secondary route to Safad via Khan Jubb Yusuf. A Khan al-Minya was constructed 300 m due north of the palace by Saif al-Din Tankiz (reigned 1312-1340), the Mamluk governor of Syria, during the reign of Al-Nasir Muhammad. Parts of Khirbat al-Minya might have been used as building material for the new khan; baked bricks and a marble capital found during excavations of the khan were assumed to be taken from the palace.
The palace was first excavated in 1932 by German archaeologist, A.E. Mader, who originally thought they were excavating a Roman fort. In 1936–9, it was also excavated by A. M. Schneider and O. Puttrich-Reignard. During July–August 1959, the western section of the palace was excavated by O. Grabar in collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority. In 1960 the site was excavated by an Israeli-American expedition, intending to refine the chronology and the plan of the palace, and in 2000 it was proposed that Khirbat al-Minya should become a World Heritage Site.
The palace of Khirbat al-Minya is contained within an irregular rectangular enclosure (66 by 73 meters) oriented north-south, facing the four cardinal points. Like other Umayyad palaces it has round towers at its corners and semi-circular towers in the middle of each wall except the eastern wall where a monumental entrance was located. The main gate in the middle of the eastern wall is formed by two projecting half-round towers separated by the arch of the gateway.
The center of the structure is occupied by a colonnaded courtyard with twin staircases giving access to an upper floor level. The rooms which surrounded the courtyard differ in size and arrangement and included a mosque, numerous rooms with mosaics, and a throne room. The mosque is located in the southeastern corner and is divided into twelve bays supported on piers. Next to the mosque is a triple-aisled basilica hall. Like other Umayyad desert or country palaces, such as Qasr al-Heer al-Gharbi in the Syrian Desert and Khirbat al-Mafjar near Jericho, Khirbat al-Minya followed the Umayyad model of a five-room bait ("house"), flanking the basilica hall. To the north are the residential quarters.
The building is constructed of finely dressed limestone blocks laid in regular courses with a lower course of black basalt stones. The mosque had a simple decoration, but the domed gateway chamber and the southern rooms were richly decorated. The top of the walls were decorated with large stepped merlons and the interior was decorated with a variety of glass and stone mosaics. Marble panels covered the dadoes of the walls and stone mosaics combined with glass cubes were set in geometric carpet-like patterns on the floors of the five southern rooms. A well-preserved floor mosaic has been discovered in the western part of the palace.
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References and sources
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