One of the largest floor mosaics in the world, previously covered for protection, has been opened to the public for a day. The mosaic is located in Palestine, at the archaeological site Hisham’s Palace, north of the Jericho district in the occupied West Bank.

The Palace got its name from a marble ostracon with the name Hisham scratched on it, so it was assumed that it was built during the reign of the 10th Umayyad caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik. However, although the name stuck to the construction, later discoveries question this theory and it is now thought more probable that his nephew Walid ibn Yazid built the palace. It is certain that it was built for someone in the royal family, though. Architecture, decoration, and artefacts indicate it was built under the Umayyad dynasty in the first half of the 8th century.

The Hisham Palace mosaic floor features 38 scenes in 21 colours and stretches at 825 square metres. One of the most famous pieces of the bath hall is a mosaic representing the Tree of Life. The mosaic depicts a tree with two gazelles on the left, a peaceful scene, and a gazelle eaten by a lion on the right, a violent scene.

Stuccos found in the bath complex with animal and human figures as well as florals and geometrics are now at the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem. Hisham’s Palace mosaics, sculptures, frescoes and carved stucco are of particular high quality, exceptional examples of earliest Islamic art. The colours and patterns in the mosaics are indicative of later Islamic art, while figural art is unique to the Umayyad period.

The mosaic had been covered for decades ever since it was excavated in the 1930s and 1940s. It would remain covered with canvas and soil for protection from the weather. For the past year, after the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency for the construction of a protective roof and exhibition facilities, the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities spent the past year removing the sand, soil and debris covering the floor. It has now been cleared and works to construct a protective roof will begin. The authorities allowed for the public to have the chance to catch a glimpse of the mosaic on Thursday, before construction of the roof starts.

If everything goes according to plan, the mosaic will open for the public in 2018.