Excavation in Rahat reveals one of the earliest-known mosques

A 'luxurious estate’ featuring painted wall frescoes and marble-paved halls was also unearthed within the vicinity.

Aerial video of the mosque recently excavated in Rahat, Israel. Credit: Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Archaeological remains of an ancient mosque, believed to be more than 1,200 years old, have been unearthed in the Bedouin city of Rahat, located in Israel’s Negev desert. The discovery offers new insight into the region’s transition from Christianity to Islam.

The mosque was uncovered during excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) as part of the construction of a new neighbourhood in Rahat.

Dated to around the seventh and eighth centuries AD, the mosque comprises a square room and a wall facing in the direction of Mecca. A half-circle niche is positioned along the centre of the wall and points southwards.

Aerial photograph of the estate building found nearby. IMAGE: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority.

A ‘luxurious estate’ constructed around a central courtyard was also unearthed about 400 metres north of the mosque. The team identified traces of wall frescoes painted in red and yellow, and halls with stone flooring – some with marble paving. Finds of glass vessels and fine tableware illustrated with animals and plants indicate the wealth of the estate’s inhabitants.

Earlier excavations in the area unearthed the remains of a Byzantine-era farmhouse with a fortified tower, and Early Islamic estate buildings containing clay-lined ovens.

The team previously uncovered another mosque within the vicinity in 2019, which was likely built between the seventh and ninth centuries AD.

Both mosques are among the earliest-known worldwide.

Researchers from the IAA say: ‘The evidence from all of the excavation areas gathered so far: the dwellings, the houses of prayer, the ovens and utensils, sheds light on the beginnings of the historical process that took place in the northern Negev with the introduction of a new religion – the religion of Islam, and new rulership and culture in the region.’