Specializing in Private Tours of Israel and Israel's Lesser Known Tourist Attractions, the Gems.
Specializing in Private Tours of Israel and Israel's Lesser Known Tourist Attractions, the Gems. 

Who Was the Mona Lisa of Galilee?

One of the most exquisite and well-preserved mosaics was unearthed inside a building referred to as the Roman villa. Perched high up on the acropolis, this luxurious home was clearly the residence of one of Zippori's more important citizens, perhaps the local governor.


The centerpiece of the home is a large guestroom with 'triclinium', or a three-sided, U-shaped Roman banquet area. The mosaic floor, comprising tiles of twenty-eight different colors, is designed around these three tables so that no panels are obscured.


The central part of the design depicts the life and rituals of Dionysus, the Roman god of feasting, fertility, drunkenness, ecstasy and revelry. Fifteen panels portray scenes such as Dionysus' victory procession to India, his marriage to Ariadne and his drinking contest with Herakles, the largest of the panels. Aspects of the Dionysian cult are also shown, such as grape treading, shepherds and scenes of rejoicing and gift bearing.


A frame of twenty-two circular acanthus leaf medallions surrounds the Dionysus panels, most of which contain hunting scenes of wild animals and naked cupids holding bows and arrows. Centered amongst the medallions are two portraits, of which the northern one is severely damaged.


The southern portrait depicts a captivating woman adorned with earrings and a laurel garland. Her gaze is riveting; in fact, it appears she looks directly at you from every corner of the room. This woman has been dubbed "the Mona Lisa of the Galilee", not because she resembles DaVinci's subject but rather because she seems to have the same quality of timelessness and of superb artistry. She even has the same faint hint of a smile.


Much speculation has been made as to the identity of this mysterious beauty. Who was she, a figment of the artist's imagination? Not likely, as there was surely no lack of beautiful women in ancient times. The first possibility that comes to mind is the lady of the house. No doubt the important figure who resided here was a man of great wealth and power; a "trophy wife" would have been a probable accoutrement to this man's lifestyle.


But perhaps this woman was a legendary beauty - a "superstar" of her time - whose face was renown throughout the land? Could she have been a Cindy Crawford or Claudia Schiffer of the Roman world? Maybe she once graced this villa with her presence and the owner chose to memorialize her visit to him in the room he entertained all his guests.


Then again, it is possible that the owner of the house was not involved in the planning of the mosaic. It is conceivable that the artist was given vague instructions regarding the content of the mosaic. Perhaps he used his artistic license to create a monument to the great love of his life - mother, wife, daughter, lover - whose radiant beauty would be admired by all who gazed upon her, but whose identity would remain hidden



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