The Antakya Museum Hotel in Turkey is today of great archaeological importance. During its construction, workers discovered a 2,000-year-old mosaic that extends over 9,000-square-foot (about 850 square meters)! It’s the world’s largest mosaic piece and truly an astonishing sight.
The enormous mosaic, which was recently opened to the public as part of the newly built Antakya Museum Hotel, was unearthed back in 2010 by a construction crew digging the foundations of the new hotel. The discovery was beyond anything anyone could have expected. Hiding beneath the foundation of the future hotel lay the world’s largest mosaic, and also probably the one that took the most time to create.
Archaeologists believe this vast mosaic piece with its intricate geometries was the floor of a public building in the ancient city of Antioch, one of the most important cities in the Seleucid Empire. Although it was damaged during a series of major earthquakes in 526 and 528 A.D., some of that damage actually only enhances its spectacular visual qualities, as the mosaic remained connected to the floor and mostly intact even as the foundation itself undulated wildly. This undulation makes the piece look as if a few acres of gently rolling hills had been covered by a huge, beautiful carpet.
Founded in 300 B.C. by one of Alexander the Great’s successor generals Seleucus I Nicator, Antioch was the capital of the Seleucid Empire until being conquered by Rome in 63 B.C. Its location made it an important trade hub between the Mediterranean and the East, and so it became the seat of the governor.
In its heyday, Antioch had a population of half a million and was so significant that it was considered a rival first to Alexandria and then to Constantinople as the second most important city in the Roman Empire.
The local Hatay Archaeological Museum has a collection of Roman mosaics from this period that is without peer, most of them lifted from excavations and conserved indoors. However, the sheer enormity of this particular mosaic required a different approach. Instead of lifting the mosaic, or part of it, or covering it for protection and building over it, archaeologists and architects worked together to create a hybrid: a museum hotel.
A platform connected to structural columns installed into the underlying riverbed now hovers above the mosaic and specified viewing points were constructed to let visitors view the incredible masterwork below. A platform was built on top of the columns to house the hotel’s amenities – ballroom, conference rooms, pool, gym.
Aside from its sheer size, one of the most remarkable things about the Antakya mosaic is how long its construction was in progress. It began around the time the Greeks were ruling Antioch, about 300 BC, and lasted until the 1200s AD.
In those fifteen centuries, thirteen different civilizations are believed to have contributed to the mosaic!
The contributors included cultures as diverse as the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Crusaders, and the Egyptians.
So it was truly an international effort! And the result is breathtaking.