Mosque Name: Shivta Mosque
City: Shivta (also known as Sobota, or Esbeita)
Year of construction (AD): 700-799
GPS: 30.880825 34.631229
Rebuilt facing Mecca: never
Shivta (also known as Sobota, or Esbeita). The Shivta mosque was discovered north of the baptisterium of the town’s southern church during the Colt expedition excavations in 1933-1936, but it was not published in detail (see Baly 1935: 177). Its walls are built of two rows of dressed stones with a filler in between, and the mihrab niche of ashlar stones. The general dimensions of the structure are 6.7 x 12.35 m, divided into two spatial units: the southern unit, squarish in shape (6.7 x 8.6 m), was a prayer room with a curved mihrab niche of smooth ashlar stones in its southern wall (0.9 m width, 1.2 m depth). The niche is about 0.1 m higher than the floor level and projects slightly south into the church’s baptisterium. Construction of the niche blocked off one of the entrances to the baptisterium but did not harm the room itself or the cross-shaped baptismal basin. In the center of the prayer room are four round stone columns, and incorporated in the east and west walls are stone pillars bearing Arabic inscriptions dated to the ninth century C.E. (Baly 1935: 178)
Shivta was first excavated by the American archaeologist Harris Dunscombe Colt in 1933, and is now being studied by the Negev Byzantine Bio-Archaeology Research Program, headed by Prof. Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa.
At the time, Colt (1901-1973) discovered a mosque in Shivta, and assumed, as did some scholars after him, that it had stood alongside a church that continued to operate. Their evidence for religious coexistence was that the mikhrab, the Muslim prayer niche facing Mecca, was built into the church but an adjacent baptistery was found not to have been damaged.
Yotam Tepper feels otherwise. “Praise for coexistence in Shivta seems to have been undeserved,” he says. “The mosque, and a dwelling known as the Pool House, were built using spolia [dismantled remnants] from the church.” Moreover, the repurposing was not done respectfully, he says: “A step in the main entrance to the Pool House and another in the mosque was carved with Christian symbols. People entering these structures in the Early Islamic period were actually stepping on them. That’s a clear statement, and not one of coexistence.”
Information also taken from:
Early Mosques in the Negev Highlands: New Archaeological Evidence on Islamic Penetration of Southern Palestine Author: Gideon Avni Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 294 (May, 1994), pp. 83-100