Ramle, from the Arabic for "sand", probably referring to the sand dunes on which the city was built, was founded in the early eighth century by the Umayyad caliph Suleiman ib 'Abd el-Malik, as the first Islamic city, and it now stands in a town with a mixed population of Muslims, Jews and Christians.
Through the ages, Ramle has been an important administrative centre to the side of the Via Maris connecting to Jerusalem. With the city's founding, many installations and buildings, such as cisterns, a drainage channel, the House of Dyers, and the mosque were erected. Most of the Umayyad city is now covered by later construction. Only in the Umayyad mosque, called the White Mosque, were several remains of that period preserved as well as a series of subterranean vaults and cisterns. Its square minaret with stone elevations marked by recessed, arched windows, which was rebuilt by the Mamelukes, is the prominent structure of medieval Ramle. Near the tower is the tomb of Nebi Salib, which is a regular pilgrimage site, and a Muslim cemetery still in use.
Excavations at the White Mosque were conducted in 1949 on behalf of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums. The excavations attempted to ascertain which buildings, both above ground and subterranean, belonged to the original mosque enclosure. It was revealed that the mosque enclosure was built in the form of a quadrangle with its walls oriented to the cardinal points. It included the following structures: the mosque itself; two porticoes along the quadrangle's east and west walls; the north wall; the minaret; an unidentified building in the center to the area; and three subterranean cisterns. The Mosque also exemplifies distinct phases of renovation and construction at different historical points.
The mosque was a broadhouse; the long wall (the qibla) faces Mecca, with the mihrab in the center of the real wall. However, the roof apparently belongs to a later phase of renovation, carried out in the Ayyubid period. Excavation disclosed that the right half of the mosque deviates some 6 degrees north of the traditional eastwest orientation.
Both the writings of the Arab geographers and the evidence uncovered in the excavations indicate that the mosque's building complex was constructed in three main stages. The first stage is dated to the period of the Umayyads, when the enclosure was erected in its original form. Of the earliest buildings there remains only the left side of the mosque (oriented east-west), the east wall with the portico, the north wall (aside from the minaret), and the three subterranean cisterns. The construction of the right side of the mosque, the western enclosure wall and the central ablutions building are attributed to the second phase, in the time of Saladin. Found in the excavations were two inscriptions that mention repairs made to the mosque. The first inscription relates that Sultan Baybars built a dome over the minaret and added a door to the mosque. The second inscription states that in 1408 CE Seif ed-Din Baighut ez-Zahiri had the walls of the southern cistern coated with plaster. The third phase included the minaret, the portico east of the minaret, and two halls attached to the eastern wall, outside the area of the mosque enclosure.