The remains of a large hospital from the Crusader period (1099–1291 CE) have been discovered in the heart of Old Jerusalem, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Later this year the public will be to visit part of the structure when the site is turned into a restaurant.
The hospital was built by the military order the Hospitallers, and its construction features massive pillars and ribbed vaults and it stands more than six meters high (20 feet). The Israel Antiquities Authority conducted archaeological soundings on the site, which revealed its existence. The entire complex is estimated to be 150,000 square feet in size, and only a small portion of the hospital was excavated.
Renee Forestany and Amit Re’em, the excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, explained, “We’ve learned about the hospital from contemporary historical documents, most of which are written in Latin. These mention a sophisticated hospital that is as large and as organized as a modern hospital. The hospital was established and constructed by a Christian military order named the ‘Order of St. John of the Hospital in Jerusalem’ and known by its Latin name the Hospitallers (from the word hospital). These righteous warriors took an oath to care for and watch over pilgrims, and when necessary they joined the ranks of the fighters as an elite unit.”
The hospital was comprised of different wings and departments according to the nature of the illness and the condition of the patient – similar to a modern hospital. In an emergency situation the hospital could accept as many as 2,000 patients. It was also an orphanage where unwanted children could be left and put into the care of the Hospitallers.
The archaeologists also found horse and camel bones during the excavation, as well as metal for shoeing the animals, indicate that the structure also served as a stable during the Middle Ages.
The building collapsed in an earthquake that struck in 1457 and was buried beneath its ruins, which is how it remained until the Ottoman period. It then served as the site of a fruit and vegetable market.
Its owners, the Grand Bazaar Company, decided to renovate the site and turn it into a restaurant. Monser Shwieki, the project manager, explained “The magnificent building will be integrated in a restaurant slated to be constructed there, and its patrons will be impressed by the enchanting atmosphere of the Middle Ages that prevails there”.
Source: Israel Antiquities Authority