(Communicated by the Israel Antiquities Authority
of an enormous structure dating to the Crusader period (1099–1291 CE),
which was a busy hospital, has currently been revealed to the public
following excavations and research by the Israel Antiquities Authority
there in cooperation with the Grand Bazaar Company of East Jerusalem.
The building, owned by the Waqf, is situated in the heart of the
Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, in an area known as
“Muristan” (a corruption of the Persian word for hospital), near David
Street, the main road in the Old City.
Until a decade or so ago
the building served as a bustling and crowded fruit and vegetable
market. Since then it has stood desolate. In the wake of the Grand
Bazaar Company’s intention to renovate the market as a restaurant, the
Israel Antiquities Authority conducted archaeological soundings.
structure, only a small part of which was exposed in the excavation,
seems to extend across an area of fifteen dunams. Its construction is
characterized by massive pillars and ribbed vaults and it stands more
than six meters high. The image we have is that of a great hall composed
of pillars, rooms and smaller halls.
According to Renee
Forestany and Amit Re’em, the excavation directors on behalf of the
Israel Antiquities Authority, “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contemporary historical documents, most of which are written in Latin.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.
The Hospitallers treated sick men and women of different religions.
There is information about Crusaders who ensured their Jewish patients
received kosher food. All that notwithstanding, they were completely
ignorant in all aspects of medicine and sanitation: an eyewitness of the
period reports that a Crusader doctor amputated the leg of a warrior
just because he had a small infected wound – needless to say the patient
died. The Muslim Arab population was instrumental in assisting the
Crusaders in establishing the hospital and teaching them medicine. Arab
culture has always held the medical profession in high regard and Arab
physicians were famous far and wide.
In addition to the medical
departments, the hospital also functioned as an orphanage where
abandoned newborns were brought. Mothers who did not want their
offspring would come there with covered heads and hand over their
infants. In many instances when twins were born, one of them was given
to the orphanage. The orphans were treated with great devotion and when
they reached adulthood they served in the military order.
learn about the size of the hospital from contemporary documents. One of
the documents recounts an incident about a staff member who was
irresponsible in the performance of his work in the hospital. That
person was marched alongside the building awhile, and the rest of the
staff, with whips in hand, formed a line behind him and beat him. This
spectacle was witnessed by all of the patients.
The Ayyubid ruler
Saladin lived near the hospital following the defeat of the Crusaders,
and he also renovated and maintained the structure. He permitted ten
Crusader monks to continue to reside there and serve the population of
The building collapsed in an earthquake that struck in
1457 CE and was buried beneath its ruins, which is how it remained
until the Ottoman period. In the Middle Ages parts of the structure were
used as a stable and the bones of horses and camels were found in
excavations, alongside an enormous amount of metal that was used in
shoeing the animals.
According to M. Shwieki, the project
manager, “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”.
According to Shwieki, “The place will be open to the public later this