A well-preserved portion of a once thriving hospital in Jerusalem’s Old City –
dating back to the Crusader period (1099-1291 CE) and rediscovered in March –
was displayed to the public on Sunday.
“We always knew it was in this
area, but its remains were covered with paint, plaster and garbage, so we
weren’t sure of the exact location,” said Antiquities Authority (AA) excavation
director Amit Re’em Sunday afternoon. “It was so neglected you couldn’t see the
glory of the place.”
The building housing the hospital, owned by the Wakf
and the Grand Bazaar Company of east Jerusalem, is located in the heart of the
Christian Quarter in a region known as “Muristan” (Persian for
According to Re’em, it collapsed during an earthquake in 1457
and was buried beneath rubble until the Ottoman period.
During the Middle
Ages, parts of the structure were used as a stable, as evidenced by bones of
horses and camels found in excavations, as well as an enormous amount of metal
used to shoe the animals, said Re’em.
The building also served as a
popular fruit and vegetable market until 2000, when it finally became
It was not until the Grand Bazaar Company decided to renovate
the area into a restaurant that the AA team serendipitously conducted
archeological tests determining its history.
Re’em said “rediscovering”
the hospital was no easy feat.
“We didn’t find a sign saying ‘Welcome to
the hospital,’” he said with a laugh. “We used historical sources, including
mentions of the hospital’s general location and descriptions of it being large
with lots of space – and I thought this building was the perfect candidate to be
The original hospital, only a fraction of which was
exposed in the excavation, extended across an area of at least 1.5 hectares,
said Re’em. Its architecture was characterized by massive pillars and ribbed
vaults, extending more than six meters.
“The image we have is that of a
great hall composed of pillars, rooms and smaller halls,” the archeologist
Re’em noted that the archeological team – which was also led by
Renee Forestany – learned of the hospital primarily from celebrated German
archeologist Conrad Schick, who painstakingly mapped out its ruins in Jerusalem
prior to his death in 1901.
Numerous sources in Latin and French also
documented the once thriving sanatorium, he said.
“They mention a
sophisticated hospital that is as large and as organized as a modern hospital,”
said Re’em. “The hospital was established and constructed by a Christian
military order named the ‘Order of St. John of the Hospital in Jerusalem’ and
was known by its Latin name the ‘Hospitallers’ (from the word
“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,” he added.
According to Re’em, the hospital was comprised of
different wings and departments – designated by the types of illnesses and
severity of conditions of patients – similar to contemporary
In an emergency situation, the hospital would accept as many
as 2,000 patients of different religions, and even serve Jewish patients kosher
food, he added.
Re’em said the Muslim Arab population was instrumental in
assisting the Crusaders in establishing the hospital and teaching them proper
medical practice, which at the time was more advanced in the East than in the
“The Crusaders studied the profession of medicine from Arab
doctors, for whom it was a well-known science,” he said. “Back then, Western
medicine compared to the East was primitive, but when they built the hospital
they learned from the Arabs.”
To illustrate the vast differences in
sophistication between the Crusaders and Arab doctors, Re’em cited a couple
“In one instance a patient came in while a Muslim
doctor and Crusader doctor were present and told the Crusader doctor he had a
wound in his leg,” he said. “The Crusader doctor said he must cut off the entire
leg, while the Muslim doctor said an antiseptic cream could be used to make it
According to Re’em, the Crusader doctor insisted on cutting off
the man’s leg, and the patient died shortly thereafter.
example, Re’em said a woman came to see both doctors complaining of a headache.
While the Muslim doctor diagnosed her as dehydrated, the Crusader doctor said
the “devil was in her,” and proceeded to shave her head and carve a cross in her
skull, resulting in her death.
Apart from treating patients, the hospital
also functioned as an orphanage, where abandoned newborns were frequently
“Mothers who did not want their offspring would come there with
covered heads and hand over their infants,” said Re’em.
instances, when twins were born, one of them was given to the orphanage,” he
Re’em noted that the orphans were treated with great devotion, and
when they reached adulthood they frequently worked for the hospital or served in
the military order.
He added that historical accounts showed that
punishment for negligence at the hospital was swift and severe.
the documents I read recounts an incident about a staff member who was
irresponsible in the performance of his work in the hospital,” he said. “That
person was marched alongside the building and the rest of the staff, with whips
in hand, formed a line behind him and beat him.”
The spectacle was
witnessed by all of the patients, he added.
The Ayyubid ruler Saladin,
who lived near the hospital following the defeat of the Crusaders, renovated and
maintained the structure, permitting 10 Crusader monks to continue to reside
there and serve the population of Jerusalem, Re’em said.
section of the former hospital is set to become part of a restaurant and coffee
shop via a construction project later this year, said Monser Shwieki, a project
manager for the Grand Bazaar Company.
“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,” he said.
Shwieki added that the building will not be open to the
public again until the restaurant is opened.