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Huge 1,000-Year-Old Hospital Exposed in J'lem

Impressive Crusader structure built by the Knights Hospitaller has 20-foot-high ceiling, served as a fruit market.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 8/5/2013, 11:21 AM

Part of the ancient hospital
Part of the ancient hospital
Photo: IAA

A Jerusalem structure that served as a hospital in the Crusader era has been opened to the public, after archaeological digs and research carried out by the Antiquities Authority. The structure, which is owned by the Muslim Waqf, is located in the heart of the Christian Quarter, near David Street.

The building served as a bustling fruit and vegetable market until the early 2000s. The archaeological work was carried out ahead of plans to turn the structure into a restaurant. Most of the original structure remains buried.

According to the experts in charge of the digs, Amit Re'em and Renee Forestini, information about the large hospital that operated at the location can be gleaned from historical documents from the same period, most of which are in Latin. These indicate a sophisticated hospital that is not inferior to a modern hospital in organization and size.”

The hospital was built by a Christian religious-military order called the Kinghts Hospitaller, which exists to this day. Members of the order vowed to care for pilgrims to Jerusalem and to join the fighting as an elite unit when required to.

In times of emergency, the hospital could take in up to 2,000 patients, and had different wards for patients suffering from different medical conditions, like modern hospitals. It also functioned as an orphanage. Orphans who grew up in the orphanage joined the order of the Hospitalers as adults.

The Muslim hero Salah a-Din, who conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders, allowed ten Crusader monks to continue to live in the hospital and serve the local populace. In the earthquake of 1457, the structure collapsed, and it remained in ruins since then. In Ottoman times, parts of it served as stables. 

The Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of St. John, moved to Malta after the Muslim conquest and are known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. In the 19th century CE, they moved their base to Rome. Several Protestant orders have branched out from the original one.