Ancient winery and Roman bathhouse found in Jerusalem

Excavation ahead of construction for haredi housing unearths 1,600-year-old relics from wine press and Roman legion bathhouse.

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Pottery shards in Jerusalem
Pottery shards in Jerusalem
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Ancient 1,600-year-old finds were recently unearthed during archaeological excavations on the Schneller Compound in Jerusalem, prior to the construction of residential buildings for the capital's haredi population.

The excavations, financed by the Merom Yerushalayim Company and conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), focus on the site of the Schneller Orphanage, which operated in Jerusalem from 1860 until the Second World War.

During the British Mandate, its German inhabitants were expelled and a military base was established there. After the British withdrawal in 1948 the compound was turned over to the Hagana and later served as an army base used by the IDF until 2008. 

Now, ahead of the construction of a new housing project, ancient finds were unearthed including a large winery from the Roman or Byzantine period around 1,600 years ago.

The winery included a pressing surface paved with white mosaic, with a pit at the center in which a press screw was anchored that aided in extracting the maximum amount of must from the grapes. Eight cells were installed around the pressing surface, for the storage of grapes and possibly also for blending the must with other ingredients in producing flavored wine.

Archaeologists believe the winery served the residents of a large manor house whose inhabitants made their living by, among other things, viticulture and wine production.

Right next to the winery was found evidence of a bathhouse, including terra cotta pipes used to heat the bathhouse and several clay bricks, some of which were stamped with the name of the Tenth Roman Legion. This legion was one of four Roman legions that participated in the conquest and occupation of Jewish Jerusalem, and its units remained garrisoned in the city until 300 CE.

A main center of the Roman legion was near the current Binyanei Hauma, which is just around 800 meters from the Schneller Compound excavation. Archaeologists suggest that the Schneller site, in the form of a manor house, constituted an auxiliary settlement to the main site that was previously exposed at Binyanei Hauma. As was customary in the Roman world, here too in the Schneller Compound, a private bathhouse was incorporated in the plan of the estate.

The current archaeological find is actually a continuation of the salvage excavations that were carried out at the site half a year ago, when evidence was uncovered there of a Jewish settlement that dated to the Late Second Temple period.

"Once again, Jerusalem demonstrates that wherever one turns over a stone ancient artifacts will be found related to the city’s glorious past," said archaeologist Alex Wiegmann, excavation director on behalf of the IAA.

"The archaeological finds discovered here help paint a living, vibrant and dynamic picture of Jerusalem as it was in ancient times up until the modern era."

Amit Re’em, the Jerusalem district archaeologist, said, "this is an excellent example of many years of cooperation and deep and close ties with the haredi community. The general public is used to hearing of the clashes between the archaeologists and the orthodox community around the issue of the graves, but is unaware of the joint work done on a daily basis and the interest expressed by the ultra-orthodox sector."

"The Israel Antiquities Authority is working to instill our ancient cultural heritage in this population, as it does with other sectors," concluded Re'em.

The winery Guy Fitoussi, Israel Antiquities Authority
Terra cotta pipes from ancient bath house Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Excavation director Alex Wiegmann with oil lamp Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority