Excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have uncovered part of a massive hospital dating to the Crusader period (1099-1291 C.E.). The structure lies in the heart of the Christian Quarter in the Old City in an area known as “Muristan” (based on the Persian word for hospital). Although only a portion of the building has been excavated, archaeologists estimate that the hospital covers 160,000 square feet. The 20-foot-high ceilings were supported by massive pillars and ribbed vaults.
IAA excavation directors Renee Forestany and Amit Re’em initially discovered the hospital in contemporaneous documents. The hospital was built by a Christian military order called the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of Saint John, after John the Baptist. The hospital had different wings and departments organized according to patients’ illnesses and conditions and could serve up to 2,000 patients. Patients of different religions were treated. The building also functioned as an orphanage for abandoned newborns. The Muslim Arab population was instrumental in helping the Crusaders establish the hospital and teaching them medicine.
The hospital likely collapsed during an earthquake in 1457, but parts of the building were reused as stables as well as stalls for a fruit and vegetables market through the Ottoman period. The market continued to operate until 2000, when the IAA started the excavations.
Read the Bible History Daily feature What Were the Crusades and How Did They Impact Jerusalem? and the BHD excavation news Fatimid Treasure Discovered at Crusader-Era Apollonia-Arsuf.
BAS Library Members: Read more about the Crusaders in the Levant:
Jack Meinhardt, “When Crusader Kings Ruled Jerusalem,” Archaeology Odyssey, September/October 2000.
Ronnie Ellenblum, “Guarding the Holy Land,” Archaeology Odyssey, September/October 2005.
Adrian Boas, “The Rugged Beauty of Crusader Castles,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2006.
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