Ancient Winery Found in Jerusalem

Winery at Excavation Site at Schneller Compound in Jerusalem 2.3.16

Ancient Winery, Roman Bathhouse Found in Jerusalem

Written by Michael Bachner/TPS on March 02, 2016

Jerusalem (TPS) – Archaeologists unearthed an unexpected discovery in recent weeks at a former orphanage compound in Israel’s capital. The findings, a large winery complex and bathhouse alongside Jewish ritual baths from the Second Temple period, were presented to the public on Wednesday, March 2.

“We found a wide variety of findings, from the time of the Second Temple through the Byzantine era,” said Jerusalem District Archaeologist Amit Re’em to Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “It is interesting to see that the Romans settled atop Jewish construction, and the Byzantines then settled atop Roman construction. This is Jerusalem, construction upon construction upon construction.”

The finding described by the archaeologists as the most impressive was a large winery dating to the Roman or Byzantine period, some 1,600 years ago. The complex included a pressing surface paved with a white mosaic.

Excavation Site at Schneller Compound in Jerusalem 2.3.16
Excavation Site at Schneller Compound in Jerusalem 2.3.16

Eight cells were installed around the pressing surface. These were used for storing grapes and possibly also for blending the must with other ingredients to produce different flavors of wine.

“Next to the wine press, we found a bathhouse with a sophisticated system of terra cotta pipes used to heat the rooms, resembling a sauna,” said Re’em. “Right next to it we found a pit with dozens of clay and glass fragments that were deliberately thrown in, maybe waste from an earthenware factory.”

“Another amazing find was clay roofing tiles, with one of them stamped with the name of the Tenth Roman Legion, which also probably inhabited the bathhouse,” he added to TPS. The Tenth Roman Legion was one of four legions that participated in the conquest of Jewish Jerusalem, and its units remained garrisoned in the city until 300 CE.

The archaeologists suggest that the site, in the form of a manor house, constituted an auxiliary settlement to the main site that was previously exposed 200 meters away.

“Right next to the site are many Jewish ritual baths (mikvaot), pot shards and coins from the Second Temple period that indicate there was a Jewish community here at the time,” added Re’em.

The Schneller Orphanage 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. After the British withdrawal in 1948, the compound was turned over to the Jewish Haganah organization and later served as an IDF base until 2008.

“None of the inhabitants over the years, not the Germans, not the British, and not the Israelis imagined that they were sitting upon antiquities,” Re’em told TPS.

The compound is situated today in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhood of Geula. The construction of a new residential housing project is planned to begin soon.

“Luckily, the excavation site was planned to be a garden, an open public space,” said Re’em. “There is real excitement here about the possibility to turn it into an archaeological garden centering around the winery.”

The Israel Antiquities Authority excavation at the Schneller Compound was financed by the Merom Yerushalayim Company.

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