Large Ancient Winery, Roman Bathhouse Unearthed in Jerusalem

“‘Go unto the house of the Rechabites, and speak unto them, and bring them into the house of the LORD, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink.'” Jeremiah 35:2 (The Israel Bible™)

Unexpected finds, more than 1,600 years old, were uncovered during archaeological excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Schneller Compound in Jerusalem before the start of construction of residential buildings for ultra-orthodox residents. The project is financed by the Merom Yerushalayim Company.

Interesting finds from Jerusalem’s past were discovered in the archaeological excavation, most notably a large and impressive winery dating to the Roman or Byzantine period, some 1,600 years ago. The complex installation includes a pressing surface paved with a white mosaic. In the center of it is a pit in which a press screw was anchored that aided in extracting the maximum amount of must (freshly pressed fruit juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems) from the grapes. Eight cells were installed around the pressing surface. These were used for storing the grapes, and possibly also for blending the must with other ingredients to produce different flavors of wine. The archaeologists believe that this winery served the residents of a large manor house whose inhabitants made their living with viticulture and wine production.

Excavation director, Alex Wiegmann, alongside the complex winery. Different flavor wines were probably produced in it. (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority./JNi Media)
Excavation director, Alex Wiegmann, alongside the complex winery. Different flavor wines were probably produced in it. (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority./JNi Media)

Evidence was unearthed next to the impressive winepress indicating the presence of a bathhouse. These finds include 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 of Jewish Jerusalem during the Bar Kochva rebellion, and its units remained garrisoned in the city until 300 CE. Among the Roman legion’s main centers was the one in the vicinity of the International Convention Center (ICC), commonly known as Binyenei HaUma, at the entrance to Jerusalem, which is located just 2,400 ft from the current excavation, where a large pottery and brick production center was once located. The 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 Ha-Uma. As was customary in the Roman world, here, in the Schneller Compound, a private bathhouse was incorporated in the plan of the estate.

 
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The current archeological excavation 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 back to the Late Second Temple period.

Archaeologist Alex Wiegmann, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, noted that “once again, Jerusalem demonstrates that wherever one turns over a stone ancient artifacts will be found related to the city’s glorious past. 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.”

Terra cotta pipes uncovered at the site constitute evidence of the existence of an ancient bath house that operated there. (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority/JNi Media)
Terra cotta pipes uncovered at the site constitute evidence of the existence of an ancient bath house that operated there. (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority/JNi Media)

According to Amit Re’em, the Jerusalem district archaeologist, “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 [desecrating graves], but it is unaware of the joint work done on a daily basis and the interest expressed by the ultra-Orthodox sector.”

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 there. After the British withdrawal in 1948 the compound was turned over to the Hagana and later served as an army base that was used by the IDF until 2008.

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