Archeologists from the Antiquities Authority have unearthed a rare and well-preserved 1,600-yearold winery and Roman bathhouse in Jerusalem’s historic Schneller Compound, which once served as an orphanage, and later as an IDF base.
The discovery, announced by the authority on Wednesday, was financed by the Merom Yerushalayim Company and carried out with the authority before the construction of residential buildings for ultra-Orthodox residents of the capital.
Schneller Orphanage, which operated in Jerusalem from 1860 until the Second World War, has a rich history.
Built by Johann Ludwig Schneller in 1855-56, its German inhabitants were expelled during the British Mandate, and a British Army base was established there. After the British withdrawal in 1948, the compound was turned over to the Hagana, and became an IDF base until 2008.
In 2012, it was purchased to be transformed into residential apartments for the capital’s haredi population.
According to the Antiquities Authority, the complex – which includes a grape pressing surface paved with a white mosaic – dates back to the Roman or Byzantine periods.
“In the center of it is a pit in which a press screw was anchored that aided in extracting the maximum amount of must from the grapes,” the authority said on Wednesday.
“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, thereby producing different flavors of wine.”
The archeologists believe the winery served the residents of a large manor house, whose inhabitants made their living by, among other things, viticulture and wine production.
Moreover, evidence was unearthed next to the impressive wine press, indicating the presence of a Roman bathhouse, the Antiquities Authority said.
“These findings included 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,” it said. “This legion was one of four Roman Legions that participated in the conquest of Jewish Jerusalem, and its units remained garrisoned in the city until c. 300 CE.”
Among the Roman Legion’s main centers, the authority added, was one in the vicinity of the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyenei Ha’uma), located just 800 meters from the current excavation, where a large pottery and brick-production center was situated.
The archeologists 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 Binyenei Ha’uma.
“As was customary in the Roman world, here too in the Schneller Compound, a private bathhouse was incorporated in the plan of the estate,” they said.
“The current archeological exposure 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.”
Alex Wiegmann, excavation director on behalf of the authority, said the findings reinforce the capital’s storied history.
“Once again, Jerusalem demonstrates that wherever one turns over a stone, ancient artifacts will be found related to the city’s glorious past,” said Wiegmann.
“The archeological finds discovered here help paint a living, vibrant and dynamic picture of Jerusalem as it was in ancient times, up until the modern era.”
Jerusalem District Archeologist Amit Re’em described the excavation as “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 archeologists 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,” said Re’em.
“The Israel Antiquities Authority is working to instill our ancient cultural heritage in this population, as it does with other sectors.”