Saturday, 7 November 2015

Days Five and Six: the sacred sites of Jerusalem and the hinterland of the city

Day 5 was substantially another day on foot. The bus dropped us in the old city and there we were fortunate to be guided by Dr Jon Seligman, head of research for the Israeli Antiquities Authority, with 35 years experience working in Jerusalem. 

The group gathered outside the Church of St Mary for
Jon Seligman's introduction
We began our tour with the Church of St Mary of the Valley of Jehoshaphat, a building which still displays a number of Crusader-period features, including the burial chapel of Queen Melisande of Jerusalem (1105-61) and vaulted ceilings. The church is currently shared between the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches and we were able to squeeze our visit alongside on-going services in the church. Dr Seligman outlined key architectural features and pointed out the location of frescoes which we would see the following day in the Israel Museum. 

From there we walked into the old city and to the Church of St Anne, traditionally the birthplace of Mary, as well as lying next to the pools of Bethesda. Here Anthi Andronikou gave us an excellent introduction to the complex architectural relationship between the crusader church the the remains of the earlier pool of Bethesda. There was a stimulating debate about the role of patrons and artisans in building projects, which continued into the following day as we explored the area around Jerusalem, but more on that shortly!

The contentious vaulting in the Cenacle
Having seen the Church of St Anne we made our way through the streets of the old city to Mt. Zion, and looked around the fiendishly complicated building complex which includes the Cenacle, which according to tradition is the room in which the Last Supper took place, as well as being the home of Caiaphas and the scene of Pentecost. We were introduced to this site by Michaelis Olympios, who gave a very detailed account of its role in pilgrim journeys, as well as its built history. This enabled us to engage in a lively debate inside about the dating of the ribbed and groin-vaulted ceiling, calling into question ideas of transference. This was followed by a whistle-stop visit to the Tomb of David and the foyer of the ladies’ bathrooms in the Church of the Holy Zion, which also happens to be the site of some of the uncovered Crusader foundations of the building. 

The Chapel of Adam in the Holy Sepulchre
After lunch we began the second part of our day, dedicated to the Holy Sepulchre, in which we benefitted greatly from the insights of Bob Ousterhout, who generously shared his own deep familiarity with the building, an edifice which he described as ‘the most complicated building in the world, bar none’. There were many highlights of the time we spent there, but among them were Bob’s analysis of the Chapel of Adam. This chapel, which exhibits eleventh-century brick architecture, alongside earlier stonework and later Crusader masonry, demonstrates the commitment of the Crusader-period architects to preserving and keeping on display as much of the earlier phases of construction, while framing the existing holy sites within the ambulatory structure of a western pilgrimage church. 

The blocked window above the choir in the Holy Sepulchre
Another discussion focussed on the erection of a dome over the choir of the church, and above the omphalos, or centre of the world. Bob pointed out the evidence for a change of plan between the first stage of building this part of the structure, and the eventual result. This centred upon a blocked window, partially visible above an arch, which suggests that originally the architects had intended to construct a tower, before changing to a dome. 


That brought Day 5 to a close, with another fabulous dinner and a fairly early night. The next day would again be full of things to do…


Day 6 saw us heading out of the city to the agricultural hinterland of Crusader Jerusalem. We visited several sites connected with Hospitaller patronage, and saw along the way further evidence for the agricultural wealth of the region in farmed terraces. Together these supplied the needs of the hospital in Jerusalem, which sources describe as having numerous beds and patients, as well as the military activities of the monastic order of St John. Our first stop was at Abu Ghosh, where Gil Fishhof presented the site, giving us an introduction to its history and architecture and then presenting his own research into the famous and lavish fresco cycle. He interpreted this as expressing Hospitaller ideas associating the order with events connected to Christ’s resurrection. We then continued yesterday’s lively discussion about the role of patrons and workshops in Crusader art. The issue is far from resolved but we look forward to taking it up again in Greece. 

Dana explaining some of the mysteries of Aqua Bella

A view into the courtyard at Aqua Bella
Back in the bus, and out of the rain, we drove a very short distance to the enigmatic courtyard structure known as Aqua Bella. This is often described in literature as a farmhouse, but Dana Katz gave us an overview of the earlier scholarship on the site and other possible interpretations. In particular she highlighted the issue of levels of fortification in Crusader secular buildings: should Aqua Bella be considered unfortified, semi-fortified, or just fortified? She also raised the important question of how it relates to the nearby Hospitaller castle of Belmont, and drew attention to its location in relation to other known Crusader-period villages and estates. 

With Dr Lester in the Islamic Gallery
After a pause for lunch at Ein Kerem we made for the Israel Museum, where Dr Ayala Lester of the Israel Antiquities Authority met us in the gallery of Islamic Art, and presented two important metal hoards. These contained hundreds of metal objects and were found in Caesarea and Tiberias in strata datable to the eleventh/twelfth centuries period. This gave us an opportunity to reconnect with discussions begun in Turkey earlier this year, as we were able to compare Crusader material culture with contemporary or nearly contemporary Fatimid and Mamluk artefacts, and reflect on the importance of trade and mobility of goods. Gil Fishhof also talked about major sculptural finds and the fresco cycle from the Church of St Mary of the Valley of Jehoshaphat, now displayed in the Crusader gallery in the museum. 

Saying goodbye to Jules
Having returned to the hotel it was, sadly time to part with Jules, our tour guide, before our final dinner of this trip. Our visit to Israel has sparked many debates, which we very much look forward to continuing in Greece, as well as giving us an opportunity to see firsthand the remains of Crusader lifestyles in the region. 


Thursday, 5 November 2015


Day 4: Belvoir and Jerusalem

The group on the (draw)bridge at Belvoir
After seeing the remains of Crusader Tiberias yesterday evening, today began with a presentation by Katia Cytryn-Silverman of the Israeli Antiquities Authority about further investigations in the city. In particular she talked about the extensive mosque complex which has been excavated, and since re-covered, in the eastern area of the city. The mosque, comparable in size to the White Mosque at Ramla, featured spolia from the Byzantine period of the city. The mosque itself, however, may later have been re-purposed to form part of a crusader period church, demonstrating the often competing yet fluid historical claims on a densely-packed urban space.

Re-use and redevelopment at Belvoir
After the talk we hit the road again, heading first for the Crusader castle of Belvoir, or the Star of the Jordan. This impressive Hospitaller fortification, which was excavated in the 1960s but with minimal publication, is at once simple and obvious and simultaneously extremely complex. It sits in the landscape above the Jordan Valley in a strategically valuable and dominating position, and its concentric fortification walls are a well-known and unmissable landmark. Nevertheless, many uncertainties remain about the castle, which was built fairly rapidly in the late twelfth century. It is not even known, for example, when it was finally abandoned. Recent work, about which we were delighted to receive talks by Vardit Shoten-Hallel (Israeli Antiquities Authority) and Simon Dorso (University of Lyon II), looking both at the remains of the chapel and the fort area itself, including earlier excavated material, is revealing overlapping stages or rearrangement, modification and re-use of areas of the fortress. It is to be hoped that the next six planned seasons of excavation will begin to provide further answers about this enigmatic monument to military engineering.

Vardit explaining the complex jigsaw that is the reconstruction of the Crusader chapel

And over lunch, a puzzle of our own.

Plans for a picnic lunch at Belvoir were changed because of the risk of rain, but our lunch in Bet Shean instead provided the opportunity for an impromptu ceramics seminar. And then we headed through the Jordan Valley towards Jerusalem, making it to the city in time for our plenary meeting.This was a great opportunity to reflect on what we had learned and find out more about the up-coming trips to Greece and Jordan. 

Reflecting on our experiences so far...

Wednesday, 4 November 2015


Day 3: Montfort, Nazareth and Tiberias

Today saw us back on the tour bus experiencing the industrial as well as the military side of the Crusader Levant. Our first stop was the castle of Montfort, which from 1226 was the headquarters of the Teutonic knights. The standing remains make a detailed reconstruction impossible, but even what we were able to see struck various group members with its similarity to complexes we had seen in Turkey earlier in the summer. High winds brought home the isolation of the location and the issues of supply which the castle must have faced.

The Crusader tower at Montfort

The remains of a Crusader sugar mill, with Edna Stern explaining
From there a short drive took us to the site of a sugar mill previously excavated by Edna Stern. Her guide to the site was extremely illuminating and focussed our attention firmly on the economic and social changes brought by the crusader period. Questions remain, as Edna highlighted, about the management of these economic ventures, and above all about regional diversity but they can only be answered by extensive discussion and data sharing by both archaeologists and textual historians. 

The group assembles at the sugar mill
Thirteenth-century remains gave way after lunch to the distinctly modern Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where some very distinctive architectural choices have been made in surrounding the original grotto, which forms the spiritual focal point of the church… The museum, however, included not only a selection of pottery in styles which are now becoming familiar to the whole group, but also the famous set of late-twelfth-century capitals found in the church and depicting scenes from the lives of Apostles as well as the role of the Church in guiding the Apostolic mission. These enigmatic capitals have been the focus of discussion and debate concerning their possible European influence, their role in hypothetical built structure and their stage of completion when they were ultimately buried in the medieval period. 

One of the 'Crusader capitals' at the museum of the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, showing the church (personified as the femal figure, Ecclesia) leading an aspotle through a landscape of demons.

After our spiritual stop we drove past the Horns of Hattin on the route to Tiberias and arrived in time for a walking tour of the crusader remains of the city before dinner, including the probably Crusader gate, part of the defensive wall, and some possibly-Crusader vaults. Little of Tiberias’ Crusader heritage is visible but what there is, read in the context of Tiberias’ location along the coast of the Lake of Galilee offers another perspective on Crusader occupation of the region. 

The movement north has also provided opportunities to reflect on the different opportunities and restrictions imposed by the landscape, such as the climatic conditions needed for growing sugar cane, or the relationship of the narrow, steep settlement of Tiberias with its lake-side fortifications.

Tomorrows journey to Jerusalem will hopefully bring continued insights, but until then it is off to bed in the historic ‘Dona Gracia’ hotel, complete with in-house museum…


Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Day two, Crusader Akko (Acre)

Our first day in Akko was to be something out of the ordinary for ‘Re-evaluating the Art of the Crusades’ so far: for a whole day we would not be seeing our trusty tour bus! This is because, as one of the best-preserved Crusader cities in the Mediterranean, Akko has more than enough fill a single day. As Eliezer Stern of the Israeli Antiquities Authority explained to us, Acre was rendered indefensible by the Mamluks in 1291 and then virtually abandoned until Ottoman occupation began in the 1750s. The Ottomans found most of the crusader ruins already covered over and so, for the most part, built their own city directly on top of them. Some prominent and visible structures, such as the Templar fortress on the sea front, were dismantled for building material but most of the Crusader landscape had already vanished underground. This is where, from the 1980s onwards it began to be discovered, in a programme of excavation and restoration which is astonishing in its scale.


The courtyard of the Hospitaller Compound

Our morning began with two talks, by Danny Syon and Edna Stern, both about the archaeology of Crusader Acre. Danny Syon talked about the site lying under our hostel. It is one of the few residential areas of a Crusader city ever to be extensively excavated, and revealed evidence for metal working, cooking and home life. Its eventual interment beneath a youth hostel and plaza however, demonstrated the tensions between archaeology and a living city which must perpetually be negotiated in spaces such as Akko. Edna Stern’s paper then took the focus from Akko to the whole Mediterranean, using the ceramic assemblages from the city to explore Mediterranean networks of trade and stylistic influence in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Both papers provided an excellent foundation for the day’s explorations.

On our way through the Hospitaller compound to the Church of St John
From the hostel we made straight for the Crusader church of St John, a complex, multi-phase building explained to us by Vardit Shoten-Hallel of the IAA, who has worked extensively on the site.  Examining the church gave us our first indication of the incredible Crusader heritage of Akko, as we descended through the Hospitaller Complex to enter from the original Frankish street level. Inside, the church, which had been part of the compound of the Knights Hospitaller, though not directly connected to it, revealed numerous instances of modification and rebuilding, including a bridge between the church and the monastic compound, constructed between 1242 and 1252, designed to enable the monks of St John to reach their church without having to go our into the streets. 

Examining arches in the crypt of the Church of St John
From here we returned to the main Hospitaller Compound Museum for a tour of the rest of the site museum by Eliezer Stern. As one of the pioneer excavators of this site, his perspective not only on the site interpretation and Crusader history, but also on the ways in which the site has grown, developed and how it may evolve in future provided much food for thought. Especially impressive were the Hospitaller store rooms, refectory and the extremely advanced latrines and sewerage system of the complex. As Dr Stern explained, at least three major tunnels, of around 600m length carried waste from the centre of the city down to the harbour. The effect on visitors arriving into medieval Acre by sea was not very pleasant, but it was invaluable for keeping going a city of such size and population density, and a hospital complex which could admit several hundred patients a week, often suffering from digestive problems. 

Cannon balls from the British bombardment ofAcre in 1840,
still in situ in the wall of the Hospitaller Compound
Lunch took us to the Conservation Centre of Akko, were catering was provided as part of a link-up project bringing local residents and businesses into closer contact with the conservation process in Akko. From there our walking tour continued to the Templar Tunnel, a subterranean vaulted tunnel leading from the port of Akko (where structures from the Hellenistic period onwards remain visible) to the now-demolished Templar fortress. There we had an opportunity to divert briefly into a discussion of the importance of Akko in the development of Baha’ism, and the progress being made in restoring the Ottoman appearance of the Akko sea front, before heading for through the Genoese and Pisan quarters of the Crusader city to visit the building site next to the Hospitaller complex. This site, which has historically been inaccessible due to religious use, is currently being renovated and we were kindly allowed access to examine the remains of the living quarters of the Master of the Hospitaller order, visible in the form of a series of decorated corbels. Iron shells in the wall from the English bombardment of Acre in 1840 also explained some apparently hasty and obvious Ottoman rebuilding of wall sections.

Going underground...


A very short walk took us back to the residential areas of the Crusader city, and our hostel for a much-needed hour of reflection before dinner on the sea front, and a walk back past the lighthouse, though for some, the day was still not over!

Bob Ousterhout and Scott Redford on the steps of the hostel,
demonstrating that the work of the scholar is never over,
even when the book is published.

Monday, 2 November 2015



Israel, November 2015

Day One and the Night Before: Jaffa, Ramla, Arsuf and Caesarea Maritima

Starting out on the first expedition of
Re-evaluating the Crusades, Israel!
The Night Before the whole group arrived, those who were already assembled in Tel Aviv had the chance to tour the Crusader sites of the port of Jaffa (modern Yaffo) with Dr Yoav Arbel of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The tour took the participants around the standing Crusader remains and also focussed on the topography of the Crusader settlement. It was a great way to start the trip and made those of us who couldn't make it jealous of the chance to take a look around this extremely significant Crusader location. 




A night view of the port


The group assembles for Robert Kool's presentation.
Day 1 in Israel dawned bright and sunny, and far too warm for anybody to accept Gil’s generous offer of some red hot chilli flavoured chewing gum. We got going with a presentation by Robert Kool of the Israel Antiquities Authority, on coinage of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which raised a number of fascinating issues and questions. It was a particular privilege to see images and get a preview description of a hoard of Fatimid gold coins discovered in the harbour of Caesarea only this February. 


From there Robert joined us for our journey to Ramla, where unforeseen circumstances altered our original plans but presented new opportunities. We had planned to spend some time in the Ramla mosque and enjoy a presentation by Heba Mustafa, but for reasons beyond our control could not spend as long there as planned. We had time for photographs and a short historical background and archaeological analysis by Heba.

Listening attentively to Heba's exposition of the Ramla mosque.


And this talk revealed numerous historical and architectural relationships between the Ramla Mosque and the now-ruined White Mosque in Ramla, including the mysterious transposition of inscriptions concerning the Ramla Mosque to the White Mosque and vice versa. With our visit to the Ramla Mosque cut short, therefore, it made perfect sense to spend our additional time visiting the remains of the White Mosque. 

The barrel vault of the mosque, with modern reinforcement.
The White Mosque as it stands today

Here, after additional information about the Mamluk minaret on the site of the White Mosque, Robert Kool very kindly negotiated permission for us to visit not only the standing remains of the main mosque complex, which are usually restricted access, but also the cistern of Harun al-Rashid, which was built beneath the mosque complex.

The minaret at Ramla


In the cistern of Harun al-Rashid.


From there a superb lunch in Ramla sustained us for a short drive to Arsuf/Arsur, and a tour of the Crusader archaeology there by Oren Tal of the Israeli Archaeology Service. This site, perched on a sandstone promontory, features mainly thirteenth-century visible remains, which give a vivid insight into the brutality of conflict during the crusader period. 

Getting in touch with old friends at Arsur.

With collapsed outer walls as a result of Mamluk mining, evidence for burned walls and piles of stones used as missiles against the walls, it testifes eloquently to the struggles of the Knights Hospitallers and their Mamluk adversaries to control this small port and defensive outcrop.

The crusader castle at Arsuf.

Our last site visit of the day was to Caesarea, where a presentation by Rebecca Darley focussed on the Crusader church and the walls and gatehouse. Both are attributed in their current form to the late thirteenth century, and especially to the seventh Crusade and the activities of Louis IX of France. 

Outside the crusader church at Caesarea, as the light begins to fade...


Extensive restoration and the complex archaeology of a site which seems to have undergone continuous modification and repair, as well as larger phases of development and dereliction, however, makes it difficult to and perhaps fruitless to attempt too close a reading of textual and archaeological sources.

The gatehouse of Caesarea, with reconstructed vaulting.



Finally, the day ended in the fittingly-named ‘Crusaders’ restaurant beneath the walls of Caesarea, where there was an opportunity to discuss many of the themes of the day’s visits, before taking a bus to our next destination - Akko, whence more to follow tomorrow!