Ancient Winery, Roman Camp, Discovered at Geulah’s Schneller Compound

YERUSHALAYIM -
Excavation director, Alex Wiegmann alongside the winery (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Excavation Director Alex Wiegmann alongside the winery. (Israel Antiquities Authority)

The IDF vacated the Schneller compound in Geulah to make way for residential housing, but it turns out that the Israeli army wasn’t the first military force to use that exact same site as an encampment. During the course of foundation work for apartment buildings of the Merom Yerushalayim project about to be built at the site, workers found the remains of what appears to be a Roman-era military campground, including a luxurious (for the era) bathhouse used by the Tenth Roman Legion. The Tenth Roman Legion was one of four legions which participated in the conquest of Jewish Yerushalayim, and its soldiers remained garrisoned in the city until c. 300 CE.

Archaeologists already knew that one of the legion’s main holdings was centered in the vicinity of Binyanei HaUmah, located just about 800 meters from the current excavation, where a large pottery and brick production center was situated. 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 HaUmah. As was customary in the Roman world, here too in the Schneller Compound, a private bathhouse was incorporated in the plan of the estate.

Also discovered at the site were the remains of a large 1,600 year old winery, dating to the Roman or Byzantine period. 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 (unfermented juice) 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, thereby producing different flavors of wine. The archaeologists believe that this winery served the residents of the manor house, whose inhabitants made their living by, among other things, grape cultivation and wine production.

According to archaeologist Alex Wiegmann, the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Excavation Director, “Once again, Yerushalayim 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 Yerushalayim as it was in ancient times up until the modern era.”

The current archaeological exposure is actually a continuation of the salvage excavations that were carried out at this site half a year ago when evidence was uncovered there of a Jewish settlement that dated to the late Bayis Sheini period. The site was the home of the Schneller Orphanage, which operated 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 Haganah and later served as an army base used by the Israel Defense Force until 2008.

The archaeological work was sponsored by Merom Yerushalayim. These historic excavations add to the uniqueness of the site of the up and coming project at the site.