Archaeology in Israel reveals such a contrast to our current lives. Today the Jewish Quarter is a bustling intertwining connection of narrow stone-paved streets bordered by stone buildings sheltering businesses and homes.
We know that history is always in the making, but two thousand years ago, it was happening 6 meters below my feet.
It was here and then, that the Katros family were going about their lives in their beautiful home. Av (father) served as a Priest and the family was known for making the incense used in the Temple. This may sound idyllic but according to ancient folk songs, evidence of corruption and abuse of power surrounded this wealthy family.
Tisha b'Av, or the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, has been a sadly significant date in the history of Israel and the Jewish people. This particular day in the year 70 AD, was no exception. The Romans completely overtook the city, killing everyone they came upon, burning homes and destroying the Temple.
In spite of their rampage, they left behind ancient treasures to tell this ancient story.
During the reconstruction of the Old City of Jerusalem between 1969-1982, archeological excavations uncovered many sites in ancient Jerusalem. This particular one, the home of the Katros family, is just a small part of a larger complex. Located in what was the Upper City, a neighborhood of majestic homes and wealthy families, it was near the Temple making it a convenient place for a priest to live. Stone weights with the family name inscribed in Aramaic which were found in the burned out ruins seem to confirm these findings.
Built of stone topped with wooden rafters, the intense fire left little of the structure except charred timbers, the iron nails holding the timbers and a meter or so of the stone walls. Amazingly the ash and char preserved some of the family's belongings scattered about the area which consists of a stone-paved courtyard, a ritual bath, kitchen and four additional rooms.
Coins, ink wells, oil lamps, cooking utensils, water vessels, stoneware and measuring cups, all were found in these rooms suggesting that this area was also a workshop, perhaps where the family created the incense for use in the Temple.
In one corner of the kitchen the skeletal remains of a woman's forearm and hand was uncovered. She is thought to be a Jewish woman of about 25 years old. There is a photograph but the bones have been removed and given a proper Jewish burial.
A spear was also found in a nearby room, perhaps belonging to the family and wielded in defense of life and home.
A 12 minute video depicts the day the Romans stormed the city and house. This is actually more like a movie suggesting the differing political opinions, reports of impending capture and preparations made for defense. Though it is a recreation of events that were assumed to have happened, it is nevertheless a compelling account of the horrors that must have taken place.
If you're looking for an interesting archaeological site in Israel to visit, this is one worth exploring. Plus, it's underground and very cool on a hot day!
For more information on The Burnt House see: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-burnt-house
There seems to be a discrepancy as to the actual address of the Burnt House. Either way, from Hurva Square, take Tif'eret Israel St. toward the Western Wall. When you get to the food court look for the adjacent entrance at the base of a set of stairs leading to the Quarter Cafe, a nice buffet cafe with a terrific view of the Temple Mount. You can also grab a bite at the Burgers Bar or the Shwarma Bar, snag a table in the courtyard and people watch.
Location 2 Hakaraim St, Jerusalem OR Tiferet Yisrael St.
Hours: Sunday 10-5; Monday - Thursday 9-5; Friday 9-1.
Admission: 8 shekels per person