Ancient Rest Stop Discovered on Mount of Olives
A sprawling Byzantine monastery complex recently excavated on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives may have been a last-chance watering spot for travelers leaving Jerusalem on the main road to the desert oasis of Jericho.
“It was a huge monastery that also functioned as a road service station—a last chance to get water before going off into the desert,” said Jon Seligman, Jerusalem regional archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). “[Travelers] could take a bath and feed and water their animals and deal with their spiritual needs as well. There was a huge amount of water here, well beyond the needs of a few monks.”
Dating from the fifth to eighth century A.D. and covering an area of about 60 by 55 yards, the monastery was discovered last summer by bulldozers preparing the way for a new road. On the very first day that tractors came to clear the way, they exposed a corner of a mosaic that proved to be the floor of a large public building.
Excavators called in to investigate the site identified the structure as the chapel of the monastery. Inside they found various ecclesiastic objects, including chancel screens, architectural details with crosses on them, iron crosses and part of what may have been a sixth-century marble altar table, beautifully decorated with a scene of hunters and lions.