The Muristan area in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City dates back thousands of years. It gets its name from the Persian word for “hospital” as the area was built over the ruins of the Crusader headquarters and hospital. The area covers 4 acres between the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the German Church of the Redeemer, and the Hospitallers’ Church of St. John the Baptist. The main attraction for visitors is the Muristan Aftimos Market and the area’s incredible history.
History of Jerusalem’s Muristan Area
During the Roman Period and Jesus’ lifetime, the Muristan area was outside the city walls near Golgotha, the site of Christ’s crucifixion. In the 2nd century AD, Jerusalem became the Roman city of Aelia Capitolina, and the Roman Forum was built on this site. In the Byzantine Era, St. John the Baptist Church was built on the edge of the Muristan area. According to Orthodox Christian tradition, St. John’s head was buried in this church.
In the 11th century, Italian merchants arrived from Amalfi and built a hospital and the Santa Maria Latina Church, and later they added the Santa Maria Maggiore Church near the Holy Sepulchre. The hospital and church served Crusaders and Christian pilgrims. Benedictine monks caring for the sick and wounded officially became the Knights Hospitallers of St. John in 1113 AD. They bought and renovated nearby structures in Muristan which became the Crusader headquarters. The sturdy buildings did not survive the earthquake of 1457 and the hospital was abandoned.
The Crusaders moved on, and the Mamluks conquered Jerusalem in 1267. A few of the monks remained, living in the Muristan ruins, and locals used the remains as stables and a marketplace. The Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent built new city walls in 1535 bringing the Muristan area within the walls. The Ottoman Sultan gifted the eastern part of Muristan to the Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm I in 1869 and where the Church of the Redeemer was built and dedicated in 1898 in the presence of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
In 1903, the ruins of Santa Maria Maggiore Church were removed, and the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem had the Greek Aftimos market built in its place. In 2013 excavations uncovered parts of the large Crusader hospital with impressive ribbed vaulted ceilings supported by massive six meters high pillars.
Visiting Muristan Today
Muristan is a quaint, well-maintained area of Jerusalem’s Old City with Muristan Road running through it. An archway leads from Muristan Road to David Street and the El-Bazar Market. Just above the archway entrance, you can still see the stone carving of the Prussian eagle from Prince Friedrich Wilhelm’s visit. A memorial monument and garden commemorate the site of the 12th-13th century Crusader hospital.
Visitors can enjoy the 70+ stores in the old Aftimos market where bright-colored garments, brass utensils, and local crafts are displayed on the sidewalk. At the heart of Muristan, and the market is a beautiful fountain built in 1903 to honor Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid (1876-1909) who reigned for 25 years. Behind the fountain, you can see the bell tower of the Church of the Redeemer, and south of the market is the St. John the Baptist Church with its silver dome.