Jerusalem, like other cities, was built surrounded by high walls created in order to ensure the safety of the inhabitants from outsiders. The city has always been the center of faith and spirituality beginning from the early days of King Solomon stretching even through modern times, and during the many centuries it has attracted traders and pilgrims who have ventured to the city for many a miracle. No doubt that the walls of the city helped to protect against enemies, but this practice also exacerbated the spread of disease. A small but quite interesting exhibit on the history of medicine and the connection between faith and health in Jerusalem is now on display thru April 2015 at the Tower of David museum.

The bible makes many references to herbs and other natural products as key treatments for a variety of ailments in ancient times and even today many of these natural products are still used for medicinal purposes. Cardamon for instance was used for the treatment of bad breath and as protection for the teeth. During the Middle ages, lead was used for the treatment of hemorrhoids and skin ailments. On display one will find a variety of unique items, from seedlings of herbs, to early measuring tools and other instruments as well as fascinating photos of early 20th century Jerusalem’s residents and the city’s early hospitals, a couple which still stand today.

Clearly religion has always played a factor in the rules of cleanliness as well as the treatment of illness. Within the Jewish religion, the Talmud actually presents 10 items that are required to be built in any public facility including a lavatory and sink for washing. The Franciscans, who settled in the city in the 17th century, were the ones who opened the city’s first pharmacy which still can be seen today. By narrating the wars of faith and missionary activity in the 19th century and early 20th century the exhibition leads the visitor through the establishment of hospitals and clinics many of which are well showcased in the exhibits many vintage photographs: a sanatorium established by the London Society for promoting Christianity Among the Jews, Marienstift Children’s Hospital, Meyer Rothschild Hospital – first Jewish hospital outside the Old City and new known as Shaare Tzedek Hospital, Bikur Holim, English Mission Hospital and the Italian Hospital. The positive outcome was the establishment of hospitals that made Jerusalem a center of advanced medicine. Interestingly, Jerusalem’s first pharmacy was established by the Franciscans in the 19th century and the shop can still be seen today.

Many of the photos are from the Rothchild Archives. One of the more telling photos, entitled “Black Canopy Wedding” depicts an a late 19th century wedding that took place outside the old city in the Mt. of Olives. In the background there is a black chuppah which was used in the event that both the bride and the groom are orphans, which was often the case in the late 1800’s when a horrible cholera epidemic ripped through the Old City. In fact, it was because of this epidemic that Jerusalem expanded for the first time outside the city walls and new neighborhoods were constructed.

Wedding with black chuppah on the Mt. of Olives

Wedding with black chuppah on the Mt. of Olives

The design of the exhibit is in the shape of a serpent; reminiscent of the bronze serpent that Moses held on his staff , (Numbers 21) which is also how the serpent came to be the universal sign of medicine.

Other areas worth visiting at the Tower of David include the newly opened moat from the Herodian period, which housed the huge pools that Herod used to store water. In the courtyard there is a special exhibit of traditional remedies and spices brought from the Old City markets. An array of traditional herbs can be found in the Herb Garden.

Of course, the ‘high’ point, so to speak, is the breathtaking lookout point on the top of Phasael Tower, where the old city meets the new, and provides a wonderful panoramic view of both East and West Jerusalem.

If you go:

Tower of David Museum opening hours:
Sunday – Thursday: 09:00 – 16:00 Friday and Saturday: 09:00 – 14:00

For more information and reservations: / 02-6265333 / *2884

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Categories: Culture, Jerusalem, Museums

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