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The Convent of the Sisters of Zion is a convent of the Congregation of Notre-Dame de Sion, located near to the eastern end of the Via Dolorosamarker, in Jerusalemmarker. The convent was built in 1857, by Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, but the site also contains ancient archaeological remains of significant value.

19th century Buildings

In 1857, on the land later taken by the convent lay ruins. Ratisbonne, a French Jew and former atheist who converted to Catholicism and became a Jesuit, decided to purchase the site. Between 1858 and 1862, he built a basilica (the Church of Ecce Homomarker), an orphanage for girls, and standard convent buildings. As the convent was quite confined in size, the nuns bought a few of the surrounding Arab homes, incorporated them into the convent; they soon opened a medical dispensary on the site. Due to the introduction of state support for orphans, by the Palestinian government and later (1948) by the Israeli governmentmarker, the orphanage buildings have been used for other purposes since 1967.

Roman Pavement

Immediately beneath the convent is an extensive area of Roman flagstones; as these continue, to a lesser extent, under the Church of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Crossmarker, they have been known about for several centuries. These flagstones were once thought to be the pavement (Greek: lithostratos) which the Bible describes as the location where Pontius Pilate adjudged Jesus' trial, but archaeological investigation now indicates that it is the paving of the eastern of two 2nd century Forummarker, built by Hadrian as part of the construction of Aelia Capitolina.

Struthion Pool

One chamber of the pool
Beneath the paving is a large cuboid cistern, which gathered the rainwater from guttering on the Forum buildings. Prior to Hadrian, this cistern had been an open-air pool, but Hadrian added arch vaulting to enable the pavement to be placed over it. The existence of the pool in the first century is attested by Josephus, who reports that it was called Struthius (literally meaning sparrow). This Struthion Pool was originally built as part of an open-air water conduit by the Hasmoneans, which has since been enclosed; the source of the water for this conduit is currently unidentified.

As a result of 1971 extensions to the original Western Wall Tunnel, the Hasmonean water system became linked to the end of the Western Wall Tunnel; although they run under Arab housing, and later opened as a tourist attraction. The attraction has a linear route, starting at the Western Wall Plaza, passing through the modern tunnels, then the ancient water system, and ending at the Strouthion Pool; as the Sisters of Zion were not willing to allow tourists to exit into the Convent via the Strouthion Pool, tourists had to return through the narrow tunnels to their starting point, creating minor logistical issues.

View of a channel between chambers of the pool
Digging an alternative exit from the tunnel was proposed, but initially rejected on the grounds that any exit would be seen as an attempt by the Jewish authorities to stake a claim to ownership of the nearby land - part of the Muslim Quarter of the city; in 1996, however, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has referred to the Arab population as a demographic problem, and called the ongoing peace talks a waste of time, organised the blasting open of an exit into the grounds of the Ummariya madrasahmarker, adjacent to the Via Dolorosa. Over the subsequent few weeks, 80 people had been killed as a result of riots against the creation of the exit. A modern wall now divides the Struthion pool into two parts, preventing access between them; one side is visible from the western wall tunnels, the other is area accessible from the Convent.

Ecce Homo arch

The span of the Ecce Homo arch outside the church
The convent also includes the Ecce Homo Churchmarker, which contains part of the Ecce Homo arch, which extends to the outside street. Although the arch was traditionally believed to be spot corresponding to the Biblical account of Pilate giving the Ecce Homo speech, it is now known to have been a triple-arched gateway built by Hadrian, as an entrance to the aforementioned Roman Forum.


  1. Encyclopedia Judaica, Ratisbonne Brothers, Volume 13, pp.1570-1571, Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem, 1972
  2. Pierre Benoit, The Archaeological Reconstruction of the Antonia Fortress, in Jerusalem Revealed (edited by Yigael Yadin), (1976)
  3. Josephus, Jewish War 5:11:4
  4. [1]
  6. Pierre Benoit, The Antonia of Herod the Great, and the East Forum of Aelia Capitolina (1971)

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