A convent of the Sisters of Sion in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Built in 1856 by Maria Alphonse Ratisbonne, a converted Jew who wanted to devote his life to the conversion of Jews and improvement of Jewish/Catholic relations, the building itself is attached to and derives its name from the famous Ecce Homo arch, where it was erroneously believed that Pontius Pilate stood to receive Jesus with the phrase, "Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)!" (in fact the arch was constructed by Hadrian in 135 CE to commemorate victory over Bar Kochba).

Though not one of the official Stations of the Cross the convent is often visited by those touring the stations, as it is on Via Dolorosa (the path Jesus is traditionally thought to have walked) and is built above Roman flagstones on which it was once thought Jesus was condemned to death. Although the flagstones, too, were actually from a slightly later time, they are of legitimate historical interest in that they still have painted on them a variety of games played by Roman soldiers, much like those mentioned in the Bible as being played while Jesus was being crucified.

Like most everything in Old Jerusalem, the convent is a wild three-dimensional maze. The front door opening onto Via Dolorosa is unremarkable on the outside—ancient, dark, heavy, and made of wood and iron, like so many others in Old Jerusalem. But it is somewhat telling of the life of the city that on the inside of the door are at lest nine separate locking mechanisms, including chains, bolts, and bars. On the ground floor are the front desk, offices, two small, beautiful basilicas, a meeting room now generally used as a tourist information center and entrance to the underground levels, and a small glass-covered garden area. The garden area focuses on a statue of the Virgin Mary, but behind that is a small path that slopes down quickly into the ground. This lead to a secondary entrance to the underground levels.

The underground levels are by far the most historically interesting. Most commonly visited is the lithostratos, the Roman pavement mentioned above. Below this is the Struthion Pool, built as an open-air cistern in the second century BC and roofed-over in Hadrian's time. There are also a good number of nondescript nooks and crannies down here.

Further up, there are several levels of rooftop and a very impressive rooftop garden, though these are generally reserved for residents, including paid guests. On the rooftops it is possible to walk right up to the side of the basilica domes, across a small bridge (not the Ecce Homo Arch) to the far side of the street, and just about anywhere the rooftop goes. The view is stunning- looking out over Via Dolorosa, the Al-Aqsa Mosque (aka the Dome of the Rock) can be seen very nearby and a little to the left; behind it is the Mount of Olives. To the right is the (misnamed) Fortress of King David and in between the entire sweep of Old Jerusalem. It should be noted that rooftops here are not simply coverings for the lower rooms but form a whole other layer of living space and are generally tightly packed and interconnected. If a guest of the convent were so inclined, they could easily walk from the Convent's roof to neighboring roofs and continue on this way a good distance across the city.

The convent offers at least two live-in Biblical study programs and is also open to guests of all religions (including none at all). Rates are very reasonable ($30 per person for a single, $25 for a double, etc.) and include a continental breakfast. Rooms are spartan but not uncomfortable, and the Sisters of Sion are exceedingly kind and accommodating. This being the Muslim Quarter, guests should be prepared to be awakened around 4:30 AM by the very loud call of the muezzin from a minaret across the street. The upside to this is that Jerusalem is the Main Room for muezzin so this will likely be the most beautiful call to prayer you ever hear.

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