The Burnt House, an interactive archeological museum built around the ruins of a Second Temple residence, provides visitors with a fascinating look at life in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. The museum is called the Burnt House because the remains found at the site were damaged when Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 CE, and the site is the first evidence found of the total destruction of the city by the Romans.
The area where the house is located was called the Upper City during the Second Temple period. The Upper City was known as a wealthy neighborhood that was destroyed by the Romans during the destruction of the second temple. The Upper City resisted for another month after the destruction of the temple, but was finally captured.
It is assumed that the house belonged to the Bar Kathras family, due to a small stone weight that was uncovered amongst the archeological ruins of the house, bearing the inscription “[belonging to the] son of Kathras.” The Bar Kathras were a wealthy priestly family who made incense for the temple services, and were not well liked, as is indicated in the following passage found in the Talmud:
“Woe is me because of the House of Boethus,
Woe is me because of their slaves.
Woe is me because of the House of Hanan,
Woe is me because of their incantations.
Woe is me because of the House of Kathras,
Woe is me because of their pens.
Woe is me because of the House of Ismael, son of Piabi,
Woe is me because of their fists.
For they are High Priests and their sons are treasurers,
and their servants beat the people with staves.”
(Pesahim 57:a = Tosefta Minhot 13:21
The house is a large complex, part of which could not be excavated and today lies under buildings of the Jewish Quarter. Many small tools and vessels were found in the building and hence, some think the structure held the family incense factory. The ground floor of the Burnt House was uncovered and includes a small courtyard, four rooms, a kitchen, and a ritual bath. The walls of the house, built of stones and cement and covered with a thick white plaster, were preserved to a height of approximately one meter. The floors of the rooms are made of beaten earth, and the sunken bases of round ovens made of brown clay were found in the floor, indicating that perhaps this wing of the house was used as a workshop.
The Burnt House was found buried under a thick layer of destruction. Throughout the house, scattered in disarray among the collapsed walls, ceilings and the second story, were fragments of stone tables and many ceramic, stone and metal vessels, evidence of pillaging by the Roman soldiers. Leaning against a corner of one of the rooms was an iron spear, which apparently belonged to one of the Jewish fighters who lived here.
Historian, Josephus Flavius, writes how the Romans “poured into the streets sword in hand, cutting down without mercy all who came within reach, and burned the houses of any who took refuge indoors, occupants and all.” Remnants of such destruction can be found throughout the Burnt House. The house is filled with debris, charred wooden beams, and fallen stones scorched by fire. The most dramatic part of the ruins, found near a stairwell among the ashes, is an arm and hand bones of a 17-year-old girl, who evidently died when the Romans set her house on fire.
The date of the fire was confirmed by the discovery of a coin dated 69 C.E. No other physical remains from the Jerusalem population have ever been discovered from this period. The Burnt House is a fascinating museum dedicated to an ancient way of life and is also a somber reminder of the terrible lot of Jerusalem’s Jews after the destruction of the second Temple.
Address: 2 Hakaraim Street, Jerusalem
Opening Hours: Sunday, 10am-5pm; Monday – Thursday, 9am-5pm; Friday, 9am-1pm