The pilgrim's hospice is the only remaining structure built by Mamluk Sultan al-Mansur Qala'un (1279-1290) in Jerusalem, whose funerary complex is located in Cairo. Built in 1282-83 (681 A.H) for the use of pilgrims visiting the Holy City, the hospice was endowed with income from rental properties in Jerusalem and agricultural properties in the region.
The hospice is on the south side of Tariq Bab al-Nazir Street, which ascends to Bab al-Nazir on the western wall of Haram al-Sharif, its entrance located within thirty meters of the gate. It is composed of vaulted rooms of various sizes enveloping a rectangular courtyard aligned east-west with the street. The arched portal of the hospice leads into a vestibule giving access to the hospice courtyard to the west and a large rectangular hall to the east.
Traces of Crusader molding on the street elevation suggest that the blind wall to the right of the entrance may have been a part of Church of St. Michael, which formerly occupied the site. To the left of the slightly projecting portal are two Mamluk period windows of the main hall, adorned with red and white voussoirs. The corbel table above the windows was a cornice prior to the addition of an upper storey to the entire west and south wings of the hospice, probably in the sixteenth century. This corbel table, which is completely unique to Jerusalem, combines elements of Crusader, Ayyubid and Mamluk styles. The portal with its broad arch, on the other hand, is in the manner of Ayyubid archways seen elsewhere in the city.
The entry bay of the hospice is now a step down from street level and is bordered with plain stone benches interrupted by three doors. Its original door, facing south, leads directly to a vestibule. The western and eastern doors were pierced during the Ottoman period; they lead from the entry bay into the main hall, and a double-vaulted courtyard cell, respectively. Aligned north-south and also entered through the vestibule, the main hall is divided into eight cross-vaulted bays with a central row of four pillars with plain capitals.
Four doorways lead from the vestibule and its western extension to the hospice courtyard. Measuring twenty-eight meters by twenty-three meters, the courtyard has an arrangement of doorways with pointed arches along its perimeter that lead to the cells. Tall, narrow openings above the doors let in air and light. A twenty-two foot deep courtyard well is mentioned in historical records but no longer exists. The fine pavement of the courtyard, seen intact in early photographs by K.A.C. Creswell, was destroyed in 1980 to install drains and pipes for residential use. One of the northern rooms of the courtyard is a tomb chamber that pre-existed the hospice; it has an unmarked cenotaph attributed to Sayyida Fatima bint Muawiya.
Used as a dormitory for Sudanese guards of Haram al-Sharif in the Ottoman period and converted later into a prison, the hospice is currently used as immigrant housing and has modern concrete structures built into its courtyard.
Burgoyne, Michael. 1987. Mamluk Jerusalem. London: The British School of Archeology in Jerusalem Press, 129-140.
Clermont-Ganneau, Charles. 1899. Archaeological Researches in Palestine During the Years 1873-1874. London: Committee for the Palestine Exploration Fund.