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Crusader Hospital Becomes A Tourism Center In Israel

Archaeology Magazine is reporting that building in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem which dates from the eleventh century will be opened to the public next year as a restaurant and visitor center following a long period of excavation and restoration.

This building was a hospital, drawing on Muslim medicine to treat patients during the Crusader period. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the hospital, operated by the Knights Hospitaller, was capable of serving 2,000 patients at a time, as well as serving as an orphanage.

“We’ve learned about the hospital from contemporary historical documents, most of which are written in Latin. These mention a sophisticated hospital that is as large and as organized as a modern hospital,” they said.


The newly-restored hospital in Jerusalem probably looks very similar to the one I visited on the island of Rhodes a few years ago, while doing research for the House of the Rose novels:

From In the Footsteps of the Crusaders
From In the Footsteps of the Crusaders

Exploring Ancient Mesopotamia

A few years ago, when Marian and I were researching the historical backgrounds of the House of the Rose novels, we made a trip down to Orange County in southern California to visit a special travelling exhibit from the Penn Museum, featuring the artifacts excavated from the Royal Cemetery at Ur by Sir Leonard Woolley.

The plane was crowded with tourists and it was interesting to see people’s reactions when we told them that we were taking a weekend jaunt to visit a museum rather than going to Disneyland.

Among the many treasures in the exhibition were Queen Puabi’s splendid crown of delicate golden leaves and blossoms, her makeup and perfume containers (some still containing traces of kohl eyeliner and other substances), and some of her furniture and possessions.

In the years that followed our trip, I’ve encountered traces of ancient Sumer in various far-flung locations–at the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, California; at the National Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, Turkey; the Metropolitan Museum in NYC; the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago; and (featuring the most elaborate reconstructions of buildings) the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Accordingly, this month’s slideshow features photos taken in these various locations. Due to the extremely hazardous conditions in Iraq, it will be a while (if ever) before I get to visit any Sumerian sites in person.

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House Of The Rose Photo Tour: Southern France And Constantinople

Medieval Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and Languedoc (present-day south of France) play a large role in the House of the Rose series, beginning in Broken Gods (House of the Rose, Book 3). In 2008, I spent three weeks traveling through western Turkey, principally touring Hittite, Neolithic, Greek, and Roman sites, but also exploring some of the Byzantine and Ottoman cities as well. The last three days of the trip were spent in Istanbul, a beautiful city built on the hills overlooking clear blue waters, with a wealth of architectural and cultural treasures. There, I had the chance to visit some of the places that Marian and I wrote about for the House of the Rose novels. It was a wonderful experience, and I look forward to a return visit to Istanbul. The following year, I spent a month in Europe, included a visit to Southern France, which plays such a key part in the events of the final two books in the House of the Rose series. I was thrilled to spend a couple of days in Lyons, the setting for one of my favorite historical novels, Dorothy Dunnett’s Checkmate (The Lymond Chronicles), the climactic volume of her classic Lymond Chronicles. Of course, the old Roman cities of Orange, Nimes, and Arles were hugely interesting to me as well, especially since a number of the Roman public buildings are still being used: the amphitheater in Nimes  hosts bullfights (a blood sport that would have excited your average Roman citizen), and the theaters in Orange and Arles are still used for plays and concerts.

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In The Footsteps Of The Crusaders – The Templars And Hospitallers

Sunny skies, clear turquoise waters, and a harbor ringed with medieval fortification walls greeted me when I arrived on the island of Rhodes, former headquarters of the crusading order of the Knights of St. John (also known as the Hospitallers) via cruise ship in June of 2006.

Behind the honey-colored medieval stone walls still surrounding the Old Town of Rhodes, we could see the tops of palm trees, crenellated castle towers belonging to the Hospitallers, and the slender white spire and large domed roof of the Suleiman Mosque, legacy of the Ottoman Turks who drove out the Knights of St. John in the 1500s, and occupied Rhodes for the next 400 years.

Passing under the arched Gate of D’Amboise, the fortification walls so thick that the gate is really a tunnel, forty feet long and with a sharp left turn halfway through, we emerged into the bright sunlit space of the dry moat, now planted with palm trees and flowering plants. More crenellated walls lay ahead, and another arched gateway, until finally, we found ourselves in the narrow, cobblestone-paved streets of the Old City.

Near the reconstructed Palace of the Grand Master, I found myself walking down the Street of the Knights. The Knights of St. John were divided into groups by nationality, and each nationality had its own mini-headquarters and dormitory, as well as its assigned portion of the city walls to defend. Nowadays, the knights’ dormitories house government offices, and in the case of the French knights’ dormitory, the Consulate of France. At least they didn’t have to change the carved marble French royal coat of arms over the doorway!

My walking tour of the Knights’ quarters ended at the bottom of the hill, in a small cobbled square shaded by a walnut tree, surrounded by shops, and fronted by the impressive two-story bulk of the Hospital of the Knights, dating from the late 1400s, which is now the Archaeological Museum.

I had about 45 minutes before the museum closed for a three-hour siesta, so I made a hurried trip through it, more curious to see the inside of a genuine Crusader building than the collection of ancient pottery and sculptures (which was actually pretty good).

It’s a very impressive building, and still in excellent shape. The hospital is built around a central courtyard, with wide arcaded walks on both floors, and stone-walled rooms opening up to the courtyard.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, these rooms served as hostel accommodations for pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land, as well as hospice care for the ill or injured. Nowadays, they house the collection of the archaeological museum.

Spanning the width of the second story, just behind the façade, is the Great Hall, which is dark and mostly empty, except for an exhibit of the marble gravestones of the various knights and Grand Masters.

My first encounter with the legacy of the Knights Templar, who play such a large role in the first volume of The House of the Rose, Glass Souls, was in England in the summer of 2000. Marian and I were in the middle of working on the book, and I was excited at the prospect of actually visiting a genuine Templar building, Temple Church, located in the heart of London.

An unexpected surprise awaited us on an outing to the beautiful city of Salisbury. Touring Salisbury Cathedral, we found an effigy dedicated to the memory of William Longspee the Younger, son of the earl of Salisbury, a minor character in Glass Souls, who died at Al-Mansurah.

Finally, on a visit to Provence three years ago, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon wandering around the tiny walled medieval town of Aigues-Mortes, used by St. Louis (King Louis IX) as a seaport and launching point for his disastrous Crusades in 1248 and 1270. It’s an interesting cross between town and a fortress, surrounded by high stone walls, with cobblestone streets and stone houses. Aigues Mortes and Louis’ second crusade in 1270 are described in the fourth volume of The House of the Rose, Queen of Heaven.

And without further ado, here’s this week’s photo tour of the places described above!

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House Of The Rose Photo Tour: Medieval European Houses

One of the things that fascinates me about writing historical fiction is discovering how ordinary people lived. It’s one thing to visit castles and cathedrals; another to see the home of an ordinary family that’s survived the centuries.

The House of the Rose novels take place in many different countries in the 13th century, and the Houses of the Rose in each country are built to conform to that land’s norms. It was a lot of fun to research our various locales in the course of writing the five novels that comprise the series, from England to Constantinople (modern Istanbul)…to that end, I’d like to share some of the photos I took on various trips between 2000-2012.

The medieval homes in this slideshow range from a 12th-century Moorish courtyard house in Southern Spain (itself built on top of a Roman villa, whose mosaic floor can still be seen in the house’s cellar), to a 13th-century Great Hall home in England, complete with a open hearth-pit in the center of the hall, and finally, a selection of late-medieval/early Tudor houses from the English towns of Norwich, Salisbury, and Lavenham.

Slideshow: Medieval Houses

House Of Rose Photo Tour – Kingdom Of Granada

As promised, I have a couple of new slideshows to share, from my recent trip to Spain. Though we didn’t get as far south as Malaga, where Robert spends the early chapters of The Shattered Crown, I did spend a few days in Granada, the capital city of the last Moorish kingdom in Spain.

Granada is a fascinating blend of medieval Muslim and Christian architecture, tiny cobbled lanes and busy modern avenues, and, towering high on the hills above the city, stand the reddish fortification walls of the Alhambra, a sprawling complex of gardens, palaces, churches, and fortress that commands a spectacular view of the rugged countryside around the city.

I was lucky enough to stay in a hotel located in a historic building–a 15th-century Moorish merchant’s house, a two-story complex of rooms constructed around three inner courtyards–giving me another chance to glimpse a bit of life in a long-ago age. Like many Moorish houses, the exterior of the hotel was a blank plastered wall facing onto a steep, extremely narrow cobbled alley, with only a single large, iron-barred oak door set in the wall. Inside, however, it was an oasis of gracious living–the courtyards provided light and air to the rooms opening out into them, with gently splashing fountains and potted plants set on the cobbled pavement.

City of Granada  The Alhambra

Where Did All The Photos Go?

Those of you who visited the old Michaela August site seemed to be very fond of the slideshows I had posted, with photos of locations from the novels, as well as other items related to the settings of the novels.

So, where did all the photos go?

Fear not–my web designer is still in the process of migrating over content from the old site, and the Worlds pages will be returning soon, in a slightly different format, but with all of the photos of medieval, Moorish, Turkish, and Roman sites intact, as well as the Sonoma Valley wine country photos.

In the meanwhile, here’s a new slideshow, from a recent trip to Cordoba in Spain, that includes photos of medieval Moorish houses, complete with courtyards and interiors (and even a visit to an ancient basement that used to be the ground floor of a Roman villa…just like in some of the Houses of the Rose). These houses resemble the one in 13th-century Moorish Kingdom of Granada, where young Robert was fostered in Queen of Heaven and The Shattered Crown.

Medieval Cordoba

I had the opportunity to spend some time in Granada on this trip, with an afternoon spent wandering around the fortress and palaces of the Alhambra. I’ll post those photos in a few days.

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