Nuovo progetto Betania

Excavation and training works resume in Bethany

Veronica Brocca12 May 2023

«Thanks to the collaboration between al-Quds University and the University of Palermo, we are weaving the first degree course in restoration in the Middle East». Carla Benelli , head of cultural projects at Pro Terra Sancta, tells us enthusiastically about how she is currently working in the heart of Bethany. It is here that since 2016, as Pro Terra Sancta Association and Mosaic Centre, we carry out conservation and enhancement interventions of the historic center of the city of Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

The small Palestinian village, which is located a few kilometers from Jerusalem, is very dear to the Christian tradition (and not only), since since the first centuries of Christianity numerous stays of Jesus, guest of his friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary, and the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus, from which the village takes its name are remembered here “al-Azariya”. The place has become over time an important center for pilgrims and still hosts a large number of visitors.

Aerial view Bethany
Image of Bethany with drone
Lazarus tomb entrance
Entrance to the tomb of Lazarus

The contribution of AICS

In recent years, thanks to the Custody of the Holy Land and other donations, including a significant contribution from the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) – MAECI, various activities have been carried out to protect the ancient remains that were in a state of decay and abandonment. The name of the AICS funded project is “Protecting Palestine: Training in the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Serving Academic Institutions and the Palestinian Community”.

We began working in the sanctuary of the Custody of the Franciscans, where in the fifties archaeological excavations had brought to light some remains of the Benedictine convent of the Crusader period linked to the figures of Martha and Mary, and therefore to the figure of Lazarus. However, this place owned by the Custody had been abandoned. «We have been present in Bethany since 2016 and the following year we started work from this convent. Over the years we have expanded to the historic center of the town of Bethany, all around the tomb of Lazarus, also involving other institutions, especially the local University”, says Dr. Carla Benelli, whom we asked to tell about our bond with Bethany and to introduce us to the new, important project that has taken shape in recent weeks.

Restorers at work in the complex of the Church of Martha, Mary and Lazarus
Bethany – Restorers at work in the complex of the Church of Martha, Mary and Lazarus

The focus on the training of young people

Pro Terra Sancta and the Mosaic Center have always operated in collaboration with the Municipality of Bethany, al-Quds University, the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and some women’s associations. The last archaeological excavation was done in 2021 and everything has always been directed by Dr. Osama Hamdan, restoration director, president of the Mosaic Center and professor at al-Quds University. Carla Benelli continues: “This year the work around the tomb of Lazarus has resumed because we have obtained a contribution from the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) thanks to which we will strengthen the element of training. We are in fact building together with al-Quds University and the University of Palermo the first degree course in restoration in the Middle East. The theoretical part will be managed by the professors of the two universities, while all the practical part will take place in the historic center of Bethany together with the Mosaic Center».

This means that the project also includes a collaboration with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, so that the boys and girls who choose this degree course can then have a recognition of skills to the profession of restoration technician.

Bethany Mosaics
Restoration of the mosaic floor of the Church
Interior tomb Lazarus
Interior of Lazarus’ tomb

Enhancing the place and the local community

Bethany is a city rich in precious remains yet to be discovered. Its inhabitants live in a rather disadvantaged economic and social condition and for us at Pro Terra Sancta it is essential to involve them in the recovery work of the place so that they can understand the cultural and religious importance of al-Azariya.

“I would like to remind you that our mission has always been to enhance the place making it more beautiful for visitors, but above all Benefit the local community, especially to women and young people,” adds art historian Benelli, “and in parallel with this great project, our activities with the local community continue. In particular, with young people we propose numerous awareness-raising activities, including experimental archaeology courses involving the University of Turin; with women continues the production of candles scented with essential oils and near the tomb of Lazarus we will open the Interpretation center where we will explain the history of the holy place and organize activities related to the archaeological site and cultural heritage in general»

Bethany Women
Training and cultural activities for local women and young people
Bethany Children

In addition, the collaboration between the University of Turin and Mosaic Centre organizes summer courses for teenagers of experimental archaeology.

The contribution of AICS has allowed us to resume the Bethany project “with great hope and strength” says Osama Hamdan, who then adds: “Palestine is rich in archaeological sites, but unfortunately we lack the technicians who can deal with the conservation of cultural heritage. This university course that we are opening could solve many problems and thanks to the help of the Universities of Palermo and Turin we hope to transfer to our local University the knowledge to train technicians who in the future will deal with restoration and cultural heritage».

In the coming weeks we will keep you updated on the progress of the work.

Discover here our conservation and development projects of Bethany.