Mi’ilya: the village of archaeologists

Posted on Sep 22, 2019

The largest winery of the Crusader era was discovered, and they’re already announcing new excavations. Not only in the castle of King Baudouin III, but also in the cellars of the village where precious Byzantine mosaics are still to be revealed. What makes the last archaeological adventure in the Mi’ilya subsoil unique is the fact that the excavation campaign was entirely financed by its inhabitants. We are in Galilee, near the border with Lebanon, in one of the last villages that remained entirely Christian. Rabbei Khamisky, an archaeologist of Mi’ilya, is one of the 3000 inhabitants.

RABBEI KHAMISY Zinman Archaeological Institute – University of Haifa “In January 2017 some stones started to fall from here, from the wall above us and it was not the first time. They are falling every winter for at least 30 years. From the window of my house, I see the castle. I called my wife and said: forget about me for three or four months, because if the castle falls down, we will leave this village, I would no longer deserve to live here.”

The winning idea is not to embark on the utopian and expensive project – which has already been shipwrecked several times – to restore the entire castle probably built by the son of the crusader Queen Melisenda, in 1150, but to start by simply securing the wall.

RABBEI KHAMISY Zinman Archaeological Institute – University of Haifa “Everyone has put in the cost of two packs of cigarettes, not a shekel more.” In just a few months, the archaeologist convinced his fellow citizens to collect the €87,000 needed for restoration and the Israeli Antiquities Authority to authorise excavations. The archaeological passion was spreading in the village and one Saturday afternoon Salma Assaf, while digging in his basement, discovered a wall of the Crusade era and collected some ceramics. It is the first piece of the ancient and precious wine cellar that would soon come to light.

ASSAF SALAMA Owner “The King’s Castle” “I found a treasure!”

Its characteristics and size make it unique in the known landscape of the Crusader time and, for this reason, the old wine cellar is visible to all customers of the new restaurant that Salma has opened thanks to the help of a chef from Miilya, who worked for 35 years in Italy.

ELIAN LAYOUSSE Chef  “Flavours of Italian cuisine and also raw materials from Italy.”

Still to be realized is the project of Elia Arraf, retired professor, who hides another treasure under the floor of the house. A rich and colourful mosaic from the Byzantine era.

ELIA ARRAF Professor “The most pretty one is inside the house… my parents discovered it in 1955 when they wanted to build part of the house. When they were digging for the foundations, they found a mosaic. Fearful of the authorities, they covered it up. I decided to rediscover it because it is not mine, I do not feel it is mine, but it is for the village, it is for everyone.”