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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On the Transience of Fame

Al-Kurum ("Adrian's Village")

Lenin, Stalin and I once had places named after us. With the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, Leningrad and Stalingrad reverted to their old names. In my case, perestroika and glasnost were not at fault. Nor was it that I have in any way lost favour in the eyes of the public. It is simply that the village that bears my name has been all but forgotten.

On a small hill rising to the right of the road leading northwest from Jerusalem are the remains of a twelfth century village. Half hidden in the long grass and low bushes are stone walls, remnants of the small houses that lined either side of a narrow road (probably the old Roman road cut in the rock, the vicis ad civitatem that appears of the twelfth century maps leading from nearby Montjoie to David's Gate). El-Kurum (the Vineyards) is the name that these ruins have gone by, perhaps since the Ayyubid period when the village was abandoned. The Frankish name is lost. Today the Jerusalem suburb of Ramot has encroached and surrounded the hill, and a branch of the modern highway has cut through the edge of the long abandoned village fields that can now only be made out by the terrace walls that divided them.

In 1992, during a wave of immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union and the resulting building boom, this hill was designated for the construction of a new housing project. At the top of the hill stand the remains of a medieval tower known as al-Joz (the Walnut). Around it were signs of other ancient structures, and the Israel Antiquities Authority carried out excavations to determine whether the site was worthy of preservation or could be released for construction. After some weeks it was decided to permit the building, bulldozers were brought in and actually began carrying out earthworks on one side of the site. However, on the very last day of excavations one of the archaeologist noticed that further down the hill there were additional ancient walls. The bulldozers were ordered to cease work, and a few weeks of excavations commenced. The remains of about a dozen houses were exposed and two years later, I myself excavated two additional houses. What was uncovered was just a small section of a street village: a type of settlement prevalent in medieval Europe but entirely unknown in the Middle East prior to the twelfth century.

In the West street villages were one of the settlement types that evolved to cope with the great increase in the population resulting from the medieval agricultural revolution. This type of settlement, consisting of single rows of houses and agricultural plots either side of a street, was adopted because it was easy to set up and easy to administer. For the same reason it was an appropriate form for the expansion of Frankish rural settlement that began in the kingdom of Jerusalem around the 1140s when internal security had somewhat improved. However, only five such villages are known today, all within the vicinity of Jerusalem

A colleague of mine who recently retired from teaching, occasionally took students to visit the village of El-Kurum. It is the one Frankish street village that can be easily viewed today, although it is now sadly in a much-neglected state. She told me once that when discussing it with her students, she referred to El-Kurum as "Adrian's Village" and indeed on occasion I have heard, not without a certain pleasure, students repeat that title as if it was actually the village's name. Which makes it all the more sad that it has become so neglected today as to be all but forgotten.

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