Khan al-Hilu

Future uses of the Structure

According to the plan developed by the Israeli Institute of Archaeology, the khan will be used as a major attraction for the Ancient Lod Tourism Project. The khan will be franchised to one or several entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs will operate the site according to a contract that will protect the structure as a Heritage Site. The proposed plan for the building includes a restaurant in the large hall and the inner courtyard, with a kitchen in the north-east rooms. The rooms facing the courtyard from the east and the south (ground floor), as well as those in the outer south façade, could be operated as tourist shops. The rooms on the second floor will be used as offices for the project management and the entrepreneurs operating the khan. For the Intermediate stage, until the completion of the development of the old city, we wish to initiate at the Khan the "mosaic" multicultural heritage center of the city of Lod.

Development Goals for the Structure and it Vicinity

The khan structure will be operated by entrepreneurs after completion of the following:

·         Archaeological salvage excavations inside the structure.

·         Restoration and preservation of the structure (with a possible reconstruction of the western wing).

·         All of the structure’s wings will be stabilized and approved by a restoration engineer for tourism purposes.

·         Drainage issues for the structure and its vicinity will be resolved.

·         Installation of floors in accordance with the standard of restoration work in ancient structures.

·         Installation of water, sewage and electrical systems in a way that will not alter the structure and its character.

·         A detailed conservation plan for preparing the structure for public use.

·         The area surrounding the structure will be developed as a tourist park with footpaths, shaded sitting areas, and street lighting.

·         We recommend the construction of an open theater in the courtyard for public events and ceremonies.

·         The tourist park will include fenced areas in which archaeological excavations will take place several months a year. Visitors to the park will be able to see the archaeologists at work or, when there are no active excavations, see the important finds with proper signs and explanations.

·         A possible visitor center in the nearby Chicago community center. This center will include displays about Lod and its past, as well as the most important archaeological finds from the local excavations.

·         Other tourist attractions adjacent to the khan will be developed. These include the Church of St. George, al-Omari Mosque, the Arches Building, Masbanet al-Far, the Hasuna oil-press, and the local market.

·         A walkway for visitors would lead from the khan to the Mosaics Site, about 300 meters east of the khan.  This site is designated for a national mosaics museum.

Historical and Archaeological Background

The al-Hilu Khan (inn, caravanserai and city market) has been located in the heart of the old city since the Medieval and the Ottoman periods. This impressive structure is a living testimony to the vibrant urban activity at Lod during the Mameluke and Ottoman periods, continuing up to the early 1950s.

Reconstruction of the history of the Khan is a challenging task due to the dearth of written records. Archaeological excavations inside the Khan show that it was built during the 19th century CE. The earliest known detailed photographs of it are aerial photos, taken during the 1930s. These photos show the structure as it stands today. In addition, there are several extra structures that had been built on its western side. The name “Hilu”, which means sweet in Arabic, was given to the structure during the British Mandate, because the Khan was used for the soaking of ‘sweet lupine’ seeds.

The khan structure is composed of three wings. The northern one is a large hall with a cross vault roof. The southern wing, partially collapsed today, is made of two units positioned back to back. One unit is comprised of small chambers facing the courtyard, while the other has seven chambers facing outward. The second unit has another floor, with several rooms entered through a gallery overlooking the inner courtyard.

The eastern wing has one floor only. It is built of two large rooms and several smaller ones facing a vestibule. More spacious rooms are situated to the south and the north of the vaulted eastern wing.

The vestibule faces a unroofed courtyard which usually had a well and a sabil (drinking fountain) to supply water for people and their animals.

A large and impressive gate is situated in the Khan’s southern wing. The gate’s stone lintel is carved with a toothed pattern. The western flank of the khan was a stone wall that separated between the Khan’s courtyard and the adjacent dwellings.

The khan’s location in the center of ancient Lod demonstrates that it was probably an urban khan – used mostly by merchants and peasants arriving to the city from nearby villages to trade their crafts and harvest. These villages were located at distances of several walking hours from Lod and the farmers living in them could travel to town on their horses or donkeys, sell their agricultural produce, buy products at the khan and town shops, and make it back to their village on the same or next day. The Khan thus differed from other known khans that were situated outside cities, along to the main roads. These Khans’ mostly served caravans transporting goods between districts and countries.

The Israeli Institute of Archaeology, together with the Hebrew Union College, is promoting a long-term research project and excavations in Khan al-Hilu and its surrounding neighborhood, in order to shed light on questions about the khan’s past. This community archaeological project is a unique initiative that integrates youth and adults from the diverse populations of Lod – Jews and Arabs, secular and religious, immigrants and native-born. The community approach helps people in these various groups feel part of, and identify with, the project in spite of their often conflicting opinions on other topics.

The steps taken to conserve the khan were based on methodical research into the structure’s original outline, and according to standard conservation conventions for ancient structures. The conservation project was performed by professional restorers of “Yesodot” ("foundations" in Hebrew) the coservation branch of the Israeli Institute of Archaeology. Local youth who dropped out of school worked alongside the professionals. These teenagers receive professional training in conservation, and become representatives of the project who will continue to fight for the structure’s conservation and cultivation.

The Structural State of the Khan:

The khan was thoroughly analyzed by “Yesodot”’ conservation engineers. They found that “The western side of the northern hall has been badly damaged and there is a need to install supports, restore some of the walls, and reconstruct the collapsed ceiling vault. The southern wing started collapsing after the khan was abandoned, accelerating after the harsh winters of 1991-1993, when there was major damage to the southern façade and its two stories. This façade should be reconstructed from top to bottom. The façades of the rooms facing the khan’s inner courtyard also sustained damage over the years and need restoration work. The khan was built using traditional methods, without the use of modern cement or plaster, and therefore thorough restoration work is needed in the core of the walls as well as between the building stones.  Major topographical changes in the vicinity of the khan led to poor drainage of rain water, which needs to be attended to.”

The major damages to the khan were already taken care of by conservation works performed by 'Yesodot's experts, but further investment is needed to restore it to its days of glory.

The area of the main hall of the khan is about 150 sq. m.

The total area of the north-east wing is about 100 sq. m. The eastern wing includes 5 rooms, each one measuring about 12 sq. m. These rooms were entered through a portico roofed with cross vaults. This 90 sq. m. portico faces the central courtyard. The south-east hall has an area of 40 sq. m. and faces the south and the east. The southern wing includes 7 small spaces, that been used as shops, each measuring 8 sq. m. and facing south – outside of the khan. In the section facing north to the courtyard there are 7 rooms, each measuring 8 sq. m. The second floor of the south wing includes six rooms, each with a door and a window facing an open balcony to the north and a window to the south. The floor area of each room is 8 sq. m. The total roofed area of the khan is about 600 sq. m, while the unroofed central courtyard measures 475 sq. m. The plan is to pave this courtyard and turn it into a beautiful area at the heart of the building. The ‘Yesodot’ planners are considering restoring the row of structures that bordered the western side of the khan in the past – these were domed structures that covered an area of an additional 180 sq. m.