Armenian Museum in Jerusalem

In recent years the Armenian Museum underwent a complete renovation. Housed in a pilgrims hostel turned priest seminary turned orphanage turned museum (all that in a century and a half), the museum gives an insight into the history of the Armenian people and the Armenians in Jerusalem.

The Helen and Edward Mardigian Armenian Museum in Jerusalem is located inside the old city on the Armenian Convent Street. When you enter Jaffa gate, follow the street that turns south (right) and, after about 5 minutes walk, you’ll find the museum on your left side opposite the parking lot.

Byzantine Church Mosaic

5/6th century mosaic floor from the Armenian St. Polyeuctus monastery in Jerusalem

In the central square of the museum you find the highlight: A 5th/6th century byzantine mosaic from an Armenian monastery located in the Musrara neighborhood in Jerusalem, not far from Damascus gate. The sign identifies the monastery as St. Polyeuctus. The Armenian inscription reads: “To the memory, and for the salvation, of all those Armenians whose names are known to the Lord.” Underneath the mosaic floor of the church the excavators found human bones. It is believed that they belong to Armenian soldiers who were killed during a battle against the Persians in 451 CE. This makes the Armenian inscription the first memorial to the unknown soldier. Both the mosaic and the bones have been moved to the museum.

Armenians in Jerusalem

Armenians have plaid a role in Jerusalems history since long ago. Inside the rooms of the former orphanage you discover the Armenian history in general and the Armenians in Jerusalem in particular. Also on display are artifacts from the treasury of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem and from other sources.

Armenia and Christianity

Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as the national religion in 301 CE. This goes back to “Gregory the Illuminator”, a descendant of a Parthian nobleman who assassinated the Armenian king Khosrov II. As a result of his fathers act, his family was exterminated except for him who was saved and raised as a Christian.

Nativity scene and Magi in a medieval Armenian book at the Armenian museum, Jerusalem

The museum allows you to explore more of the Christian history of the Armenian people. Don’t miss the beautiful medieval Armenian manuscripts contributed by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Armenian Ceramics Art

Armenians in Jerusalem are famous for their ceramics art. The founder of this craft was David Ohannession, a refuge from the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Turks (more on that below). Ronald Storrs, British military governor of Palestine, invited Ohannession to Jerusalem to produce ceramic tiles for the then neglected and decaying Dome of the Rock. Ohannession brought with him craftsmen from the Karakashian and Balian families. Although they never got the job – the Muslims wouldn’t have these Christians work on the Haram Al-Sharif or “Holy Sanctuary” – they nevertheless established themselves and their craft in Jerusalem. You find examples of their early works in the Rockefeller Museum, the American Colony hotel, and at the residence of the president of Israel.

Armenian ceramics art at the Armenian Museum Jerusalem

When you walk through the streets of Jerusalem you invariably encounter the street signs written on ceramic tiles. Behind these ceramic tiles is the Karakashian family. Megerditch Karakashian was a painter who, together with the potter Nshan Balian, opened a workshop in Nablus road in 1922. In 1965 the Jordanian government decided that all Jerusalem street names – those in Jordanian held East Jerusalem – be painted on tiles. The original street names in the old city were in Arabic and English. After the six-day-war in 1967, Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kolleg asked to have Hebrew added to the street names. One can still see and distinguish between the pre- and post-war signs. Inside the museum, grandson Hagop Karakashian contributed a family memorial (see below).

Karakashian family memorial at the Armenian museum on history and Armenian holocaust

Armenian Genocide

(Almost) Everybody knows about the holocaust of the Jews in Germany and much of Europe. Germany and many other countries who participated in the holocaust have acknowledged their part, except for Poland lately. Unfortunately the Armenian genocide never happened, according to the perpetrator: the Ottoman Empire and Turkey as its modern day successor. Few people talk about the murdering and starvation of around 1.5 million Armenians.

The Armenian people commemorate the genocide on April 24. Back on that day in 1915, the Ottoman Turks deported Armenian intellectuals from Constantinople (Istanbul of today) – nobody ever heard of them again.

A display on the history of the Armenian genocide at the Armenian museum in Jerusalem

The museum designates an entire section to the Armenian genocide. English language displays with photos and/or maps lead you through these terrible events. I myself must humbly acknowledge that I learned a lot in this museum. The Jewish people have largely received recognition of their holocaust, the Armenians have not!


When looking at the history of Jerusalem, Armenians are often viewed as a side note. Yet the Armenian community has been an important part of Jerusalem and its cultural diversity. The museum offers an insight into the life of the Armenians inside and outside Jerusalem.

Armenian ceramics art at the Armenian Museum Jerusalem

For those interested in art, the museum provides some beautiful examples of ceramic art. Also check out the Armenian ceramics artists who have opened galleries in Jerusalem, some in the old city, others nearby. Some of the ceramic work is absolutely stunning.

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