The Austrian Hospice

Just Like Heaven: This 170-year-old Guesthouse is The Perfect Place to Spend the Night
PHOTOGRAPHY: Afif Amireh

Built 170 years ago on the corner of Via Dolorosa and El Wad Street as a shelter for Christian pilgrims, The Austrian Hospice stands tall and solemn in the mishmash of houses, churches, and alleys in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem Old City. Today, under the management of Rector Markus Stephan Bugnyar, the guesthouse serves as a peaceful and serene retreat for guests of all walks of life.

‘The Austrian Pilgrim Hospice to the Holy Family is actually the first and oldest Christian pilgrim house in the Holy Land…if you don’t count the Franciscans,’ says the Honourable Professor Markus Stephan Bugnyar, Catholic Priest, Commander of the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, and appointed Rector of the Austrian Hospice by the Archbishop of Vienna.

‘This is what we most want to offer: a haven of tranquillity.’

For the past two decades, Vienna-born Bugnyar has overseen this iconic establishment, founded in 1854 by the Austrian Catholic Church. Originally intended to provide shelter for Christian pilgrims travelling from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the Holy Land, today it functions as a guesthouse for anyone in search of accommodation. The hospice exudes a distinctive Central European charm evoking a bygone era, making it a warm refuge for travellers worldwide. The echoes of history resonate through the architecture, art, and décor of the entire establishment, captivating visitors with tales of a millennium-long connection between Austria and the Arab world.

Crossroads

Over the years, the hospice has shown a unique resilience in its ability to adapt to the world’s changing times. It has had various functions: serving as a meeting place for armies in the early 20th century; an Anglican orphanage during World War I; a British-run internment camp in World War II; a military hospital for the International Red Cross in 1948; and a field hospital during the Jordan Administration. In the 1980s, after a period of restoration, the hospice once again opened its doors to travellers.

Its central location along the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Suffering), the path Jesus is said to have walked on the way to his crucifixion, provides easy access to many of the iconic landmarks, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock, and the Western Wall. Positioned at the crossroads of the various religious districts of the Old City can also be seen as symbolic, as this reflects and underlines the hospice’s role as an intercultural and educational institution. More than a guest house, the hospice organises a variety of events such as art exhibits, musical concerts, educational training, and lectures, promoting cultural exchange within its walls, making it a place of dialogue, history, pilgrimage, and spiritual rest.

‘I’ve always wondered what it must have been like for the mother-in-law of the Emperor of Ethiopia, what she must have experienced and how she filled her days during her stay here.’

The Austrian Hospice’s commitment to inclusivity is reflected in its employment practices. Rector Bugnyar, who places a strong emphasis on employee well-being, underlines the significance of creating jobs and supporting local families. He explains, ‘Creating jobs for Palestinians is essential to provide opportunities within the country. We welcome both Christian and Muslim Palestinians based on qualifications rather than religious beliefs.’

His sense of social responsibility goes beyond employment issues, which is reflected in initiatives such as the distribution of food parcels during Ramadan – the hospice actively participates in supporting the local community and promoting bonds of trust and solidarity.

Over the years, Rector Bugnyar’s experiences have included moments of both peace and war. ‘There have been tensions from the very beginning, but many people who come to us consider this place an oasis of peace. And this is what we most want to offer: a haven of tranquillity.

Royal treatment

Travellers looking for an authentic and memorable experience in this reinvigorating refuge in the heart of the city follow in the footsteps of prominent guests from past and present, including royalty, nobility, diplomats, officials, and popstars. From the Emperor Franz Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1869, his son Rudolf the Crown Prince of Austria in 1881 to Lebanese singer Fairouz in the 1960s – all found their way to the hospice’s refined elegance, charm, and unwavering commitment to exceptional hospitality.

For Rector Bugnya, one of the most intriguing guests who passed through the hospice was Woizero Sehin Mikael, mother-in-law of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, who went into exile with his family in the 1930s during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia. ‘She stayed in the Hospice for about two months, and I’ve always wondered what it must have been like for the mother-in-law of the Emperor of Ethiopia, what she must have experienced and how she filled her days during her stay here.’

Apfelstrudel and a stunning skyline

The guesthouse, a spacious compound enclosed by a towering wall, has 45 rooms and dormitories, a tiny chapel, a courtyard, several terraces, each offering a unique view of the city, a café, a garden and other facilities that will make your stay unforgettable.

One of the hospice’s most popular features is the Café Trieste, which offers a Viennese-style experience with its vintage décor, classical music, and traditional Austrian menu, including warm pastries, freshly brewed coffee, classic Viennese main courses, and the renowned Apfelstrudel, which you can enjoy outdoors in a beautiful garden setting.

‘Jerusalem is not so much a place I call home, but a place that feels like home.’

Make sure you pay a visit to the hospice’s crown jewel: the roof terrace. The flags of Austria and Vatican City are prominently displayed along the edge of the most impressive panoramic view of the Old City and its places of worship for Muslims, Christians, and Jews – among which the Dome of the Rock, the Armenian Church of Our Lady of the Spasm, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – making this the best view of the skyline in all of Jerusalem.

A fascinating place

Reflecting on his time in East Jerusalem, the rector says: ‘Jerusalem is a fascinating place in terms of all aspects, religious, political and cultural… Here you get to know not only the locals, but people from all over the world. world, which inspires you to broaden your horizons and understand what really matters in life.’ He expresses his love for learning and understanding the diversity of East Jerusalem, as well as the Palestinian culture and mentality, and admires the importance of family and societal complexity, adding: ‘I’ve spent half my life in Jerusalem, and it’s not so much a place I call home, but a place that feels like home.’

The Austrian Hospice, Via Dolorosa St 37, Jerusalem
austrianhospice.com/en

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