A section of the ancient aqueduct system, in use until about a century ago, was uncovered recently during the installation of a modern sewer system in eastern Jerusalem. Constructed by the Hasmonean kings, the Lower Aqueduct, as it is known, carried water into the city for some 2,000 years.
The discovery was made by the Gihon Company as it installed a sewer line to modernize the infrastructure servicing two neighborhoods, Umm Tuba, where the aqueduct section was found, and Tsur Baher. The sewer upgrade is an extensive project taking place under the direction of Gihon CEO Zohar Yinon.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) conducted archaeological excavations at the site following the discovery. In a statement, excavation director Ya’akov Billig explained the aqueduct’s design.
“The aqueduct begins at the ‘En ‘Eitam spring, near Solomon’s Pools south of Bethlehem, and is approximately 21 kilometers long. Despite its length, it flows along a very gentle downward slope whereby the water level falls just one meter per kilometer of distance.”
Says Billig, this is not the first modernization of the water system in the area. “At first, the water was conveyed inside an open channel and about 500 years ago, during the Ottoman period, a terra cotta pipe was installed inside the channel in order to better protect the water.”
The aqueduct ran through open areas originally, but with the city’s expansion, several neighborhoods, such as Umm Tuba, Sur Baher, East Talpiot and Abu Tor, have sprung up around it. As one of the city’s main water sources, the city’s rulers took care over the centuries to preserve the aqueduct, until a modern, electrically-operated water system was installed about 100 years ago.
The IAA is working to preserve the Lower Aqueduct, exposing sections of its remains, studying them and making them accessible to the general public. The Umm Tuba section was documented, studied, and covered up again for the sake of future generations.
Other sections of the long aqueduct have been conserved for the public in the Armon Ha-Natziv tunnels, on the Sherover promenade, around the Sultan’s Pool and additional projects are planned whose themes include the Lower Aqueduct.
The IAA noted that the Gihon Company behaved professionally and exerted a thorough effort towards the excavation and discovery of antiquities.