Current Excavations in Jerusalem’s Hinnom Valley

Jerusalem is a great place, for many reasons. For one thing, on a leisurely stroll home from church, it is not unusual to happen upon ancient remains peeking out from a deep trench, waiting to tell their story. That almost never happened back in North Carolina… OK, never.

Anyway, crossing the Hinnom Valley last Sunday, May 9th, I observed the two small excavation areas pictured below, about 25 feet apart. The location is the floor of the Hinnom Valley, toward the western edge, north of the Sultan’s Pool and south of the “Artists’ Lane” of shops and galleries; it’s adjacent to an asphalt-paved pathway which traverses the valley on an east-west line. Here’s what I saw:

From my previous research on Jerusalem’s ancient aqueduct system, I knew  immediately what it was: segments of the Lower Aqueduct, first built in the Hasmonean period, which conveyed water to Jerusalem from Solomon’s Pools, south of Bethlehem, and remained in operation (off and on, through numerous alterations) right up until the beginning of the 20th century! After winding for many miles along the contours of the hills, and even passing deep beneath a ridge by means of a 400m-long tunnel, the aqueduct approached Jerusalem by proceeding northward along the west bank of the Hinnom. It was “ascending” the valley, but always keeping its slight downward gradient. Topography dictated, then, that at some point it had to cross the valley, in order to flow southward along the other side (see map below), and that’s what’s happening here.

The TOP PHOTO above (looking generally southwest) shows the aqueduct channel, situated atop a stone wall, as it starts to angle out to cross the valley. The SECOND PHOTO (looking generally northeast) shows a wonderful stone bridge which carried the aqueduct on across the center of the valley. The remains lay no more than about half a meter below the present level of the ground.

Jerusalem in the First Century

The stone bridge especially resonated with me, since I had seen an old photograph of it from the 1880s (below). The bridge dates from the Mamluk period — note the nice carved Arabic inscription set in the stone-work — however, much more ancient versions of it must have stood in roughly the same spot (or do their foundations perhaps underlie this one?).

Mamluk period aqueduct bridge, Hinnom Valley (1880s)

I have read that the bridge was still visible in the 1920s, when it was mentioned in a Hebrew-language tourist guidebook co-authored by E.L. Sukenik and Hayyim Zuta. Dealing with the Sultan’s Pool, they wrote: “the water pipe on the bridge brings water from Solomon’s Pools to the Temple area…”  I have never learned when exactly this area was filled and the bridge obscured (quite a stupid move, in my humble opinion). Anyway, we happily have a little glimpse of it once again.

I do not know the status of these two small trenches (not signposted by the IAA), but I presume they are temporary and will be back-filled at some point. There is infrastrcture work going on nearby — work on water or sewer lines — so this digging may be related.

By the way, if anyone knows the source of the historic photo above, please pass the information along. I remember scanning it from a book a few years back, but failed to document — my downfall! (Update — see my comment below)  For more on Jerusalem’s ancient aqueduct system, visit “My Articles” on this site.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Archaeology, Hinnom Valley, Jerusalem Antiquities, Photography and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Current Excavations in Jerusalem’s Hinnom Valley

  1. Dina says:

    So glad to see these pictures, Tom!
    This morning Reshet Bet news told of the discovery of Mamluk arches that had been covered in the 19th century, in a salvage dig before planned work by the Gihon company.

  2. Great article Tom, I especially appreciated the pics!

  3. Tom Powers says:

    An Israeli media source states today, 11 May 2010: “The Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority, is working to expose the entire length of the arched bridge. It plans to conserve and integrate it in the framework of the overall development of the Sultan’s Pool, as part of underscoring the importance of the water supply to Jerusalem in ancient times.” So, there you go… A pleasant surprise.

  4. Dave Bender says:

    Tom,

    Nice item, and an interesting website.

    Coincidentally, I posted a story on this yesterday with quotes and photos: http://www.davebrianbender.com

    Thanks,
    Dave

  5. Tom Powers says:

    Another news source (see previous comment) says: “Zelinger [the IAA archaeologist] said the IAA is negotiating with the city to uncover another seven arches that appear in the 19th-century photos of the area, before it was covered over by later construction… The massive hewn-stone Sultan’s Pool lies directly to the south, and now serves as a popular concert venue. ‘Right now, we’ll stop, since the summer is the time for all the concerts here and we can’t continue all our excavations. Hopefully, in the coming winter we’ll find a fountain and we will have the opportunity to continue and open all the bridge,’ Zelinger said.” (I’m not sure what the “fountain” connection is, unless one is mentioned in the inscription or in other sources.)

    One more thing: The historic photo included in my post appears in Dan Bahat’s Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem published by Carta (1990, 1996), p. 110. That work credits the photo simply as: “Courtesy of A. Grozow”.

  6. Pingback: Un acquedotto medievale a Gerusalemme « Il Fatto Storico

  7. Pingback: » Un acquedotto medievale a Gerusalemme Il Tempio di Olimpia

  8. sethhague says:

    Thanks for the article… Is the dig open to volunteers and in need of extra help? Thanks

    • Tom Powers says:

      I think not. These IAA rescue/salvage digs usually make use of paid laborers or local university students. It sounds from press notices like the two small trenches with the aqueduct sections will not be explored further ’til next winter.

  9. Outremer says:

    September 2016
    I have sometimes wondered whether the above quote from Sukenik and Zuta about “the water pipe on the bridge” (which I perhaps did not see in the original, in context) might not actually refer to the modern road bridge just below the Sultan’s Pool. There is, after all, a 16th-century Ottoman sabeel, a public drinking fountain, in the center of that bridge to this day. I’m sure, however, that the fountain must have been supplied by a spur conduit from one side of the valley or the other. The main aqueduct could not have passed over the lower bridge, as the resulting level would have been too low– the water would never have gotten to where it was going!
    TOM POWERS / Waynesville, NC

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s