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?).
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.