Section of ancient Jerusalem aqueduct uncovered
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Section of ancient Jerusalem aqueduct uncovered

21-kilometer water pipe was used intermittently for two millennia until electric-powered system installed last century

Part of a 2,000-year-old aqueduct discovered in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Umm Tuba. The aqueduct, which was one of Jerusalem's main water sources for two millennia, was replaced a century ago by an electrically-operated water system. (Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)
Part of a 2,000-year-old aqueduct discovered in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Umm Tuba. The aqueduct, which was one of Jerusalem's main water sources for two millennia, was replaced a century ago by an electrically-operated water system. (Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

A section of Jerusalem’s Lower Aqueduct, which brought water to Jerusalem more than two millennia ago, was uncovered in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Umm Tuba during the construction of a new sewer line, it was announced Thursday.

The ancient aqueduct was discovered during digging last month by the Gihon Water Company, which was laying new pipes to modernize the sewer system in the Umm Tuba and Sur Baher neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

The Israel Antiquities Authority excavated the area after the aqueduct was found.

“The Lower Aqueduct to Jerusalem, which the Hasmonean kings constructed more than 2,000 years ago in order to provide water to Jerusalem, operated intermittently until about one hundred years ago,” said Ya’akov Billig, the director of the excavation.

According to Billig, the aqueduct begins at the Ein Eitam spring near Solomon’s Pools south of Bethlehem and stretches 21 kilometers to Jerusalem. “Despite its length, it flows along a very gentle downward slope whereby the water level falls just one meter per kilometer of distance. 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.”

Billig added that while the aqueduct’s route went through uninhabited areas when it was first built, it now runs through several populated areas, including Umm Tuba, East Talpiot and Abu Tor, due to Jerusalem’s expansion.

Since the ancient aqueduct was one of Jerusalem’s most important water sources, the city’s rulers carefully preserved it until an electrically operated water system replaced it roughly a century ago. Now that its importance is mainly historical, Billig said, the Israel Antiquities Authority is taking steps to preserve parts of the aqueduct, study them and make them accessible to the public.

The sections of the aqueduct in Umm Tuba were covered up once more after the Antiquities Authority’s study, but other sections are accessible to the public in other areas in Jerusalem, such as the water tunnel in Armon Hanatziv and near the Sultan’s Pool.

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