Back in 2005, the Israel Antiquities Authority received word that at a Jerusalem neighborhood playground, the sand was being swallowed up into the earth. After initial testing by IAA archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch, it was discovered that the sand box was constructed directly above an ancient water cistern.
Today, as the Jerusalem Municipality begins a renovation of the Katamon neighborhood playground, the IAA and the municipality are in talks to decide whether the 1,500-year-old water cistern can be turned into a national site along the lines of Ramla’s subterranean Pool of Arches.
In a press release, the IAA’s Baruch, who is today the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Jerusalem region, said the IAA is willing to offer the municipality any aid necessary to open the site to the public.
According to 2005 documentation and mapping by now retired IAA archaeologist Dr. Uzi Dahari and engineer Ofer Cohen, the cistern was approximately the size of half of an Olympic-sized pool. Its maximal capacity of water is 1,125,000 liters (some 300,000 gallons) and it covers an area of some 225 square meters (2,422 square feet).
During diving excavations, the team discovered the cistern was superbly conserved.
Based on characteristic features, as well as archaeological remains from a nearby excavation — now found under the Ramban Synagogue — archaeologist Baruch dated the pool to the Byzantine era. The synagogue’s event hall features views of the archaeology.
Two months ago, an IAA team was sent to discern the physical state of the cistern after all these years and whether it presents unseemly danger to the playground. The IAA emphasized that at this point in time, the cistern is considered dangerous and entry is forbidden.