Ancient pools that provided water to Jerusalem around the time of Jesus and the Second Temple are to be restored in a $750,000 project funded by the United States, officials said Tuesday.
The three Solomon’s Pools near Bethlehem in the West Bank were built by Herod the Great around 2,000 years ago and were key sources of water for the Second Temple and the city, according to archaeologists.
An aqueduct carried the water from the pools to Jerusalem 21 kilometers away (13 miles).
In the 2,000 years since, they have fallen into disrepair and only two of the three are full with water, with the oldest one in poor condition.
At least six people have drowned in the unmonitored pools since 1993, according to a fact-finding report by the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR).
The US Consulate in Jerusalem, which has provided the funds for renovations, hopes to see the pools become part of a major tourism site in the West Bank.
“This project is about more than just protecting history. It is about protecting the lives and livelihoods of the people living here today,” US Consul General Donald Blome said.
The aqueduct begins at the Ein Eitam, adjacent to Solomon’s Pools, and carries water from there to Jerusalem.
“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 100 years ago,” said Ya’akov Billig when a section of the aqueduct was discovered two years ago.
“Despite its length, it flows along a very gentle downward slope whereby the water level falls just one meter per kilometer of distance,” he said.
The grant comes at a time when US President Donald Trump is trying to convince Palestinian and Israeli leaders to restart stalled peace negotiations. Economic support to the Palestinians has been a key pillar of such attempts.
“(Trump) has made it clear that a necessary element for the achievement of peace would be unlocking the full potential of the Palestinian economy,” Blome added.
High in the hills and with dry conditions much of the year, Jerusalem has suffered from water shortages throughout its history.
George Bassous, general manager of the Solomon’s Pools, said the site had been neglected.
“The importance of this site stems from the fact that it has for centuries provided Jerusalem with water, so it is our duty to protect and restore it.”