Two large underground cisterns for collecting and storing rainwater, dating back to the Ottoman Empire, were revealed in Jerusalem during construction work, the municipality announced Thursday.
The reservoirs were examined during surveys conducted ahead of a massive construction project at the site of the old Shaare Zedek Hospital in the center of the city.
According to the statement from the municipality, the cisterns were used to collect rainwater from roofs and courtyards in the city.
The existence of the cisterns was already known, the municipality said, with the reservoirs appearing in construction plans from the 19th century for the area around the historic site of the hospital.
As part of the conservation process for the site during the construction of a commerce and residential complex, it was decided to investigate whether the tanks were still intact.
The municipality said that the uncovering of the cisterns was a collaboration between the city’s conservation and planning department, and the developers of the site.
The first stage of the project was to deploy ground-penetrating radar to construct images of the subterranean water storage system. Then the site was excavated and experts sent in to examine the two cisterns — around 12 meters long, six-seven meters wide and at least six meters high.
The cisterns, which still contained some rainwater, were found to be plastered on the inside, and well-preserved, with built-in cross vaults, a common building element in Roman and Gothic architecture that gives a curved structure to the ceilings.
“The revelation of the water cisterns from the days of the Ottoman Empire is another step in showing the secrets of the past of historic Jerusalem,” said Mayor Moshe Lion in a statement. “The combination of the old and the new, the historical and the modern, makes Jerusalem a city full of exciting architectural charm.”