Ein Tzuba, a spring near Mevasseret in the Judean Hills on the outskirts of Jerusalem, burst out of the ground through a very narrow crack in the rocky soil. Thus, not only was its flow scanty, but in summer its waters ceased to flow entirely. Nevertheless, the tribe of Judah settled in the hills about 3,500 years ago just above the little spring. It is more than likely that their settlement was the biblical Tzova, mentioned in the Talmud as well, and it grew by leaps and bounds.
Settlers at ancient Tzova quickly realized that the water supply was insufficient. So in winter they marked the spot, and when the spring dried up in summer they dug into the ground to enlarge the opening from which the water could burst out of the rock. As time went by and the population grew, the need for water became ever greater. So the Israelites lengthened the canal and burrowed ever deeper into the earth.
To keep out debris and mud that would dirty the water, settlers lined both sides of the canal with square, chiseled stones called ashlars. They then covered the canal with an arched roof. Several openings built into the roof were blocked up with stones that could be removed for on-going maintenance. One of the longest and largest of its type in the region, Ein Tzuba had become a sealed spring typical of the Judean Hills during biblical times: “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.” [Song of Songs 4:12].
In the distant past, visitors to the spring descended into the 2,000-year-old tunnel by way of a rickety and extremely tall ladder. And once you got to the bottom, you had to walk through the much with a flashlight in your teeth.
Some years ago, however, members of Kibbutz Tzuba cleaned out the spring, removed masses of disgusting debris from the landscape, and created an absolutely enchanting recreation site. Today a short, sturdy but narrow ladder leads into the tunnel, where you walk through clear water 45 meters to a beautifully arched chamber, completed at the end of the Second Temple period.
The railroad ties that support the roof have an interesting history. In 1924 the British who ruled Palestine began work on a new railroad to replace the one built by the Turks half a century earlier. The Turkish tracks were only a meter apart and the new and far heavier British trains required wider tracks.
After dismantling the Turkish tracks, the British used cement and some of the Turkish railroad ties to repair springs located throughout the Judean Hills. That included Ein Tzuba, which had remained virtually untouched for two millennia and whose roof had completely collapsed.
Weekday visitors have to call first, if they want to descend into the tunnel. But you can come anytime if you want to enjoy the spring’s beautiful little pool. Historically, water from the upper portion of the pool was used for drinking and bathing; water in the outer, larger pool for thirsty flocks.
Down the hill near the pool are several huge cisterns cut into the rocky slope. Visitors can explore the intricate system of canals and pits leading from the spring, carved out by our forefathers to collect excess water for use when times were hard.
With the destruction of the Second Temple in 70, Jews disappeared from the region. They were followed by Christians, and after the Arab conquest of the Holy Land in the seventh century, by Moslems.
Enter the Crusaders, who built Belmont (beautiful mountain) on a hill above the spring. Saladin captured their fortress in 1191, but it wasn’t destroyed until 1834, when Egypt ruled the Holy Land and rebellious residents from Abu Gosh holed up inside. The Egyptians bombarded the citadel with artillery – and the walls came tumbling down. Eventually an Arab village named Suba was established on its ruins.
During the War of Independence in 1948, Suba’s Arabs were openly hostile to the Jews. Together with fanatic Egyptian Islamists that moved into the village, they took part in bloody battles for control of the Kastel – a strategic hill – and joined other Arabs in ambushing convoys that brought supplies to besieged Jerusalem.
The threat posed by Suba had to be neutralized. Israeli authorities offered the villagers money to peacefully evacuate their homes, but the people refused, afraid they would be branded as traitors. Instead they suggested that a mock battle take place on July 15, after which they would leave the village.
Israeli forces captured Lod and Ramle on the 11th and 12th of July and, unaware of the agreement, headed next for Suba. When they neared the village they fired several rounds from a Davidka, an ingenious, makeshift, wholly unstable mortar that consistently emitted a dreadfully frightening shriek. Terrified by the horrific noise, Suba residents panicked and ran, never to return.
Kibbutz Tzuba was established a few months later, with pioneers pitching their tents west of the former Arab village. Their only source of water was the spring, so every day for an entire year a settler would hitched a mule to a cart and haul a huge drum to Ein Tzuba. He then filled it with water and transported it back to the encampment.
But there was never enough in the barrel for all of their needs. So the young men and women of Tzuba took turns bathing at the spring – separately, of course. Or so kibbutzniks will tell you with a smile on their faces…
Kibbutz Tzuba is southwest of Mevasseret off road 395. To reach the spring, ascend the main road deep into the kibbutz.
The spring and surrounding area are always open. Except for Saturdays, you need to make arrangements in advance – but you don’t have to be in a group. In Israel, call Alex Tamir at 02 534 7000 or 054 563 7078.
Saturdays the tunnel is open (no special arrangements necessary) from 11:00-15:00. The fee for descending to the tunnel is NIS 10 shekels a person.
Every Saturday a tour in Hebrew tour leaves from the Tzuba guesthouse lobby. The tour is open to the public and takes in Tzuba’s ancient trees and burial caves, as well as the spring. Fee is 20 shekels unless you are staying at the guesthouse.
Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel.
Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed, tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.
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