Photo Credit: israeltourism – CC BY-SA 2.0
Tunnel to the source of the Gihon Springs

““And he-Hezekiah-stopped up the source of the waters of the upper Gihon, and he led them straight down on the west to the City of David (2 Chronicles 32:30)”

The “Gihon Spring” tunnels, mentioned explicitly in the Bible. When my tourists go through this wonderous shaft, dug 2600 years ago, they are literally “Walking through the Bible”.
Photo Credit: Tamar Hayardeni – Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported



There are certainly no shortage of incredible Biblical sites for visitors/tourists to Israel! As a licensed tour guide, my job is to explain both the familiar and lesser-known events/stories from the sites that we visit. Few sites, though, are as impressive and explicitly mentioned in as much detail as where we are visiting today. I am of course referring to the “Hezekiah Tunnels”, where the Biblical “Gihon Spring” has flown through for 2600 years. This unique site is where arguably the greatest miracle ever to take place occurred in the long history of the Jewish people. Let us now enter together into these water tunnels with our flashlights (there is also a dry option for those who prefer not to get wet).

Getting ready to enter the water tunnels with a family from the US (although there is a dry option, families with kids almost always want to do the wet option, especially in summer). Here, the kids have their flashlights ready to go, eager to enter the Biblical tunnels!

Throughout the course of history many places had water challenges, and Jerusalem was no exception. From the times of the Canaanites (circa 1800 BCE) until the Second Temple period, the main water source, the Gihon Spring, was located outside of the city walls. During a time of peace, the simplest way to get water was to leave the city gate, head down to the spring with a bucket, fill it and bring the water back to the city. However, during a time of war when leaving the city was under siege by the enemy, getting to the water by normal means was impossible. Approximately 3800 years ago (around the time of Abraham), the ancient Canaanites built a fortress (which jutted outside the city wall) on top of the source of the Gihon Spring.

The Gihon Spring was located outside of the city walls (see red). On top of the water source the Canaanites built a fortress (see blue), allowing access to the water in a time of war. Some of the water went into a pool for storage (as seen immediately to the left of the fortress) while some of the water travelled through a long tunnel (marked by the two aqua lines) which had holes at intervals to water the Kings Garden in the valley below.
Photo Credit: Ir David Foundation

To access the water source, an impressive underground tunnel was built which led to the water source underground (and therefore out of range of enemy weaponry). Today, tourists can walk through this ancient tunnel.

This subterranean tunnel was built approximately 3800 years ago to allow access (in a time of war) to the source of the Gihon Spring (then Jerusalem’s main source of drinking water) which sat outside of the city wall.
Photo Credit: israeltourism – CC BY-SA 2.0

After descending the stairs, we are in the ancient fortress!

Standing outside of the fortress which led to the subterranean tunnel.

From the source, some of the water was channeled into a pool for storage. At this pool, King Solomon was likely coronated (see 1 Kings 1:33). According to Jewish sources, it was a custom to anoint Kings by a flowing water source. This symbolized that their reign should be as endless as the flowing waters.

The main pool used for storing drinking water for the city’s inhabitants. It was here where King Solomon was probably coronated King.
Photo Credit: Tamar Hayardeni

Some of the water was channeled through a tunnel which watered the gardens below in the Kidron Valley. Many archeologists claim that it was through this tunnel that Joab (King David’s general) entered, to conquer the city from the Jebusites (see 2 Samuel 5:8). Under the Judean Monarchy, this water system continued to be used until Hezekiah made a new tunnel, which dried out this tunnel (today, this is the dry option for tourists who want to “Walk the Bible” without getting wet).

The Canaanite Water Tunnel (used for approximately 1200 years) until King Hezekiah built a new tunnel, which resulted in this tunnel becoming permanently dry. Today, visitors who don’t want to get wet can walk through this tunnel.
Photo Credit: Deror_avi – GNU Free Documentation License

During the time of the very righteous King Hezekiah, the world’s undisputed superpower was the ruthless Assyrian Empire. They were conquering the known world at that time and had never lost a battle (let alone a war). They were the largest army up until then, with 185,000 troops (see 2 Kings: 19:35), (to put it into perspective, about 300 years later when Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world, he had less than 40,000 troops). After the Assyrian King Sennacherib had destroyed the other walled cities of Judea, including Lachish (for more on that incredible site, click here), his troops began to march towards Jerusalem. In preparation for the war, Hezekiah built a new city wall (see 2 Chronicles 32:5. For more on this site, click here). He also wanted to ensure that his enemies would have no access to water (as mentioned, the Canaanite tunnel which was still in use at that time had holes in it which watered the gardens below and would have provided ample water to the sieging Assyrians). Therefore, Hezekiah sealed up the Upper Gihon Spring (which flowed through today’s “Dry tunnel”) and rediverted the water underground, leading it westwards to a pool at the bottom of the City of David (see 2 Chronicles 32:30). He then dammed and built a wall around, so the water was entirely within Jerusalem’s city walls, and not accessible to the attacking Assyrians. For many tourists to Israel, walking through this very water tunnel is one of the highlights of their trip.

Hezekiah built a new tunnel which rediverted the flow of water from the Canaanite tunnel to the Shilioach (Siloam) Pool) at the foot of the City of David. Tourists have the option to walk through these very tunnels.
Photo Credit: Ir David Foundation

Ultimately, G-d performed a miracle and sent an angel who slaughtered the 185,000 Assyrians soldiers, removing the powerful threat to Judea, which continued to remain independent for nearly 150 years.

Assyria had never lost a battle, but because of G-d’s miraculous intervention, the Assyrians had no choice but to bypass Judah (in red circle).
Photo Credit: Nigyou – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

This water system continued to be used for centuries, including the entire Second Temple period (until 70 CE when both the Temple and much of the system was destroyed by the Romans). The water led to the Shiloach pool and according to Jewish sources, it was from this pool that the “Sin waters” were gathered and mixed with the ashes of the Red Heifer (see Numbers 19). This water was then sprinkled (by a Priest) onto someone who had become ritually impure due to of having been in contact with a corpse (for example, the person had simply been to a cemetery or was in a room when somebody died). The person who had the water sprinkled upon them then became purified. This was extremely important, because it is forbidden for Jews to enter the Temple while in this form of impurity (see Numbers 19:20 which discusses the repercussions of doing so). Once this holy ritual was performed, a Jew could then ascend to the Temple Mount (this Biblical prohibition is still in effect today, even without a Temple. Until the next Red Heifer is found according to its very strict specifications, which Jews believe will be in the days of Messiah, ascending to the Temple Mount is forbidden for Jews as everyone is presumed to have this impurity today).

Artist’s rendition of the Shiloach pool during the Second Temple Times
(the 2000-year-old stone pavement seen on the bottom right is original).

Every year on the Jewish festival of Sukkot (when the Temple stood), the cherished commandment of the water libation was performed. Water was gathered from this pool, brought to the holy Temple, and poured upon the altar. The joy that accompanied this procedure was so intense and palpable, that according to Jewish sources, one who has never seen this rejoicing has never experienced real enjoyment.

Today, the remains of the Shiloach Pool can be visited and walked upon by tourists. Although the pool’s history was well-known to Torah observant Jews from their studies of Jewish religious texts, the exact physical location was only rediscovered (accidently) in 2004. Construction workers were moving a large drainage pipe nearby and struck some stones underneath, revealing the ancient structure in the process.
Photo Credit: Deror avi – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

On your next visit to Israel, I look forward to leading you through these ancient Biblical tunnels, walking on the same grounds where so many great Biblical heroes treaded!

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(All images used are either free usage or properly licensed by the author)


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Nosson Shulman, veteran tour guide makes Israel come alive for you.; [email protected];