Photo Credit: Emil Eljam, Israel Antiquities Authority
Aerial view of the upper aqueduct dig at Givat HaMatos.

The longest section of Jerusalem’s ancient upper aqueduct was recently uncovered in archaeological excavations on the edge of the Givat HaMatos neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem. The dig revealed about 300 continuous meters of the upper aqueduct, which delivered water to Herod’s palace and the homes of city dignitaries some 2,000 years ago. The section of the upper aqueduct was buried under tons of modern soil and waste.

Givat HaMatos, Jerusalem. / Google Maps

The excavations are conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority ahead of the neighborhood’s expansion, on behalf of the “Arim” urban development company, in cooperation with the Jerusalem Municipality.

Digging the upper aqueduct at Givat HaMatos. . Emil Eljam, Israel Antiquities Authority

According to excavation managers Dr. Ofer Shion and Rotam Cohen, the city of Jerusalem grew significantly at the end of the Second Temple period, the Temple was rebuilt, and the water that flowed from the Gihon River and the city cisterns no longer sufficed for the thousands of pilgrims and residents, and water had to be brought to the city from far away.

Excavation managers Drs. Ofer Shion and Rotam Cohen. . Vetali Sterman, Israel Antiquities Authority

In response, the Hasmoneans and King Herod built two elaborate aqueducts to provide water to Jerusalem, which were among the largest and most complex waterworks in the Land of Israel and in the ancient world. The aqueducts concentrated spring water in the Bethlehem area, and with the help of huge pools and the laws of physics (the laws of communicating vessels, the siphon, and gravity), using topography and extraordinary ingenuity, moved the water for tens of kilometers altogether.

The upper aqueduct moved water to the upper city (today’s Jewish and Armenian quarters), and the lower aqueduct carried water directly to the Temple.

The upper aqueduct dig at Givat HaMatos. . Emil Eljam, Israel Antiquities Authority

The upper aqueduct, a 300-meter section of which has now been exposed, continued to be used after the destruction of Jerusalem, in 70 CE. The Roman Tenth Legion, the destroyer of the Temple, established itself camp in the upper city. More than 60 years later, after the Bar Kokhba rebellion (132–136 CE), when the Romans replaced Jerusalem with the pagan city Ilia Capitolina, the Tenth Legion continued to use the sophisticated aqueduct. The Romans made extensive renovations of the aqueduct, and raised it by half a meter, say Drs. Shion and Cohen.

A coin from year 2 of the great revolt against the Romans (67-68 CE) found in the foundations of the upper aqueduct. . Ofer Sion, Israel Antiquities Authority

“In the plaster at the foundations of the aqueduct from the time of the Tenth Legion, we found 25 coins, scattered at relatively equal distances, including a coin from Year 2 of the Great Revolt against the Romans, 67-68 CE,” they say, adding, “In our opinion, this is not a coincidence: just like the practice today, the coins were placed there for good luck.”

“The uncovering of the longest contiguous section of the upper aqueduct, and the discovery of the 25 coins, will allow, for the first time, a complete dating of the various stages of the construction of Jerusalem’s aqueducts, and perhaps even shed light on the question of who was the original builder, the Hasmonean kings or King Herod,” the researchers say.

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