© Sraya DiamantThe directors of the dig in Givat Hamatos, Dr. Ofer Sion, left, and Rotem Cohen. The ancient aqueduct was discovered during an archeological dig in East Jerusalem's Givat Hamatos, ahead of the construction of a new neighborhood in the controversial area.
An archeological salvage dig in East Jerusalem that was carried out in advance of the construction of a new neighborhood has uncovered a 3-kilometer (1.8-mile) stretch of ancient Jerusalem's upper aqueduct.

Researchers have attempted for about 150 years to decipher the secret of how the ancient city's huge water system brought water to Jerusalem during the Second Temple period (which ended in the year 70) and on into the late Roman period. In its time, it was the largest network of water infrastructure in the country.

Experts know about two aqueducts from those periods: the lower aqueduct, which supplied the Temple, and the upper aqueduct, which suppled the upper city - where the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter of the Old City are now situated. The two aqueducts carried water over considerable distances from Solomon's Pools in the Bethlehem area into Jerusalem's city walls. Small sections of aqueduct were discovered over the years, but the debate about their precise route - and particularly when they were built - continues.

© Sraya DiamantThe excavations of the ancient aqueduct in Jerusalem. The upper aqueduct served the area of the city where the Jewish and Armenian Quarters are now situated.
The stretch of the upper aqueduct was uncovered at the East Jerusalem Givat Hamatos site, which was excavated in recent months. Givat Hamatos has for years been the subject of a diplomatic controversy between Israel and the United States and Europe. The U.S. administration and the European Union are strongly opposed to construction of the planned Israeli neighborhood on the hill since it is beyond Israel's 1967 borders. It's at a location that the international community views as strategic if Jerusalem is to be divided in the future in conjunction with the creation of a Palestinian state. After years of delay following diplomatic pressure, Israeli authorities approved plans to develop a neighborhood there.

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It also prompted a salvage dig, carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, in which the longest stretch of the aqueduct ever discovered in Jerusalem was revealed. The dig has revealed three phases of construction along a 300-meter stretch. Twenty-five coins were discovered in the plaster of the ancient water carrier. The directors of the dig, Dr. Ofer Sion and Rotem Cohen, think the coins were deliberately placed there by those who built the aqueduct as good luck charms.

The coins haven't yet been cleaned and dated but Sion expects they will turn out to be from period of the final renovations to the aqueduct in the late Roman period, following Jerusalem's destruction. During that period, the aqueduct was repaired by the 10th Roman Legion, which had conquered Jerusalem from the Jews during the Great Revolt. The excavation even unearthed a nail that could have been from a legionnaire's sandal.

It's still not clear, however, whether the last construction was carried out immediately after the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 or decades later, with the establishment of the new Roman city on the site, Aelia Capitolina. The archaeologists also discovered two earlier stages of construction, apparently attributable to the period of King Herod and later work attributed to a later Roman government.

coin jerusalem
© Ofer Sion/Israel Antiquities AuthorityA coin found in the foundations of the aqueduct and dated to the period of the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome.
Ancient historian Flavius Josephus mentions the two earlier stages of the aqueduct's construction and wrote a stunning description of Herod's palace in Jerusalem, with its splendid rooms, richly ornamented walls and roofs - and vast amounts of water brought in from major distances. Josephus again mentioned the aqueduct decades later, during the time of Pontius Pilate - the provincial governor who ruled Jerusalem between 26 and 36 and is remembered for having ordered the crucifixion of Jesus.

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Josephus noted that Pilate aroused Jewish anger over the Romans' use of the "holy treasury" of the Second Temple to build an aqueduct for the city. According to Josephus, Pilate had expected a rebellion and deployed soldiers in the crowd who took the Jews by surprise and killed many of them.

© Sraya DiamantThe aqueduct as seen from above.
Several decades later, after the Roman Legion had conquered and destroyed Jerusalem, the aqueduct was repaired and again renovated. It was elevated somewhat, improving water quality, and built along the same route. "The legion undertook extensive renovations of the sophisticated aqueduct and raised the water level by about half a meter," Sion said.

The aqueduct carried water along a stretch of about 15 kilometers on a gently sloping route for about 300 meters from Solomon's Pools to the Mamilla Pool, the site of today's Independence Park. From the Mamilla Pool, the water was channeled through another aqueduct to Hezekiah's Pool inside the Old City, near the Jaffa Gate.

Thirteen years ago, as part of repair work to the Jaffa Gate plaza, Sion directed another dig in which the final part of the aqueduct carrying water into city was discovered.