Solomon's Pools

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Solomon's pools, between 1890 and 1905
Solomon's pools, in 1981
The lower pool at Solomon's pools, 2013
View from inside a Roman aqueduct from the Pools of Solomon to Jerusalem.

Solomon's Pools (Arabic: بركة السلطان سليمان القانوني‎, Birkat as-Sultan Suleiman al-Kanuni; Hebrew: בריכות שלמה‎, Breichot Shlomo) are located in the south-central West Bank, immediately to the south of the Palestinian village of al-Khader and about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) southwest of Bethlehem.

Description[edit]

The three large reservoirs, following each other in line, stand several dozen meters apart, each pool with a roughly 6 metres (20 ft) drop to the next. They are rectangular or trapezoidal in shape, partly hewn into the bedrock and partly built, between 118 and 179 metres (387-587 ft) long and 8 to 16 metres (26-52 ft) deep, with a total capacity of well over a quarter of a million cubic metres (some 290,000 m³ or 75 million US gallons).[1]

The pools were part of a complex ancient water system, initially built between the mid-second century BCE and the first century CE. At its high point the system was providing water to the city and Jewish Temple of Jerusalem, as well as to the desert fortress and town of Herodium. At that time the pools were fed by two aqueducts, by several springs of the surrounding countryside including one situated underneath the lower pool, as well as by rainwater that descended from the overlooking hills. The pools acted as a storage and distribution facility, with the two feeder aqueducts bringing water to the pools from hills to the south, and with two more aqueducts leading from the pools northwards to Jerusalem plus a third one heading eastwards to the Herodium. Traces of all five initial aqueducts have been found.[1]

Below the middle pool are the remains of the British pump station that took the water by pipe to the Old City of Jerusalem. Another, more recent pumping station below the lower pool is still providing water to the town of Bethlehem.[1]

The three pools are surrounded by pine trees and are located 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) south of Bethlehem on the road to Hebron.

Near the Upper Pool stands a small Turkish fort, known as Qal'at el-Burak or the castle of the pools. The rectangular structure with four square corner towers was built by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1617. It served as barracks for the Turkish soldiers guarding the Pools of Solomon and the commercial caravans between Jerusalem and Hebron, and at times also as a caravanserai or khan. Today, after being allowed to decay for decades if not centuries, a private development is transforming the fortress to house an amphitheater, which will be part of a new tourist complex. The arts and crafts village being built on the grounds of Solomon's Pools will further include a museum, hotel and convention center.

While development is painfully needed in the area, there are major concerns about the preservation of this remarkable archaeological and historical site.

Name[edit]

The pools are named after the biblical King Solomon (around 950 BC), connecting them with the story described in the Book of Ecclesiastes 2.6: "I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees". Josephus added to the story, writing that Solomon used to enjoy the beauty of the water-rich "Etham" (one of the main springs here is called 'Ain Attan or Ein Eitam), and the legend has it that the wise king built the pools for his wives, reportedly one thousand in number, so that they could bathe in their waters.[2]

The Arabic name Birkat as-Sultan Suleiman al-Kanuni refers to King Solomon's namesake, Suleiman the Magnificent.

History[edit]

The growing water needs of the Jerusalem Temple and the pilgrims it attracted during the later part of the Second Temple period, led to efforts to create a conduit able to reach the relatively high top of the Temple Mount by gravity alone. The hills south of Jerusalem are higher than the city and its Temple Mount, and contain a number of perennial springs, offering a good choice to the ancient engineers. The water system gradually created consisted of two aqueducts feeding the pools, which themselves acted as a collection and distribution facility, and of three further aqueducts carrying the water north to Jerusalem (two) and to Herodium (the third one). Together, the five aqueducts totalled some 80 kilometres in length.[1]

Recent evidence[citation needed] suggests that the lower pool was probably constructed during the Hasmonean period, between mid-second and mid-first century BCE. It is connected to the so-called Lower or Low Level Aqueduct, built at the same time, which carries the water over a distance of 21.5 km to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.[1]

A second phase occurred when Herod the Great, using Roman engineering and in connection with his rebuilding program of the Second Temple, created the sophisticated Wadi el-Byiar Aqueduct, which fed the upper pool. The aqueduct was partially built as a tunnel which collected underground water from the aquifer it was passing through, to supplement the spring water and runoff it was also carrying. Water from the same upper pool was taken to Jerusalem's Upper City, where Herod had erected his new palace, through the king's ambitious so-called Upper or High Level Aqueduct. North of Bethlehem a high bridge helped pass a deep valley.[1]

In a third phase, Roman prefect Pontius Pilate built 39 kilometres (24 mi) of aqueduct bringing yet more water to Solomon's Pools from the large collection pools at Arrub to the south. [3]

The water system based on Solomon's Pools has provided water to Jerusalem, on and off, for two millennia, all until 1967. The Low Level Aqueduct was the longest serving of the Jerusalem-bound ones. It started at the lower pool and once it reached Jerusalem, it crossed the Tyropoeon Valley over a bridge to find its way onto the Temple Mount platform, where it ended inside the great cisterns hidden underneath its surface.[1]

Major repairs to the water system were done by the 10th Roman Legion, Legio Fretensis during the second century CE, later by the Mamluks, the Ottomans and the British. In 1902 for instance, a new 16 km pipeline to Jerusalem was inaugurated to mark the 60th birthday of the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II[4][1]

Springs feeding the pools[edit]

The pools are directly fed by four different springs: the most prominent is 'Ain Saleh, at the head of the Wadi Urtas, about 200 metres (660 ft) to the north-west of the upper pool. The spring water is transferred to the upper pool by a large subterranean passage.[5] From the same direction comes the water of 'Ain Burak. 'Ain Attan or Ein Eitam is located south-east of the lower pool, while 'Ain Farujeh is right underneath that pool.[1]

Present day[edit]

Today the water from the pools reaches only to Bethlehem. The aqueduct beyond this has been destroyed once taken out of use in 1967.[1]

The area around Solomon's Pools has provided a pleasant atmosphere for picnics and relaxation over the centuries. On the north side at the entry to the park is the old Ottoman fort, which now has a restaurant with a garden area inside.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Solomon’s Pools and relating aqueducts, the heart of Jerusalem’s past water supply". HYDRIA Project. 2009. Retrieved 2014-12-18. 
  2. ^ Flavius, Josephus Antiquities 8:186
  3. ^ Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome (2008) The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 Oxford University Press US, ISBN 0-19-923666-6 p 483
  4. ^ Bussow, 2011, pp. 497, 536
  5. ^ Bromiley Geoffrey W (1995). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, ISBN 0-8028-3782-4 p 1025

Bibliography[edit]

Sawsan and Qustandi Shomali. A Guide to Bethlehem and its Surroundings. Flamm Druck, Wagener GMBH, Waldbrol

Coordinates: 31°41′20.37″N 35°10′11.35″E / 31.6889917°N 35.1698194°E / 31.6889917; 35.1698194