Shahar Shilo – guide and expert researcher of ancient Jerusalem

The ancient Pool of Siloam was discovered in the south of the biblical City of David, at the confluence of the Kidron River with the valley at the end of the nineteenth century, as part of the excavations by Bliss and Dickey, members of the British Palestine Exploration Fund, (P.E.F.). Despite their excavations in and around the Shiloh (Siloam) Church, the ancient Pool of Siloam remained unexcavated for many years, until recently.

Excavations began at the site a few years ago, and a magnificent pool was uncovered within a short period of time. This pool dates back to the Hasmonean period, but most of its construction is attributed to the days of Herod, about 2000 years ago. The pool was built according to the best of Jerusalem’s magnificent construction tradition, and its impressive remains were partially uncovered in this excavation. The site served as an important meeting point for the pilgrims who came to visit the Temple Mount on the three annual pilgrimages. Between the built pool and the Talpiot neighborhood, the Temple Mount is connected by a magnificent street, which served as a central axis for the pilgrims, as befits such a central and important street. Shops and commercial businesses operated along the length of the impressive street, benefiting from its centrality, and extensive exposure to the pilgrims, who came en masse Jerusalem during the holidays: Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot. The road leading from the Pool of Siloam towards the Temple Mount extends for about 600 meters in the valley, called “Tyropoeon” in Greek. The name means “valley of the cheese makers” because the dairy industry was spread along it during the Hellenistic period, so that during the winter flows, the ravine would be cleaned by the rains, which washed away all the garbage and smells of this industry.

In the days of Herodian Jerusalem, an orderly street was paved in the valley, and the Pool of Siloam was built at the bottom of it to store drinking water and bathe the pilgrims. The street became very central due to the intensification of the pilgrimage phenomenon, and due to the centrality of the Pool of Siloam in the culture of the pilgrimage, the celebration, Simchat Beit Ha’Shoeva,, and the pouring of water on the altar.

The excavations in the street began several years ago, and slowly, the road is being revealed in all its glory, with a very impressive drainage system from the time of Herod. The Herodian drainage canal, which runs under the Tyropoeon valley, was first uncovered and partially excavated at the end of the 19th century by the British Palestine Exploration Society (P.E.F.) researchers. The canal was rediscovered along its entire length recently in excavations being conducted in the City of David by the Antiquities Authority led by Professor Roni Reich from the University of Haifa and Eli Shukrun from the Antiquities Authority. An impressive section of the drainage tunnel comprising hundreds of meters has been cleaned, and its southern part has already been opened for public tours, while northern sections are currently being cleaned and put in order. The drainage canal was actually a tunnel built next to the street, whose roof was closed with rectangular paving stones. Its function was to drain the slopes of Mount Zion and the Temple Mount, and collect their waters into a reservoir on the slopes of the ravine. The canal also prevented the flooding of the magnificent street during the days of the pilgrimage, and preserved the cleanliness and dignity of the pilgrims to the Temple Mount. The impressive thing about the tunnel is the fact that it is not hewn, but built with rare and meticulous quality, befitting a king for whom the quality of construction was everything.

The Herodian street was excavated in part, and a unique kind of steps was discovered. They are found at the foot of the Huldah gates, south of the Temple Mount, in the area of the Pool of Siloam in the south, as well as at another point, the Tyropoeon (valley) south of the Givati Parking Lot. This was Professor Kathleen Mary Kenyon excavated in the 1960s . The entire street is paved with flat and wide stone steps, one short and one long. This unique model is designed to create a dignified and measured walk towards the mountain, and to prevent running and disrespect during the pilgrimage. In addition to this, the unique stairs allowed the pilgrims to look alternately towards the Temple that was perched on the top of the mountain, and at the stairs themselves during the ascent, in order to allow a careful and dignified walk. The most impressive remains from the days of the Great Revolt against the Romans were found in the drainage tunnels under the street,. The tunnels themselves, and the rare remains that were found, match the description of Flavius Josephus remarkably in his book – “The Wars of the Jews in the Romans” Volume 6, about the Jews hiding “in the tunnels under the Siloam”, thus the new excavation actually made it possible to confirm the exciting historical description in the book of Flavius Josephus about the aftermath of the revolt in Jerusalem.

These days, excavations continue at several sites in the City of David, and it is likely that we will soon hear about new finds and exciting discoveries that are still hidden in the ground, waiting to tell their story one day.