We enter through the Lions’ Gate in the direction towards via Dolorosa, and will walk few hundred meters through the Muslim Quarter until we reach the Convent of the sisters of Zion. There are two places that I will stop for a moment. The first place is here in front of the Gate of the Tribes, one of the entrances to the Temple Mount complex – here, what is today El Ghazali Square, there was a large water reservoir called Birket Israel, meaning Pool of Israel and I will expand on this reservoir in a separate video, yet it is a water reservoir from the Second Temple period that was built on the bed of Beit Zita brook, and was fed by it and probably at the same time limited the activity of the Bethesda pools that were used to store water in the centuries BC, located in the complex of the Santa Anne church which is here on the right.
In ancient times, Jerusalem enjoyed an efficient water supply system. Most of the houses apparently had cisterns. In the excavations conducted in the upper city, it was found that every house had at least one cistern, which collected the rainwater from the roof. In addition, the city had water reservoirs. I will refer to some of the reservoirs inside the walls – those located north of the Temple Mount and this includes the Birket Israel, or Pool of Israel which we visited a moment ago, the pools of Bethesda (Beit Hesda) which are located here and the Struthion pool which is our target site for today.
With the expansion of Jerusalem in the Hasmonean period and then in the days of Herod the Great and the Romans, the rainwater was no longer enough to supply the water needs of the city, so it was necessary to build two aqueducts that led the water from the regions of Bethlehem and Hebron. These were the only places near Jerusalem that enabled water to be transported by gravity to the city.
We are in the Convent of the Sisters of Zion in Via Dolorosa, a convent built on the initiative of Alphonse Ratisbon, a converted Jew from Strasbourg. The church that was inaugurated in 1868, was built in a Byzantine Roman style and was designed to fit in with the ancient remains on the site.
We are in a large pool of water carved out of the rock, its area is approximately 15 x 60 meters. From here we see about two-thirds, including the part adjacent to the left which you can see through the low arched if you bend slightly. The other part is hidden behind the wall in front of us, the south wall. This wall is actually from the 19th century and was built by the nuns because they wanted to prevent penetration from outside the convent through the pool. In fact, this wall blocks the entrance to the Hasmonean water tunnel, which extends towards the Temple Mount. Later we will visit the other side.
This pool is from the time of Herod and it is identified with the Struthion pool associated with the Antonia fortress. The pool was filled every winter up to the lower steps, but since renovations carried out in the convent in 2006 the pool is almost empty of water. The meaning of the name Struthion is sparrow, a small bird, probably to symbolize the pool relatively small size compared to the other pools I mentioned such as Israel Pool and Bethesda Pools. Herod built Antonia fortress north of the Temple Mount. The fortress was surrounded by a deep moat whose banks were cut in the rock. The pool actually forms part of the moat that protected the Antonia fortress. The structure of the fortress built by Herod and the strength of its fortifications are detailed by the Jewish historian Joseph Flavius. In his book The War of the Jews, he writes that the pool was an obstacle for the Romans who besieged the fortress, so the Romans poured earthen embankments over it.
The water reached the pool from north of the city, in the tributaries of Beit Zita brook whose main channel drains into the central valley and from there into the Kidron brook. The pool’s water was used to supply water to the fortress. Remains of an aqueduct were discovered near Damascus Gate that drained the water of the central valley into the pool. In the days of Emperor Hadrian, around the year 135, when he turned Jerusalem into a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina, the pool was covered by two parallel vaults and became an underground water reservoir. Above the vaults was built the paved area of the forum which is the central public area designed in the form of a square or several squares.
We are skipping a short distance to the end of the western wall tunnels where it connects to an ancient and magnificent water tunnel from the Hasmonean period. The high tunnel was cut by man in the natural rock. The water that flowed here went straight to the Temple Mount, where it was used to fill the basin and mikvahs which are the purification baths, also to clean the temple, and obviously as drinking water for the many pilgrims. The same underground water pool, the Struthion Pool over which the arches that Emperor Hadrian built as a foundation for the magnificent forum, are exposed both here and beyond the wall. The same arches, the same pool – only this thin wall separate the two parts of the Struthion pool.
We returned to the other side, to the convent. Let’s go up to the area above the vault. The ascent is both a topographical and an ascent in time, meaning that the time of the pool corresponds to the time of Jesus, to the period before the destruction of the Second Temple. Whereas the vaults and the extension above are from a later period, from the time of the emperor Hadrian who took and made secondary use of the stones of Antonia’s fortress to build the forum.
Here we see modern columns carrying a low ceiling. The floor is actually placed on the vault of the eastern wing of the pool from where we came. And if we look through the opening in the floor here on the right, we can even notice the bottom of the pool below. Here we see the large, impressive and authentic pavement from the Roman period. Look closely at the grooves visible on the stones.
We reached the end, and as usual I have a question for you. Inside the convent, there is another famous part of a structure built by Emperor Hadrian. What is the structure? The answer will appear at the end of the video.