Tzipori existed as a Jewish city from the Hasmonean period until the 5th century CE, yet Jews did live in the area until the 10th century. Tzipori was a well-known city for several reasons, but mainly due to the presence of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi. From here he led the Sanhedrin for a certain period and here he signed the Mishnah.
There are a number of videos on different aspects of the city and there I expand on the day-to-day life in different periods, but in this video, I focus on the supply of water through the large reservoir and the southern inner aqueduct. I mentioned the terms Sanhedrin and Mishnah, let me try and explain in very short the 2 terms. The Sanhedrin was a type of a Jewish supreme council and court having jurisdiction over religious, civil, and criminal issues and it existed during the 2nd temple period until the early 5th century. Mishna is a written collection of the Jewish oral traditions.
The water supply to Tzipori was done using two aqueducts that started from springs that originate in the villages of a-Reina and Mashhad, both are east of Tzipori. It seems that the first to be built was the aqueduct from Mashhad which was hewn in the rock. This aqueduct is higher and the plaster that was used for it is from the end of the first century BCE, or the beginning of the 1st century CE. The 2nd aqueduct originated in a-Reina, it’s the main aqueduct, and it is a constructed aqueduct, unlike Mashad aqueduct which was hewn. The a-Reina aqueduct marks an important stage in finding water sources and bringing them to Tzipori. It was built sometime between the end of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century. One thing for sure, it was built before the Bar Kochba revolt.
In contrast to other cities, and for reasons I explain in the video – following the great revolt and the Bar Kochba revolt, Tzipori’s population increased significantly, and water resources needed also to increase. Tzipori reached its peak at the end of the 2nd century, at a time when Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi was living here. At that time, Tzipori population was 18,000 spreads over 600 dunams, equivalent to 150 acres, and the water supply system was then in full consumption.
At some point the 2 aqueducts combine to one, and near the city, they split again into two. The northern aqueduct led to the Mashhad reservoir – the northern aqueduct has pretty much disappeared. The southern aqueduct which is our focus today leads to an underground reservoir, which is connected to the shaft tunnel which feeds water to the city, and both are explained in the video.
The sedimentation pit, 5 meters deep was hewn at the entrance to the reservoir. It was designed to absorb the heavy waste materials and alluvium and prevent them from entering the reservoir.
When entering the reservoir, the sight is powerful, a rock-hewn reservoir. Its dimensions are extraordinary: 250m long, 10m high, with a total volume of 4,300 cubic meters, which means that the water stored here was enough for 18,000 inhabitants for two weeks. Why was it dug here? – this is the only high place near Tzipori where there is chalk rock. Now, the obvious question – what is special about chalk rock? – the chalk is crisp, white and porous rock. It is a rock that resembles limestone and is composed of the same mineral – calcite, which is one of the most common minerals on earth. In fact, 4% of the Earth’s mass is the mineral calcite, but unlike limestone, chalk has no crystalline structure. The result is, that the chalk is brittle compared to the limestone, and remains soft so that cisterns can be dug relatively easily. Although the chalk is porous, it does not transmit water well, as its pores are very small and therefore it is a sealed rock. So, easy to dig and at the same time a sealed rock.
The reservoir was dug in two phases, the first phase was built at the 2nd century, and the second, at the 4th century. This is parallel to the plaster coating dates – the reservoir was first plastered in the 2nd century CE, and plastered again in the 4th century probably following the great earthquake in 363, which caused heavy damage to the whole region. It is worth noting when walking the reservoir, the supporting arches which were also probably built during the renovation of the reservoir at the 4th century. Also worth noting the pottery as part of the plaster – it’s also from the 4th and perhaps even 5th centuries which confirms that the aqueduct also operated in the Byzantine period. We talked about the pit at the entrance designed to absorb the heavy waste materials and alluvium and prevent them from entering the reservoir – since many pottery vessels from the Early Arab period, 7th & 8th centuries were found on the floor of the pit -, that indicates that the aqueducts were then out of use. So, it can be said with high certainty that the reservoir was used from the 2nd to the 7th century CE.
From the end of the reservoir, the water continued to flow through the Six Shafts Tunnel. The length of the tunnel is 235 meters, its height varies between 1 and 3 meters, and it is about 80cm wide. The shafts were hewn diagonally to allow as easy access as possible for the diggers to reach the route of the excavated aqueduct. Each section of the tunnel was hewn by two groups of diggers. One dug to the right and the other to the left until they met in the middle of the section the other groups from the adjacent shafts. The entrance for visitors is between shaft #4 & shaft #6, a section which is 90m long.
In shaft No. 1, which is adjacent to the reservoir, was a tool for regulating the flow intensity, including the possibility of stopping the flow of water to the city. The slope of the tunnel is about 20cm per 100 meters in length. Along the tunnel, holes were hewn for oil candles as can be seen in several locations. Inside the tunnel you can see the plastered water canal dug 40cm high and 30cm wide. From the tunnel, the water was fed to an aqueduct located on the ground surface. About 500m from this aqueduct were exposed. The width of the aqueduct is 30cm and the depth is 40cm. The slope of the aqueduct is about 17cm per 100 meters in length.
The height of the aqueduct at the entrance to the city is 270 meters above sea level, but it is 30 meters lower than the neighborhoods on the hill of the city, therefore, for that part of the city, rainwater was accumulated in cisterns located beneath each house.
We reached the end, and as usual, a question for you – what other water source was used by the city of Tzipori in times of water shortage? – the answer will appear at the end of the video.