Tzipori water supply to the Acropolis


Tzipori existed as a Jewish city from the Hasmonean period until the 5th century, 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 completed the editing and then 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.

In this video, I focus on one topic and that is the supply of water through the norther aqueduct known as the pool aqueduct, and the water supply to the acropolis.

I mentioned the terms Sanhedrin and Mishnah, let me try and explain in very short the two 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.

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.

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 used is from the end of the first century BCE, or the beginning of the first century. The 2nd aqueduct originated in a-Reina, this is the main aqueduct, and it is a constructed aqueduct. The a-Reina aqueduct marks an important stage in finding water sources and supplying them to Tzipori. It was built sometime between the end of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century. At some point the two aqueducts combine to a single one, and I am here as filmed in the video at the common aqueduct. A short distance from where I am towards the city, they split again, the southern aqueduct, leading to a large underground reservoir, and from there through the shaft tunnel, water is fed to part of the city. I explain this at length in a video called “The Large Water Reservoir and the Shaft Tunnel.” Today I will focus on the northern aqueduct called the pool aqueduct that led water to the Mashhad pool, and I will also discuss the cisterns throughout the Acropolis. What is the meaning of the word Acropolis – so in Greek it means the upper city, meaning a high location and usually a fortified place.

The first question that I can think off – why should water cisterns be dug in the Acropolis, at the top of the hill, if the shaft tunnel that carried water to its southern aqueduct fed water to Tzipori? so not exactly. From the tunnel, the water was carried to the city on the surface via aqueduct that was partially exposed through 500 meters. The height of the aqueduct at the entrance to the city is 270m above sea level but it is 30m lower than the upper neighborhoods of the city, Collection of water using cisterns located under the houses was needed.

Mashhad pool – 21 meters long by 14.5 meters wide. The depth of the pool is approx. 3 meters. It was probably used for swimming at a time when there was plenty of water from the water springs, that is, during the spring & early summer. The pool served as a kind of water regulator for the water that came through the norther aqueduct also called the pool aqueduct. This aqueduct has pretty much disappeared, so we have no remnants of it. The aqueduct entered the pool through a sedimentation pit in the southeast corner.

The search for the water exits point from the Mashhad pool led to the discovery of the western Mashhad pool, which was completely buried and was not known at all. Its internal dimensions are approx. 17 by 6 meters, and its maximum depth is 1.6 m. The walls are covered with white/gray plaster with a thickness of about 5 cm. The pool capacity is approximately 100 cubic meters. The western pool is built parallel to the Mashhad pool, so it seems that they were built at the same time. The plaster covering the walls of the pool makes it possible to determine its construction time, which is the beginning of the 2nd century, same as Mashhad pool. There was probably a connection between the two since the exit point of the Mashhad pool is very close to the point of entry into the West Mashhad pool. You can see in the video the very nice stones exposed in the southwest corner. The stones are arranged in at least six rows inclined towards the inside of the pool at a moderate angle, making it a convenient entry slope to the pool.

We are in the arch’s reservoirs, these are two underground reservoirs, named after the arches that supported the roof of the reservoirs. The reservoirs are hewn in the rock in a rectangular shape. The dimensions of the southern reservoir were 5 by 9 meters and the northern is 4 by 7 meters, the depth was over 3 meters and the total capacity was approx. 240 cubic meters. See the nice bases of the five stone arches that supported the roof that was above the reservoirs. The distance between the arches is 1m. As I mentioned, the total capacity of the reservoirs is 240 cubic meters, such a capacity required a fixed water source and therefore there was a connection between these reservoirs and the northern aqueduct. The ancient plaster layer in the reservoirs can be dated to the 1st century at the latest and therefore it can be assumed that these reservoirs preceded the large reservoir south of us. In terms of the reservoir location, it is just in front of the city of Tzipori and at a relatively high point, so it can be concluded again that this is the ancient reservoir of Tzipori. From here the water was supplied to the city.

Tzipori’s Acropolis covers an area of 35 dunams equivalent to almost 9 acres, out of the city 150 acres or 600 dunams. The water supply to the Acropolis was done mainly by collecting rainwater into cisterns, located beneath the houses and gardens. Dozens of cisterns were found on the acropolis, and there are more to be discovered.

Most water cisterns are bell-shaped, and others have no defined shape. The roofs and courtyards served as drainage basins and the water flowed into the cisterns through canals, they are mentioned as “Tzipori gutters” in the Talmud language.

As for the cisterns, we know from various sources that towards the end of summer the cistern’s water dwindled and their quality decreased. The inhabitants were forced to use the water aqueduct to fill the cisterns. When the water in the aqueduct diminished, the residents used Tzipori springs located 2.4 kilometers south of the city and carried water using donkeys.

Let me provide a real-life perspective w.r.t. water supply, and I will illustrate calculations using two different perspectives. The first perspective – I mentioned that in some cases during the summer, bringing water from Tzipori springs was carried out with the help of donkeys. Suppose each donkey makes say 10 journeys each day, and carries 48 litters each time, so each donkey can provide in one day 10 journeys X 48 liters = 480 liters of water, and if 40 donkeys were engaged, then 480 x 40 equals 19 cubic meters in one day. In the Acropolis, the average capacity of a cistern is 47 cubic meters, so it will take just over 2 days for 40 donkeys to fill a single cistern.

A second perspective with a holistic urban view and not focused on the Acropolis – the area of the city was 600 dunams or 150acres. It was found that Tzipori had approx. 2,800 cisterns, for simplicity let’s assume there is an even distribution of cisterns and population, so per dunam there were 2800/600 = 4.65 cisterns/dunam and 30 residents/dunam, so each person had a little over 7 cubic meters of water per year. The calculation is – 47 cubic meters (average cistern capacity) X 4.65 cisterns / dunam divided into 30 residents / dunam = and the result is that each person had a little over 7 cubic meters of water per year. It’s interesting that the data from Jerusalem of the 19th century is similar to the consumption of Tzipori 1600 years earlier, yet on the other hand, the average consumption in Israel today is 58 cubic meters per capita per year, meaning approx. eight times compare to two hundred or 1800 years ago.

As said, without water there is no life. A combination of (1) the large reservoir with the shaft tunnel, (2) the pool aqueduct with the Mashhad pool and arches reservoirs combined with the cisterns throughout Tzipori and (3) Tzipori springs – all 3 addressed Tzipori water needs. Hopefully I was able to give a different perspective regarding water supply to the city of Tzipori and especially to the resident of the Acropolis. As usual we will end with a question – which king in the kingdom of Judea was famous for building cisterns – the answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Information Sources

  1. Book: Ariel: Journal for the Knowledge of the Land of Israel - Tzipori and Its Surroundings, Editor: Eli Schiller, Publisher: Ariel
  2. Article: Innovations in the study of the ancient water system of Tzipori, Author: Dr. Tzvika Tzuk, Chief Archaeologist, Nature and Parks Authority

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