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Water Reservoir Discovered from the First Temple Period

Archaeologists have found a rare and completely preserved cistern from the First Temple Mount period (1200-586 BC).  The cistern is located in the southern corner of the Western Wall, below ‘Robinson’s Arch’, in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel.

The underground reservoir dating back to the First Temple in Jerusalem found on the edge of the Temple Mount. (Israel Antiquities Authority, Vladimir Neychin)
The underground reservoir dating back to the First Temple in Jerusalem found on the edge of the Temple Mount. (Israel Antiquities Authority, Vladimir Neychin)

The finding has immense historical value.  As Eli Shukrun, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority states: “It is now absolutely clear that the Jerusalem’s water consumption during the First Temple period was not solely based on the output of the Gihon Spring, but that it also relied on public reservoirs”.

The theory that Jerusalem’s water supply during the First Temple period came exclusively from the Gihon Spring dominated the history books for centuries. For over 50 years, archaeologists searched for the cisterns, based on the biblical proverb in Isaiah 36 that states:  “Come out to me; and eat ye every one of his vine, and every one of his fig-tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his own cistern.”  This proverb was said by Rab-Shakeh, commander of Assyrian King Sennacherib’s army when he tried to convince Hezekiah, King of Judah, and the besieged inhabitants of Jerusalem to surrender.

Over the years archaeologists discovered many reservoirs from the Second Temple period, but none from the First Temple period. This strengthened the theory that donkeys were used to transport water from the Gihon spring located 800 meters away.

Archaeologist Eli Shukron and archaeology Prof. Ronny Reich discovered the cistern. It is 4.5 meters high, 5.5 meters wide, 12 meters in length and can hold about 250 cubic meters of water. The reservoir has a brown-yellow plaster characteristic of the First Temple period.  Shukron believes that as the excavations continue, similar cisterns will be found.  This is based on writings in the Book of Kings which describes the construction of the Temple by King Solomon.  The texts describe a “Copper Sea” – a huge water tank made of copper that was placed in the Temple’s courtyard that could contain approximately 120 cubic meters of water.

The newly discovered water reservoir sheds light into life in Jerusalem during the First Temple period.  The water was vital not only to those living in Jerusalem but also to the thousands of pilgrims that visited the city on the High Holy Days.