The recent road construction in Jerusalem already proved to be archaeologically fruitful. A huge cave discovered in the construction turned out to be a quarry for purity stone vessels, objects used by the priests of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. These type of stone vessels are recorded for instance in the “wedding miracle” of Jesus, when he turned water into wine. The water, according to the text, was kept in such stone containers: Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing.. (John 2:6).
This is quite an important discovery, which I already reported about (News From Jerusalem 2000-6), but as it turns out, the ongoing construction led to another discovery in this area. About 100 m east of the cave, the tractors hit a mosaic floor.
A salvage excavation of the site revealed a large Byzantine period complex, covering an area of 2770 sq m. The complex is an unknown monastery by any historical sources. It contains a church paved with a coloored mosaic floor, a public hall that functioned as a dinning room, stables, water reservoirs, and a cistern. Among items unearthed were a chancel screen, iron crosses and a beautiful marble altar.
The identity of the monastery is not known. In one of the rooms adjoining the dining room a dedication inscription was embedded in the mosaic floor. It states (in Greek): “In the days of Theodorus the presbyter and
hegomenon [priest and head of the monastery] and the monk Kiriakos, this work was done.” The identity of the persons mentioned in the inscription is unknown but by the style of the letters, the excavator, David Amit, suggests that it was made in the late 7th century CE, sometime after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem (636-638 AD). Such evidence is rare but not unknown, testifying to the continuation of Christian activity in the Holy Land also after the Muslim conquest. The complex is also believed to have been a rest stop for travelers and pilgrims. The Jerusalem-Jericho route was very busy in Byzantine days as pilgrims used it to go to the traditional baptismal site of Jesus near Jericho. The monastery had a huge water installation, far beyond the need of a few monks. A bath-house uncovered in the vicinity of the monastery, along with the huge water reservoirs, seems to suggest that the complex was meant to serve the pilgrims rather than the local monks.
Because lack of funds, the site is planned to be covered at the end of the excavation.and the monk Kiriakos, this work was done.””]
Ancient Tunnel opened for Tourists
In Roman days Jerusalem had an elaborate water system to supply water for the big city, needed especially during the high holidays (Pentacost, Passover and the feast of tabernacles). The water aqueducts of Jerusalem have been researched since the 19th century CE but only recently an underground section of the Biar Aqueduct has been opened to the public. It is the beginning of one of the two main aqueducts that runs in the form of a tunnel for its first 11 km, and ends in the old city of Jerusalem.
Hearing of it, I took my summer class of “Archaeology of Jerusalem” to visit the unique site. We had to wear special gear against the freezing water and the utter darkness, but as the picture shows, it was one of the highlights of the summer course. So mark this new site— the Biar Aqueduct – another “must” while visiting Israel.