JERUSALEM-the 50 sites you may overlook

In a historic and religious city like Jerusalem there is so much to see no matter how much you tour. When time is a limiting factor, even the most efficient tour guides have to compromise while deciding what to incorporate in the itinerary. Although it depends on the interest of the individual visitor as well, there is still a huge must-see-list in Jerusalem that cannot be avoided. At every stop so much information is thrown on a visitor that sometimes s/he tends to forget the details after leaving the place.

I remember when I first visited the Church of Holy Sepulcher, it appeared to me more like a small museum than a church. I was virtually clueless inside a dark and dull overcrowded massive complex of more than 25 chapels with several curious artifacts and antiques scattered under some dusky arches and dingy columns. It took me at least three visits with a proper map in hand to understand the Church complex. A normal visitor for instance would be satisfied with Golgotha, the ‘Stone of Unction’ and the ‘Holy Sepulcher’, but the oldest part of the complex, viz. the first century tombs inside the Syrian Orthodox Chapel could be easily missed.

In the upcoming posts I plan to upload 50 such sites from Jerusalem that I believe can be easily overlooked or go unnoticed by an average visitor. I am incorporating the following sites from my previous visits, again with no specific order of importance. I am sure that a serious traveler who loves history, traditions and the Bible has noticed or been to most of them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

8. Pool of Hezekiah/ Patriarch’s Pool/ Amygdalon Pool/ Pillar Pool/ Birket Hammam al-Batrak (1st Century BC?)



 All photos taken on 17 July, 2009 from the Phasael Tower, Tower of David (the Citadel).


Every day hundreds of tourists walk through the Christian Quarter Road (Derek HaNotsrim) between the Jaffa Gate and the Church of Holy sepulcher without realizing that a section of the congested shops in the street borders a large rectangular pool. Known as the Hezekiah Pool it was supplied with water through a small aqueduct from another  pool called the Birkat Mamilla. According to Wikipedia the pool is 240 ft long by 140 ft wide and has a capacity to hold 11 million liters of water. Sadly, this ancient pool is almost sealed from outside world as there is no public access to it except through homes and shops. You can see from the first photo how near is the pool from the Holy Sepulcher Church and the Lutheran Church of Redeemer. The pool was turned into a local garbage dump and was in a very bad shape until it was cleaned recently.

The different names of the pool in one way take you through its unique history. Some believe Hezekiah Pool, is the Biblical ‘Conduit of the Upper Pool’ where the Assyrian King Sennacherib's field commander met the men of the Jewish King Hezekiah (Isaiah 36:2 and 2 Kings 18:17). For others it is the traditional pool of King Hezekiah (8th Century BC), "Hezekiah made a pool and a conduit and brought water into the city" (2 Kings 10:20)

Amygdalon Pool or Almond Tree Pool (Amygdalon in Greek is Almond) is where the tenth legion of Titus raised a ridge during the siege of Jerusalem (70 AD) according to Josephus (War 5: 468). The ‘Patriarch’s Pool’ (Pool of the Patriarch’s Bath), gets its name from the 12th Century Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, who owned the pool that also supplied water to the baths near Patriarchal Palace. Birket Hammam al-Batrak is an Arabic version of the Latin name of ‘Patriarch’s Pool’. The pool is sometimes called the ‘Pillar Pool’ or ‘Pool of Towers’ (Migdal in Hebrew is tower), probably due to its location near the monumental towers of Herod’s Palace in Jerusalem (the modern Citadel or Tower of David). 

It is generally believed that the pool is from the Herodian period (1st century BC), although no archaeological excavations have been conducted on the site. The pool was used until late 19th century and thereafter it became a garbage dump of the Old City of Jerusalem. Today, at least three different bodies claim ownership of the pool: the Islamic Waqf (who controls the Temple Mount), the Coptic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. Tons of garbage was disposed at the site for years and serious health hazards became a grave concern before the Jerusalem Municipality, the Environmental Protection Ministry and Jerusalem Development Authority decided to act with the three owners who share custody of the area in June 2011 through a NIS 3 million project. Thanks to their combined efforts, the Hezekiah Pool is clean now, so much that an International Musical concert was held at the venue on October, 2012. Tom Powers, a Jerusalem based tour guide is tracking the developments and has some excellent photographs of the pool here (see also the links in the article).

Accessibility and Location:
The original entrance into the pool is at the northwestern corner through a Coptic Khan (Aqabat Khan El-Aqbat), today part of a private residence and closed to public. There is an entrance through a shop located at 76 Christian Quarter Road, but it is meant for the worker’s who clean the pool (see 1 and 2 of Map). Anyway, to explore the pool you need to obtain permission from multiple owners and that isn't easy. The best way to see the pool is aerially from two locations, 1) Roof top of Petra Hostel near Jaffa Gate after paying a small fee (NIS 5) and, 2) Top of Phasael Tower of the Citadel (Tower of David), provided you have a good zoom lens.
Courtesy, Google Map

Friday, April 5, 2013

7. The 'Finger of Og' or the 'Herod's Pillar' (1st century BC?)



In the heart of downtown Jerusalem near the Russian compound, but not far from the Jaffa Gate of Old City there is an impressive artifact. A colossal 12 m (40 ft) long monolithic column made of Jerusalem Stone dating from the Second Temple Period lies there in a fenced trench. This cracked column was discovered in 1871. Archaeologists believe that the site used to be a quarry in ancient times and the column was abandoned since it was cracked during quarrying.

It is widely presumed that the column was meant for one of King Herod’s (1st century BC) colossal building projects in Jerusalem, probably for the colonnades of Jerusalem Temple itself. Alternate views suggest the column was meant for a building in the time of Theodosius I (4th century AD) or to support the roof of the magnificent 6th century ‘Nea Church’ of Jerusalem built by Justinian I.

An interesting legend associated with the pillar is that it represents the ‘finger bone of Og', King of Bashan. In Bible, Og was an Amorite giant-king of Bashan killed by Joshua (9:10). “King Og of Bashan was the last survivor of the giant Rephaites. His bed was made of iron and was more than thirteen feet long and six feet wide. It can still be seen in the Ammonite city of Rabbah” (Dueteronomy 3:11, NLT). Some assume that "the Amorite" mentioned in the Book of Amos refer to Og, “whose height was like the height of the cedars and whose strength was like the oaks” (Amos 2:9).

Location: At Shne’ur Kheshin Street, between the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Regional Police Headquarters of Jerusalem. The pillar is inside a trench just in front of the Police Headquarters. It takes only 10 minutes to walk from Jaffa Gate to the Russian Compound which lies approximately 1 km North West.

Date: December 17, 2009