Holy Land The Israeli Experience Magazine

Hezekiah's Tunnel in the City of David

The tour at the elaborate water system underneath the City of David is a fascinating experience
by: Meirav Amitai Chohen   |   12.03.2012
A trip to Hezekiah's Tunnel or Siloam Tunnel (Nikbat HaShiloah) underneath the City of David is like travelling back in time. Going back into the past through the receding light, the narrowing passageways and this underground stillness, transfers the visitors back in time to that fascinating piece of history which connects with the Jerusalem of the surface.

A complex engineering feat

Everything began in 701 BCE when Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, put a siege around Jerusalem. The intelligence obtained by Hezekiah, the Judean king, was probably very good, as he was ready with specific plans for defending the city of Jerusalem from its attackers. He strengthened the fortifications around the city and surrounded the new neighborhoods that were built in it with walls. He also made sure to maintain the city’s strategic resources and made certain that its residents will not thirst. He thus diverted the water of the Gihon Spring into a pool which he constructed inside the city’s walls in the southern part of the city. The act of blocking the springs around the city of Jerusalem, including that of the Gihon, was a very smart move, as it aimed at depriving the Assyrian forces of drinking water and thus making them weaker in battle. The diverting of the water flow was accomplished by digging a tunnel that stretched along 533 meters through an amazing engineering operation, while digging it from both directions at the same time. The proud diggers who completed this task documented it in details in an ancient Hebrew inscription which was discovered in 1880, about 6 meters before the tunnel’s exit point.

Wet fun

One arrives at Nikbat HaShiloah after experiencing the City of David, a gem which was revealed to the archeologists piece by piece. The small enchanted hill that is located near the Western Wall offers its visitors a taste of the city of kings and prophets, the place in which most of the chapters of the Hebrew Bible were written. Very symbolically, one can access this place only by walking – entering through the Dung Gate (Sha'ar Ha'ashpot) which is located near the Western Wall, turning left and then immediately right, just like in the past when there were no cars. The entrance to the tunnel is through the City of David’s visitor center and one can combine the visit here with a guided tour in the City of David which takes about three hours or do an independent tour which takes about 40 minutes.

The tour begins with an exciting 3D film, continues to a magnificent observation point over the city, passes by ancient walls and fortifications, reveals new discoveries in the excavations, such as the ruling center and the "palace” – an impressive structure from the time of the kings of Judea, and descends into the underground water tunnels which lead to the Warren's Shaft and to the Spring Tower, and then to a dip in the water of the Gihon Spring. Toward the end you can decide whether to walk with flashlights in the enchanted Hezekiah's Tunnel or in the dry Canaanite Tunnel. In Nikbat HaShiloah you must walk in cool water and the tunnel’s ceiling is pretty low in some of its sections. Thus tall people will have to bend down in order to keep from getting bruised. The children, on the other hand, will have the advantage.

Walking in the narrow tunnel gives students a real learning experience but even more than that, connects all visitors to the past, to underground Jerusalem. Not the spiritual one of the Jewish Temple and the priests but that of the regular people, the residents of the city who lived in between sieges, from one threat to another. The idea is not that unfamiliar.

We finish this wet experience with a short but steep ascent through the alleys to the visitor center and the parking lot where you will meet drivers who will offer to take you to the exit point for a symbolic charge of 5 NIS. The tour is ideal for the hot spring and summer days but also for the cooler seasons when the more daring of the visitors will decide to enter the tunnel and the more conservative will enjoy the archeological remains of the fascinating city above. The temperature outside will probably help you make up your mind.

Make sure to bring with you:
Shoes suitable for walking in water
A change of clothes

Important information:
- It is recommended to only enter the tunnel from the age of 5 and up as the water reaches a depth of about 70 cm.
- Those of you who get claustrophobic – think twice whether you want to go into these tight and dark tunnels.
- The site includes a great number of stairs. Walking here takes effort and is not suitable for pregnant women or the physically unwell. It is recommended to consult with the guides here in order to join a suitable tour.
- You can bring babies into the tunnel only in a front carrier.
- One should book a tour in advance.
- For additional information: 972-206268700 or *6033.
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