I start the sequence with the “El-kas”, the outlet of the passage way in the southern part of the big courtyard.
1. (8 and 30) Near the El-kas, in the west there is a cistern of mediocre size in form of a T. The horizontal beam lies from west to east and is about 15,00m long and 5m wide, the vertical beam is only 6 m long and also 5m wide. Its bottom lies 13,00m under the surface of the Haram place. The cistern takes up to 9,00m of water. Over this cistern runs the water passage so she can be served by it. It most likely served already in old times as the collecting bank for all the incoming water.
2. (6) East from the El-kas and near to the first one there is a similar formed, but much smaller cistern called “Bir Saru”, which means “cypress well”. The meaning refers most likely to the cypresses standing around the El-kas. Its position as well as the fact, that the cistern lies in the same line with the first, implies maybe a similar purpose as number 1. It’s from west to east 10,00m long and 5,00m wide and the vertical part going to the south is 5,00m long, and 3,50m wide. In both cisterns is the smaller part going to south about 4,80m less deep than the rest. This could imply that in former times there maybe were some stairs. I am convinced that how ever this was done, the water from cistern No. 1 was passed to the inner temple place and further to the brazen sea was, and the water of number two could be sent into No. 28 and along to the women’s vestibule. Both are carved from the rock.
3. (8) South of the last one, after only 5.50m the so-called little sea begins. It’s called “Bir-Behair” and was completely carved directly from the rock, with four holes to draw water, and an access with a stair leading down. Five pillars of rock were kept probably to support the ceiling against heavy loads. Its form is basically square but with many corners and nooks. Its length is about 40,00m long, 30,00m wide and 14,00m deep. The water level can rise up to 11,50m as the ceiling is only 2,5m thick. This cistern can keep up to 12.000m³. The stair has 50 steps and the access from outside is at the northern wall of the “repairers shop”, next to the Aksa.
4. (7) Following further east, in the distance of 12,50m of the last one begins the “Bir el Aswad” which means the black one. I don’t know why it’s called so, maybe because of its depth. This cistern was carved as well from the rock in the form of a distorted E. Its main part lies from south to north slightly bent and is 36,00m long and 6,00m wide at an average. The three arms extend to the east. The southern one, running orthogonal is 17,40m long and 5,30m wide in the average. 10,00m further north the two other arms extend in an obtuse angle and in the direction of northeast. They are 22,00m long and together 18,00m wide but separated by two pillars of 7,00m length and about 2,00m wide. Its bottom lies 19,50m under the surface of the Haram. This cistern can keep11,00m high water or about 8000m³of water. Its ceiling, which was also cut from the rock and about 7,00m thick, has two orifices to draw water. They are in 5,20m distance from another, which were in former times combined with a slash probably containing a scoop wheel. But this slit has been closed apart from the two orifices by which water can be drawn with the help of buckets. Some stairs leading down were not found so far, maybe it was immured and thus made invisible. This cistern stood in connection with the others but not nowadays. The four cisterns described so far lie under the outer part of the temple or the so called heathen vestibule.
5. (11) 8,00m south of the last one we find “Bir El Chadder”, meaning the cistern of the Saint George (or also Elias). Its form resembles No. 4, an E. It seems as if this form was once fairly popular as I found it elsewhere. The advantage of this form is the support of the ceiling without leaving isolated pillars, which was often problematic because of the strata of the rock and cracks within. The main arm runs from north to south and is 32,00m long and 6,00m wide. The orthogonal extending arms are 13,00m long and 8,40m wide. Their ceilings are vaulted. The bottom of this cistern lies 22,00m under the surface, but it can keep only 10,00m high water or 5.000m³ of water. Its rock ceiling is only 3,00m thick and lies directly under the “threefold gate” (which are 4,50m and 5,00m high and also vaulted). At the western wall of the main part there are long stairs to the bottom of the cistern. Its access is next to the orifice in the east of the repairer’s shop of the Aksa.
6. (10) 30,00m south of the last one lies “Bir Charbane”, meaning the damaged or broken cistern. This is probably a modern name as with most of the others as well. Its form resembles a reversed P or the number 9. Its length is 33,00m and it’s mainly 5,00m wide but at its widest 10,00m. It’s situated 16,00m under the surface. It’s also carved from the rock and can keep 12,00m high water. Its wide head lies directly west of the threefold gate, from where the water passage leads to it and a second one outside the gate runs in order to lead the flush. When all so far described cisterns were full, the second passage could run either through a channel to the east or else to this one. If this one was also full the water could run into the Kidron. The main direction of the cistern lies in the northeast. Its water was kept in times of the Jewish kings for their Palace, as it lied here once. (See above at the Temple)
7. (33) North of the Aksa, outside, under and beneath the access to the twofold gate, there is the “Bir ed-Darasch Aksa” cistern, meaning the “Aksa stair well”. It’s round with a diameter of 4,00m and a 2,00m long and 1,50m wide recess. It represents a small cistern, carved from the rock and 8,00m deep. Apart from its form she is nothing special.
8. (9) It’s followed by “Bir El Warak”, or leaf well. Its name it owes probably to its form, which resembles a leaf with a stem. It lies under the north eastern part of the Aksa. This is why the orifice is right within the mosque. The cistern without the stem is 18,00m long and at its widest 12,00m wide and is rounded to both sides. The wider part is directed to the north. In its middle there is a 1,50m wide and 10,00m long slit, slightly bent to north and fairly deep, thus being the stem of the leaf. This cut reaches very near to cistern no. 3, thus most likely being the former connection between the two cisterns, but closed nowadays. The bottom of this cistern follows the strata of the rock, thus descending slightly to the south. At the position of the orifice she is 13,50m underneath the floor of the Aksa mosque and can take up water to a height of 6,20m. Its rock roof is 2,50m thick and on it lies another 4,00m of soil. In the middle of the big room, the leaf, there is an isolated square pillar of 1,80m per side to support the ceiling being not vaulted but more less even, according to the seams of the rock.
9. (32) Further south of the last one, but also under the Aksa mosque there is a smaller cistern, the “Bir EL-Aksa”. Its form is square of 4,50m of length and 2,00m of width and of moderate depth. It’s stonewalled and not cut from the rock. It was probably the filter pond for the big one, which was vaulted later when the Aksa was built and thus made cistern.
10. (20) Westward from the Aksa and outside the eastern wall of the Mograbi mosque (ref. p. 271) there is the “Bir EL Mograbi” cistern, meaning cistern of the Mograbis or of the west African Mohammedan. It’s stonewalled and not carved from rock, square, with about 17m of length, 12m of width and 10m of depth, thus keeping up to 7 m high water. It has in equal distance two mighty pillars, which support six cross vaults of the ceiling in combination with the walls.
The cistern was built earliest from Herodes or rather the Romans, yet I believe later from the Christians, induced by the older subterranean walls that there were. The place is beyond the old Salamonic temple, which Herodes closed.
11. (19) North of the last one there is the “Bir Sabil Abu Saud”, the well of father Saud. This is a very old building, which was transformed later by Moslems or father Saud into a cistern. It has two wings, being orthogonal to each other. The wing directed from west to east is 5,25m wide and 11,40m long. The other5,00m wide and 11,50m long. The square that is built by the two wings is covered by a round vault and the orifice. On top of this is a small also vaulted house or a “Sabil”. Both wings are covered by barrel vaults. This cistern is nothing other than the way of the so-called stair gate by Josephus at the second temple. The gate still exists, and is part of the subterranean mosque El Burak. The continuation of the gateway is parted by a wall. Thus the inner part was transformed into the described cistern and this was done by the Moslems. When Omar took Jerusalem by capitulation, he still could walk up this way with the patriarch Sophronius, although “water came down over the stairs”. This gathering of water in case of rain probably induced them to transfer part of the former staircase into a cistern. Only part of it, because Omar wanted to go up to build a mosque.
12. (30) North of the last stairs and just in front of the central western staircase to the platform there is the “Bir Sabil Kait Bey” cistern, the water place of prince Kait. It begins 22,00m west-wards from the wall of the platform and continues westwards for 30,25m and 5,50m wide. It ruptures the old temple wall and continues another 4,40m beyond it. Its bottom lies 11,00m under the floor of the Haram. It’s stonewalled, though I assume near the eastern end also rock and maybe also the bottom, which cannot be said, as there was concrete put over it. The ceiling is a semicircle barrel vault made from big finely carved stones without seam. From the west, from a neighbouring house leads a staircase down to the cistern, of more modern origin. This cistern is without doubt the most northern of the original four western temple gates (One of the two leading to the suburbs; see above). The staircase went most likely in orthogonal way up as in No. 10, but is now closed in.
13. (31) Northeast from the last, also 52,00m away, in a small garden in front of the western platform wall, is a small round cistern I didn’t get a name for. It lies 11,00m under the surface, only the bottom part is carved from the rock, the rest is stonewalled.
14. (23) Further north, near the outside of the northwest corner of the platform, next to the stairs there is “Bir Sabil Schaloms”. It’s oval, 5,00m and 4,00m its diameter, completely cut from rock and 11,00m deep. Above the orifice there is everywhere bare rock.
15. (22) Northwest from the last and 48,00m away, near the western halls, in a way that part of it lies underneath those halls, there is “Bir Schech Achdär” (the tomb of the Schech is nearby) cistern. It’s a big but peculiarly formed cistern, completely carved from rock and consisting of three different cisterns but combined together. There is one facing south, round with a diameter of 11,00m and one orifice in the middle over which a small vaulted Sabil house was built.
From this round cistern leads a very high but only 1,50m wide and 2,60m long way north to the next one. The second one has two walls orthogonally to each other, extending south and west. The two other walls (east and north) were built in curvaceous lines, and alongside lead stairs also carved from the rock and also curvaceous. In the middle of the ceiling there is an orifice which has been closed now.
Where the curvaceous wall meets the strait one, running westwards, there is another opening, a wide and very high arch of rock, leading to the third cistern. Its form is oval with 13,00m and 7,25m as the diameters. Its orifice in the middle has also been closed.
The bottom of this threefold cistern lies 11,00m deep. Its cover of rock is enormously thick. The entrance to the stair is a square opening. Its floor shows all different forms of rock and is usually covered by one single stone plate.
16. (18) Little further north, near the corner where the halls end, there is “Bir Es-Sarai”, the “cistern of the Sarai gate”. It’s a small, round cistern of only 3,25m in diameter and 12,00m deep. Most likely it derives from the same time as No. 14, probably from the Makkabeans and was carved completely from the rock. This happened after the Baris rock was already bared. It’s also possible that she had connection with the northern water passage, which was later closed after the decay of the water carriage.
17. (27) This is a very old cistern from the time of David or Jebusites. It had originally the form of a bottle and was carved from the Baris hill. But when the Makkabeans excavated the hill half of it was damaged. With the erection of a wall she was transformed in a smaller cistern and was re-paired. The wall was kept open to grant an access. It’s in moderate height in the rock bank. Nowadays there are barracks built on top of it and the side entrance was closed.
18. (35) East from the last and counting from the west, in the fourth of the halls of the Haram there is another small cistern excavated from the rock. Up to now I don’t know anything about mass, size, form or depth of it. There they keep burial equipment of the Moslems. Therefore the access is not always given.
19. (26) About in the middle of the place in eastwards direction, but rather at the northern of the bordering, in a small garden belonging to a house there, you find a small 5,00m long, 3,00m wide and 6,00m deep cistern in square from. It had been stonewalled in the rubble: “Bir Bab-Hotta” called after the so-called near gate in western direction.
20. (16./17. Because of two water orifices) This cistern lies east of the one before and south of the west end of Birket Israel or on the opposite side of the traditional Bethesda, and within the Haram. It’s very peculiar and had been completely stonewalled within the rubble. I couldn’t find out about its name.
According to its plan it’s completely square: 19,00m long and 17,00m wide. In its middle there are four powerful cross pillars (two in each line), which divide the irrigated area into nine zones, two storeys high building bow onto bow and above all nine cross vaults where you can find the two water orifices. Without doubt this has once been a house with two floors. It most likely was becoming underground by the filling up of Herodes who added this northern area to the temple area. By filling up the valley like lowland he enlarged the place we nowadays find in the Haram. It’s likely that the house was transferred in a cistern by these early days in order to supply water for the outer parts of the temple courtyard. The surface of the cistern is even today the lowest of the place so that any water that flows by from three sides will flow into the cistern. Even more there is a channel supplying the overflowing water from other places and the general tap as well. Should this large cistern should run full the water flows into the “Birket Israel”.
21. (21) East from the previous and little south of the Halls we find the “Bir bab el Asbat”, the cistern of the gate of all tribes (The gate is not far away). The cistern is also square with 7,50m length and 3,50m width. It had been stonewalled into the rubble and lies only 6,50m deep. On top of the cistern there is a big “Mastabeh” or place for prayer, which is the only one in the northeast area. Some trees you can also find there.
22. (28) South from the one before and near to north-eastern corner of the “platform” there is a round Cistern, called “Bir el Hanisch”, the dragons well. It has 3,50m in diameter and is completely cut out from the surrounding rock. She has a lot of rubble inside and therefore I cannot tell its depth exactly. I measured about 8,00m, but I assume for sure 10,00m to 12,00m. East from it there are to round pits, like some ponds as reservoirs for rain water collection. From there it can be sent by channels to the following cisterns. This is a rather modern installation, which was definitely done by the Moslems.
23. (15) East from the last and west from the golden gate there is the Bir bab et Tobe”, the cistern of repentance. Its round, with 5,80m diameter and 11,00m deep. It can be filled up to 6,00m high with water. Its lower part was carved out of the rock, but the upper part was stonewalled and vaulted. It’s not terribly interesting.
24. (14) South of the one before follows the “Bir ed Derwisch” cistern. It was entirely cut from the rock, square, and 9,00m deep. She is 11,00m long and 10,00m wide. She is parted in two parts, by two rock bulkheads, to support the ceiling, thus building a double cistern. The rock emerges to light at this and the following two.
25. (14)This one lies south of the last and is called “Bir el Hammame” cistern, or the “dove well”. It has the form of a bottle, with an almost square bottom and an inlay of 9,50m length, 8,00m wide and 10,50m deep. Nearing the top end it’s reducing massively into the “mouth” (as the Arabs call all the orifices).
26. (12) Still more south affiliates the “Bir esch Schech” cistern, or the one of the chief. This cistern has most likely been last restored by a chief as it’s very old. The last three cisterns lay in the vestibule of the temple. The actual one offered in old times also the entrance from this side, as the rock declines a lot in direction east. This kind of entrance proves the old age of the cistern. These entrances were usual in old Canaanite times, thus proving their age. Those cisterns were all carved from the rock in the slope. This one had been substituted by stonewalls wherever the rock was lacking, such as walls and ceiling. Then the entrance was closed. It’s square with 16,50m length 6,80m wide and 14,00m deep.
27. This cistern on my plan No. 27, had been discovered and explored by me only, therefore it has no name. It was covered and unknown. She also is cut from the rock and was once an alley from west to east. It now is 22,00m long and 3,00m wide and, as the floor was not even, between 8,40m and 7,50m deep. Most likely it built the connection between the cisterns under the platform and the earlier mentioned east cisterns. At the east end it has a round expansion of 5,00m diameter, containing once a winding staircase. Most of the bottom stairs are still there. This cistern extends until right under the platform and just above run the stairs from nowadays large, but low courtyard onto the platform. These stairs were built by mounting them on a wall of a little protruding house.
28. (5) South of the last cistern and near the southeast corner of the platform, there is a door concealed by a lot of rubble, like buried into the rubble. From east there run some stairs down to it. When you pass the door, you enter a staircase 1,40m wide and 5,25m long, leading westwards downstairs to kind of a seat or bench, from where the staircase continues orthogonal in a width of 1,80m in direction north, with a 0,40m wide handrail also cut from the rock, another 12,00m long and 5,30m deep along the wall of rock, ending in a very large cistern. Captain Warren called it “well of the scroll”. I was told its name was Bir Rommane, meaning cistern at the pomegranate. Maybe there was once such a tree near the entrance. But maybe it means also the Roman well. Its form is bizarre. You might call it a cross, with a foot on one side and half a crossbeam on one side. Alternatively you could call its form an anchor with one lacking arm (See table X, fig. 3). Without the stairs it’s 54,50m long and 4,60m wide. The two arms in northern direction are 9,00m respectively 10,00m long, the one running in southern direction 14,00m long. All three arms are 4,00m wide. The western one reduces in southern direction, it’s crooked and 17,00m long. The depth as measured from the bottom of the platform is 15,00m, near the staircase about 11,80m. This is because the surface of the courtyard is 3,20m lower as the platform. The Jews call this cistern “Bir of the children from the jail”. They narrate, that after the return from Babel, the cistern was unearthed by the returnees. This is possible, because of its minor width compared to its length imply, that at its construction to the accommodation of existing or planned buildings were apparently made allowances, in order to avoid the undermining of its walls. After my presentation of the temple the (nowadays) entrance to the cistern was in the “Chel”, in the eastern wall of the the women courtyard surrounding building and ran along this building to the house called “Gazith”. Nowadays the cistern has only two orifices: one on the platform, the other outside near the entrance. In former times it had some other which have been shut down meanwhile. In particular in the western corner, where an extra niche was built for it. This one together with another in 6,50m distance in southern direction served for the Persian wheel in the “Wheel Parlour”, which provided water for the inner vestibule. The long and narrow arm of this cistern was the connection to cistern No. 2 and to the culvert running from Etham. On the platform there are apart from this one the following cisterns:
29. (34) The “Bir-es-Suaneh” (i.e. well of the fire stone) rather far to the north, already near the northeast corner. Its plan could be called kidney-shaped. To put it clearer a double cistern, consisting of two round cistern which are connected by a short aisle, which is nevertheless 3,40m wide. Each cistern has an orifice. The one which is situated south is completely round with a diameter of 8,20m; the other one further north is rather oval with 10m and 7m for diameters. Both cisterns are 14,80m deep and cut take up water up to 11,50m. They were completely carved from the rock, even their ceilings are from rock, though carved as low vaults. Immediate next to this one is located:
30. (2) The “Bir-El_Asafir”, meaning “well of the birds”, though I cannot say why it’s called like that. Its plan shows a regular square, of 10,50m length and width. Connected with this cistern in southern and northern direction are niches of 24,00m² to 25,00m². It’s 14,00m deep and can be filled with water up to 10,30m. It also was carved completely from the rock, with a flat ceiling and an orifice in the middle. Formerly it was most likely connected to the other cisterns in the neighbourhood by channels along the top brim. In western direction follows:
31. (1) Immediately north of the “Koppet-es-Sachra” mosque, lies the “Bir-el-Dschinne” or paradise well, called according to the near gate of the Sachra mosque. Its plan shows a rectangular of 41m length from north to south, along the west wall of the Haram (not the platform) and parallel to the inner temple. It’s 7,40m wide and 12,50m deep, thus able to take up 9,00m of water. The pool was carved from the rock, but is only 9,60m deep in the south and only 7,00m in the north, where the rock is more low-level. It lacks increment with masonry. The cistern is covered by a semicircle barrel vault. The southern end is 6,00m wide and the floor rises like a bench, 1,20m high. Why and for what end, I cannot see, but maybe a channel runs beneath from west to east. The cistern has now two orifices. English officers reckoned that it ran still further north. They may be right, but I draw the conclusion from the askew north end, that north of it the now buried hallway of the priests to the gate Tadi passed. Other authors take the cistern itself for it, something I consider as most unlikely. Its bottom is too deep. Why should have been applied such a height, 10,00m, and such a width, 7,40m, for an ordinary hallway which only few people used? Other hallways for larger crowds, such as the double or threefold gate, were never that high and only little wider. To the referred use 3,00m height and 2,00m width were more than sufficient. Therefore this space was certainly always a cistern. In times of the Templars above were washing rooms.
32. (3) About 16,00m westwards from this last cistern is the “Bir-esch-Schech”, or well of the chieftain (or maybe a saint, as such a man might have lived in a neighbouring building, ref. p. 256). In any case this name is a newer one. To describe this cistern is difficult, as strictly speaking they are three or four cisterns combined to a single one. Its general direction runs south southwest to north northeast. I start with the southern end. First there is a rectangular cistern of 12,00m length, 8,00m width and 13,00m deep. It’s entirely carved from the rock and in its southwest corner an extension like a niche 2,00m deep and 5,00m wide. The cistern, with the extension is vaulted. Near the niche there is the orifice fixed. In the northern wall two gate like but not very high openings guide you to two other cisterns. The one to the eastern side is 15,50m long, throughout 3,60m wide and 13,00m deep, including the gate like opening. Both narrow ends are askew and it’s completely carved from the rock. The complete northern side is carved from the rock including the ceiling, nowadays without an orifice. The western part of this cistern is built by a 1,65m thick and 16,00m long rock wall. In the middle of this wall there is a 3,00m to 4,00m high door like opening. If you pass through this opening you arrive at another cistern. It’s similar to the one before, slightly shorter. It’s in average 13,50m long and 4,50m wide. It’s also completely carved from the rock and also without an orifice. The door like openings connects this cistern with the other two. In its west wall there is a 3,00m wide and obviously later penetrated gate. This gate guides to a formerly independent, quadrangular cistern. Its plan is not rectangular, as the east side measures 6,40m, the west side 8,00m, the south side 4,80m and the north side7,60m. It was also carved from the rock and 1,20m deeper than the others. Its cover is only partly rock, the most part is vaulted masonry. In the middle is the orifice, which is usually used to access the cistern and climb down if there is something to do within.
This site was already identified as baths of the priests, which is a completely unsustainable theory. There is nowhere neither a staircase, nor an access to the depth and the water can be filled 9,00m high, how could there ever priests take a bath? Even if the swam in it, how did they come out again? And where should the used water go? But a swimming pool with always the same water for all times is unthinkable in the Jewish legislature. The bath was most likely in the neighbourhood and used the water of this cistern, but it had first to be scooped! The English engineer Warren describes the cistern as follows: “There are three chambers isolated from each other by pillars, but connected by low door openings and I believe it’s the bath which was connected to the “Beth Moked” and the Tadi gate” (Recovery of Jerusalem, London 1871, p. 206). This description is a lot shorter than mine, and when mine was read, easy understandable. But without it the reader could only deduce: “there is a water container with different departments and could have been used as a bath”. From my more precise description emanates the conclusion that this couldn’t have been the building of the bath itself.
33. (25) It follows the “Bir Abdallah”, implying “well of the Messiah servant”. It’s so-called after the last one to restore it. This cistern is located south west from the last described and south of the “Mosque of the prophet” near to the Koppet “Mirach” (s. above). It’s small, round, 11,50m deep and has only a diameter of 4,00m. It lower part was carved from the rock the rest is done with masonry, also the vaulted cover.
34. (4) South of the one before and close to the platform stairs is the “Bir ed-Dschura”, or well of the pit, according to the large, hollowed, lying stone. This is nothing other than an old Christian baptistery and now used as a water skid. It’s of oval form, with diameters of 4,00m and 3,50m. Towards east there is an extension of 2,20m width and 4,80m length. The side parts of this extension end in what reminds of the tail of a swallow. The cistern was completely carved from the rock and 6,30m deep. Further up there is a square shaft of 1,40m width and 6,00m height which is masoned (of which is 2,50m old masonry and 3,50m new one). This adds to a total depth of 12,30m. According to my opinion was the excavation rather a hidden treasury. One should keep in mind, that the temple house stood next to it and from the lower floor might have been a hidden access, from where on could have descended there.
Last should be told about a tiny, with only 0,15m water level not deep cistern (not mentioned in the plan). The lower part was carved from the rock the rest is masonry, outside the platform under the southeast corner situated. Above it was the meanwhile decayed mosque “Kaschane” (ref. p. 260)
c. Final comments on cisterns
In the barracks, where once the castle “Antonia” stood, there are also another couple of cisterns. They are also old and carved from the rock, but their dimensions are unknown to me. Basically they don’t belong to the temple place (No. 35,36). There are also some pools, outside the enclosure wall of the place. Once they were part of the moat, but now all of them were filled up or covered, apart from the Birket Israel. Later I will talk about it in more detail.
Only 25 years ago many of the known cisterns within the Harem were in decay and couldn’t keep water anymore. In very rain-laden winters a large amount of water was therefore collected in the Harem, which was used in summer.
Now I have listed all known cisterns of the Haram and described them briefly. I am convinced though that there are more buried in the rubble, which might be discovered some time later, as well as subterranean rooms or chambers. There are some places where the rubble is deep, and where nobody knows whether this is all filled up soil, or if there are vaults or other rooms hidden beneath. This is the case in some places, e.g. between the double and threesome gate, also south an especially North of the golden gate, as I strongly believe.
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