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Byzantine fountain and pools discovered in Israel

Byzantine fountain and pools discovered in Israel

A ceremony was held last month to commemorate the opening of Ein Hanniya Park in Jerusalem, attended by various religious and political officials, including the directors general of the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The site of Ein Hanniya after Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Administration work. Photo: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority

Excavations at the site uncovered a large and impressive system of pools from the Byzantine period (4th–6th centuries CE), a fragment of a capital typical of royal structures and estates in the First Temple period and a rare silver coin from the 4th century BCE, one of the most ancient ever found in the Jerusalem area.

These remarkable and significant finds were unearthed in Israel Antiquities Authority excavations at the site of Ein Hanniya between 2012 and 2016.  The park will open to the public in the coming months. The excavations, which were carried out as part of the establishment of the park, were financed by the Jerusalem Development Authority in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and were accompanied by conservation and development work by the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Conservation Administration.

Pottery vessels used by inhabitants in the Byzantine period. Photo: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

The excavations were headed by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists Irina Zilberbod and Yaakov Billig, under the direction of the Jerusalem district archaeologist, Dr. Yuval Baruch.

The park was dedicated this morning at a planting ceremony with the participation of Minister of Environmental Protection, Jerusalem and Heritage Ze’ev Elkin, The Grand Sacristan of the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Jerusalem, His Eminence Archbishop Sevan Gharibian, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Jerusalem Development Authority Director General Eyal Haimovsky, Israel Nature and Parks Authority Director General Shaul Goldstein and Israel Antiquities Authority Director General Israel Hasson.

According to Irina Zilberbod, the excavation director for the Israel Antiquities Authority: “The most significant finding in the excavation is a large and impressive pool from the Byzantine period. This pool was built in the center of a spacious complex at the foot of a church that once stood here. Roofed colonnades were built around the pool that gave access to residential wings.” According to Zilberbod: “It’s difficult to know what the pool was used for – whether for irrigation, washing, landscaping or perhaps as part of baptismal ceremonies at the site.” The pool’s water drained through a network of channels to a magnificent and very special structure, the first of its kind known in Israel – a fountain (nymphaeon).”

Settlement in the area of Ein Hanniya apparently began at the time of the First Temple and perhaps even earlier. The most outstanding find from this period uncovered in the excavation is a fragment of a proto-Ionic capital – an artistic element typical of structures and estates of the kings of the First Temple period. The image of such a capital appears on the Israeli 5-shekel coin. Similar capitals have been found in the City of David in Jerusalem, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, and at Ramat Rahel, where one of the palaces of the kings of Judah was found. Such capitals were also found in Samaria, Megiddo and Hazor, which were major cities in the Kingdom of Israel. According to the archaeologists, the site at Ein Hanniya may have been a royal estate at the time of the First Temple. After the destruction of the First Temple, settlement was renewed at the site in the form of an estate house that was inhabited by Jews.

Rare silver coin from the 4th century BCE, one of the most ancient ever discovered in the Jerusalem area. Photo: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

The most significant find from this period is a rare silver coin, one of the most ancient so far discovered in the Jerusalem area – a drachma, minted in Ashdod by Greek rulers between 420 and 390 BCE.

The coins, pottery, glass, roof tiles and multicolored mosaic tesserae from the Byzantine period unearthed in the excavation attest to the fact that it was during this period (4th–6th centuries CE) that the site reached its zenith. According to Jerusalem District Archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch: “We believe that some early Christian commentators identified Ein Hanniya as the site where the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized, as described in Acts 8:26–40. The baptism of the eunuch by St. Philip was one of the key events in the spread of Christianity. Therefore, identifying the place where it occurred occupied scholars for many generations and became a common motif in Christian art. It’s no wonder that part of the site is still owned by Christians and is a focus of religious ceremonies, both for the Armenian Church (which owns the property) and the Ethiopian Church.”

The Jerusalem Development Authority, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority undertook conservation and development work at the site over the past few years. The result is an extraordinarily beautiful site incorporating archaeology, an ancient landscape and a unique visitor experience. The conservation work was carried out by a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Administration. The team was headed by conservator Fuad Abu Ta’a, with architectural planning by architects Avi Mashiah and Yehonatan Tzahor. The work included restoration of the ancient water systems, which are now functioning once again. The original spring that fed the pool discovered in the excavation had dried up over the years, and major efforts were invested in channeling water from the existing spring to replenish the pools. The work revealed additional water sources under an impressive stone arch whose surroundings have been restored as a shallow wading spot.

A great deal of attention was paid to restoring the imposing fountain structure (nymphaeon), including cleaning and replacing stones in its façade based on historic photographs and paintings.

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