City of David – Of Kingdoms and Water – Part II

A tour of the City of David

Given by Jon C., written by Deena Levenstein

The City of David
The City of David

Our tour of ancient Jerusalem began with a beautiful 360 degree view of eastern Jerusalem and the Old City and then continued to King David’s palace. Read Part I here

From there we continued down, down, down…

Pipes, water tunnels and an abyss

Entire kingdoms and stories are built around water sources. Where there’s water, there is potential for civilization. And so we headed down to see the Gihon Spring, the major water source in ancient Jerusalem, and hear how it was used and manipulated in order to win wars.

King David send Joab up an abyss

In 996 BCE King David decided to capture the Jebusite city that stood in this place. He did it for political reasons – it was the border between the Benjamin and Judah territories – and because of the important water source in the Kidron Valley.

And David said, “Whoever smites the Jebusites first will be a chief and an officer,” and Joab the son of Zeruiah ascended first and became a chief.

– Divrei Hayamim I, 11, 6

Ascended where?

And David said on that day; “Whoever smites the Jebusites and reaches the tower [tzinor]…”

– Samuel II, 5, 8

The word “tzinor” means “pipe” or “abyss.” But what does it mean in our story?

It was through the water system that King David thought to capture the city. And it was a brave (or crazy – the two are often not easily distinguishable) Joab who agreed to go up the “tzinor” into the Jebusite city.

We headed down many steep metal stairs to see what we could see.

First Jon showed me Warren’s Shaft, a deep hole found by British engineer Sir Charles Warren in 1867.

city of david tour_with_jon_cutler_december_2014_photo_credit_deena_levenstein_9
Warren’s Shaft – even IDF soldiers had difficulty trying to climb this with modern equipment.

Warren speculated that this was the tzinor that Joab climbed. This seemed unlikely, Jon explained, since even contemporary IDF soldiers with modern gear could barely make it up the shaft when they tried. And yet there was no better theory to contest Warren’s shaky one.

Until 1995 when a large abyss was found, a few meters from the shaft. The abyss is a large pool (today it is empty) with a hole leading down to the Canaanite Tunnels below.

This, Jon explained, makes much more sense. Abyss is the better translation from biblical Hebrew and it would be much easier to climb than Warren’s Shaft.

I stood there trying to imagine an army 3,000 years ago, climbing up into the city right where I was standing. Amazing!

King Hezekiah’s engineering feat

We continued down further to the Canaanite Tunnel which used to carry water out to the local fields for irrigation.

city ofdavid tour_with_jon_cutler_december_2014_photo_credit_deena_levenstein_13
The Canaanite Tunnel was built to allow water to run out to the surrounding fields for irrigation. Today it is dry.

From inside the tunnel we could see a hole that leads to the abyss above.

But before walking through the Canaanite Tunnel, I took a peak into Hezekiah’s Tunnel.

City of David - The beginning of Hezekiah's Tunnel
It was pitch black. Hezekiah’s Tunnel begins at source of the Gihon Spring. This part of the tour is done walking in water up to your calves or knees – something we didn’t do.

Taken from inside Hezekiah’s Tunnel:

City of David - Looking out from Hezekiah's Tunnel
Looking out from Hezekiah’s Tunnel

So, what is Hezekiah’s Tunnel?

Hezekiah reigned during the First Temple period, from around 715-686 BCE in Jerusalem. In 701 BCE Assyria captured most of the surrounding areas and was headed toward Jerusalem. Preparing for the impending siege, Hezekiah made a decision that changed the course of history for the Jewish people.

He decided to divert the water so that instead of having to leave the walls of the city to get water, it would be directed to a pool inside the city walls. This would allow the residents to survive a siege relatively easily.

He had two groups of workers begin to chisel the stone from each end with the intention of them meeting in the middle.

city of david - tour_with_jon_cutler_december_2014_photo_credit_deena_levenstein_16
An ancient Hebraic inscription about the tunneling

This inscription from Hezekiah’s time was found inside the tunnel and it describes the event when the men met in the middle.

[The] tunneling [is completed]. And this is the account of the tunneling:
While [the hewers were swinging their axe(s)] one (group) towards the other with three cubits yet to be hewn, a man’s voice was heard calling out to his fellow (worker).
For there was a zidda (fissure?) in the rock to the right and to the left.
And on the day of the tunneling the hewers bore through, one man towards the other, axe upon axe, and the waters flowed from the source to the pool, one thousand and two hundred cubits, and a [hu]ndred cubits was the height of the rock above the heads of the hewers.

In this video you can see what this tunnel looks like – it is very windy and it is quite miraculous that they succeeded in meeting.

The Shiloah pool, the Byzantine pool and more

Of course there was more. A tour to the City of David is rich in stories and archaeological discoveries, with new ones being added to the experience all the time. Here are a few more places we visited:

Thank you Jon!

City of David - Jon
Straight ahead is Hezekiah’s Tunnel and to the left is the Canaanite Tunnel. To the right is Jon, my trusty tour guide.

Jon, my trusted guide, taught me so much during those three hours in the City of David. I got to see a range of findings and discuss Bible, history and archaeology with him.

You can read more about Jon here.

You’re welcome to email me any questions.

Read part I

All photos are by yours truly, Deena Levenstein.


Deena Levenstein

Deena Levenstein is a writer and social-cultural entrepreneur in Jerusalem. She creates and hosts events and runs "Things to do in Jerusalem," a Facebook group of handpicked cultural events in the city. In her spare time she blogs at

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