During February 2009, an ancient cistern was documented, without excavation, on ‘Aqbat Darwish Street in the Moslem quarter of Jerusalem (Fig. 1), in the wake of information reported to the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery that an illicit dig in a cistern is scheduled to take place, aiming to discover a treasure of Turkish gold. The cistern was documented on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority by A. Ganor and U. Hofesh, with the assistance of H. Ja‘abry and S. al-‘Amlah, and S. Bar-Tura, H. Shchupak and S. Yeshayev, inspectors with the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery.
The cistern is located beneath a building dating to the Ottoman period, next to the Church of the Lord in Prison (Fig. 1). The building served as the Ottoman Finance Ministry in the past and its Arabic name is Beit al-Mal—‘The House of Money’. The Ja‘abry family currently resides in the building. The entrance to the cistern was via a built shaft, whose top is situated in the Ja‘abry family’s sitting room (Fig. 2: Section 1-1). The cistern can only be accessed by means of a rope. The square shaft (0.6×0.6 m, height 5.5 m) is built of roughly hewn stones (c. 0.2×0.3 m). The outlets of square conduits (c. 0.15×0.15 m) that were probably used to drain rainwater from the courtyards of the buildings can be discerned in the sides of the shaft. The conduits are clogged today (Fig. 3).
The cistern’s ceiling, hewn in the hard limestone bedrock (thickness c. 0.4 m) and covering the entire area of the cistern, is at the bottom of the shaft. Two entrances are cut in the ceiling: an elliptical shaft (diam. c. 1 m), which is today blocked with covering stones (Fig. 4) and a rectangular shaft (length 2.5 m, width c. 1.2 m) that is partially covered with three large ashlars (length 1.2 m, each 0.7 m wide). It seems that the rectangular opening was the original entrance to the cistern and today, it is connected to the built shaft (Fig. 5).
The depth of the cistern (4 m) is measured from the rectangular entrance in the ceiling to its bottom. The cistern has a trapezoidal shape (length of bases, 2.8 m and 3.5 m) and its upper corners are rounded (length of sides, c. 4.5 m and 5.5 m); a groove (0.5×2.0 m) is hewn along its northern side. The walls and floor of the cistern are plastered and it was found empty and devoid of any finds. Treasure hunters dug two holes (diam. 0.3 m, depth 0.2 m) in the floor of the cistern. Two layers of plaster were discerned in the holes, an upper layer (thickness 0.1 m) that contained potsherds from the Ottoman period and a bottom layer (thickness 0.1 m) without potsherds, which was gray and characteristic of water installations from the time of the Second Temple period. A coin from the Ottoman period was found in the upper plaster layer, whereas a lead Roman weight was exposed in the bottom plaster layer; the finds were left in place upon conclusion of the documentation. An examination of the cistern’s walls shows that they were coated with two layers of plaster whose compositions were identical.
The cistern was probably used during the Second Temple period. It was in this phase that the installation was quarried, its opening was covered with large ashlars (Fig. 1: Section 2-2) and it was coated with gray plaster, which was characteristic of the water installations in Jerusalem. The cistern was accessed directly from the surface in this phase, as evidenced by the rectangular and elliptical openings that were hewn in the original bedrock ceiling. It seems that the surface level in this period was 5.5 m lower than the current surface level, which was raised due to fill that accumulated from the Roman until the Ottoman periods. Therefore, a shaft (height 5.5 m) was needed above the original ceiling of the cistern. It was built in the Ottoman period and enabled the reuse the cistern, which was cleaned and its walls and floor were re-plastered. Modern plaster that differed from the two original layers of plaster was found in certain places on the sides of the cistern. According to the owner of the house, laborers working on his behalf had dug the cistern in an attempt to locate a treasure of Turkish gold in its walls and floor and repaired the plaster in 1984.