Hezekiah's water tunnel in Jerusalem, the Gihon Spring, and the Pool of Siloam.

The Gihon Spring was a primary water source for the ancient city of Jerusalem. When the king of Assyria (Sennacherib) was making war against Judah (Isaiah 36:1), and it was clear that Jersualem would likely be attacked as well, Hezekiah (king of Judah) fortified the city including the spring.

2 Chronicles 32:30 It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David. He succeeded in everything he undertook. [Read also 2 Chronicles 32:2-4]

Excavations found a tower system built over the Gihon spring, from which water could be raised up to those in the city. The next two photos show those ruins. The photos are taken about midway up the tower, the top one looking up, the lower one looking down toward where a water pool once was. It is believed that the tower was orginally built even prior to the time of the Judges, by the Cannanite people living in the land (circa 1800's BC).

This photo is from a couple years after the two above.
Notice the central interpretive mural, with ladder, showing how the tower is believed to have looked.
To get to this location you go through a dry tunnel. See below

Descending to the tunnel system

The dry tunnel leading to the tower system

Entrance to the tower and water tunnel is via a higher tunnel system (sometimes this whole tunnel system is called Warren's shaft after the explorer that found it in the 1860s). The piece of Warren's shaft that looks like a hole [shown below] was once thought to have been the spot where they raised water up from farther below. It has been, more recently, found to be a completely natural formation, one that Hezekiah had to work around in making his improvements. This natural formation may have been the means by which the ancient city was taken in David's time, as they used it to gain access to the Jebusite (Cannanite) city.

2 Samuel 5:6-8a The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, "You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off." They thought, "David cannot get in here." 7 Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David. 8 On that day, David said, "Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft..."


In more modern times, prior to uncovering the tower system, access to the water tunnel used to be via the stairway shown below. This removed the need to come down through the upper tunnel system. Now all visitors get to come in via the tower system.

Stairs to go down a little farther, near the old entrance, to start the water tunnel

When Hezekiah's people began the tunnel they started from opposite ends, carving towards the middle. Obviously the need for speed (as the Assyrians drew closer) made them start making the tunnel smaller as they moved towards the middle. The photo below is towards the entrance to the tunnel. Notice how much headroom exists. It's even wider at the very beginning and end.

The Gihon spring still flows through the tunnel. Dependant on the time of year and weather conditions the tunnel can be impassible from flooding.

Notice the varying height of the tunnel -- lowest towards the middle.

The tunnel was not carved in a straight line. This may have been to follow easier paths in the stone or for strategic reasons. There are a number of curves in the tunnel, as seen below...

Notice that the tunnel is now much narrower and shorter as we approached the middle. There is no light in the tunnel apart from what you bring (in our case, head lamps). We found that the accoustics are incredible in the stone tunnel, choosing to sing while walking/wading (including such classics as "I've got a river of life flowing out of me...").

A cutaway graphic from the Tower of David Museum showing the path of the tunnels

Completed circa 701 B.C., this tunnel brought water 1748 feet (533 meters) into the pool of Siloam.

2 Kings 20:20 As for the other events of Hezekiah's reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?

This view of the pool of Siloam [below] is looking outward having just exited the tunnel. It is now quite far below ground, though it would not have been so in ancient times.

Recent excavations (no photo yet available) show that the pool of Siloam was more than one pool (or a system of pools). The one above is a reconstruction built between AD 400 and 460 by the Empress Eudocia of Byzantium, who oversaw the rebuilding of several biblical sites. Excavations (2004-2005) found an older and lower pool about 200 yards away, a pool of Jesus' time, which was built early in the 1st century BC and was destroyed by the future Roman Emperor Titus about AD 70.

A section of first century road that would have led to the pool of Siloam
(located between the Byzantine pool and the first century pool)

The first century Pool of Siloam -- much larger than the later one.
Most of the pool is still covered (to the right)

The four-sided, 225-foot-long miqveh, (a ritual bath) was accessed by Jewish pilgrims coming to Jerusalem in Jesus’ time by three tiers of steps along each side. Excavators uncovered three groups of five stairs each separated by narrow landings. The pool was about 225 feet long, and they unearthed steps on three sides. One side is on a church property and not yet excavated. Excavators have been able to date the pool fairly precisely because of two fortunate occurrences that implanted unique artifacts in the pool area. Either accidentally or deliberately, ancient workmen, buried four coins in the plaster of the steps before facing them with stones. All four are coins of Alexander Jannaeus, a Jewish king who ruled Jerusalem from 103 to 76 BC, providing the earliest date at which the pool could have been constructed. In addition, in dirt at one corner of the pool, they found about a dozen coins dating from the period of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, which lasted from 66 to 70 A.D.. This indicates that the pool had begun to fill in by that time. Since the pool sits at one of the lowest spots in Jerusalem, rains flowing down the valley deposited mud into it each winter. Once it was no longer being cleaned out, the pool quickly filled with dirt and disappeared.

Closer view of the large stairway leading into the first century Pool of Siloam.

Perhaps the most famous event recorded in Scriptures concerning this location is as follows, from the New Testament...

John 9:1-7 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 7 "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam " (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (NIV)

The photo below is from the far end of the Byzantine pool looking back toward the exit of the water tunnel. The recent excavation of the older section of this pool is to the right of the area shown in this photo (beyond the stairs and wall).


Other references in Scriptures to this pool come from the Old Testament, regarding the rebuilding of Jerusalem at the time of Nehemiah, and a "news" account spoken about by Jesus.

Nehemiah 3:15 The Fountain Gate was repaired by Shallun son of Col-Hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah. He rebuilt it, roofing it over and putting its doors and bolts and bars in place. He also repaired the wall of the Pool of Siloam , by the King's Garden, as far as the steps going down from the City of David.

Luke 13:4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?

An inscription was discovered in 1880 by a boy who was bathing in the waters of the Gihon Spring, and was studied by Conrad Schick, one of the first explorers of Jerusalem. Engraved in the rock, the inscription describes the meeting of the two groups of hewers who had begun digging from opposite ends of the tunnel. "The tunneling was completed... While the hewers wielded the ax, each man toward his fellow... there was heard a man's voice calling to his fellow... the hewers hacked each toward the other, ax against ax, and the water flowed from the spring to the pool, a distance of 1,200 cubits..." The inscription was plundered from its' orginal location and is now in the Istanbul Museum in Turkey.


An article in Biblical Archaeology Review, ("Sound Proof: How Hezekiah’s Tunnelers Met", September/October 2008), by Hershel Shanks, makes a compelling case for how the tunnel was cut. The evidence best supports that hammer sounds generated along the surface rock provided acoustic sounding enabling the builders to know both depth and direction.

That Hezekiah’s engineers depended on acoustic sounding to guide the tunnelers is supported by the explicit use of this technique as described in the Siloam Inscription. The frequently ignored final sentence of this inscription provides further evidence: “And the height of the rock above the heads of the laborers was 100 cubits.” This indicates that the engineers were well aware of the distance to the surface above the tunnel at various points in its progression. (BAR Sept./Oct 2008).


1. Contemporary records, by the conspicuous silence, agree with the Bible that Sennacherib failed in his siege against Hezekiah and Jerusalem. Much bragging was commonplace when any kingdom fell, but in the case of Jerusalem, the most Sennacherib could say was that he had Hezekiah cornered in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage.” No subsequent Assyrian claim is ever made for conquering the city. The Bible provides an account of the supernatural delivery of the city by God.

2 Kings 19:32-36 "Therefore this is what the Lord says concerning the king of Assyria: "He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. 33 By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the Lord. 34 I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant." 35 That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning — there were all the dead bodies! 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. (NIV)

The cuneiform inscription by Sennacherib bragging over his seige of Hezekiah

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