The Struthion Pool is an ancient water reservoir hidden beneath the ground, in Jerusalem’s Old City. It was originally built by the Hasmoneans, Jewish rulers who reigned until the kingdom was conquered by Herod the Great in 37 BC. Herod changed the water system but continued to use the pool. Hadrian was the last ruler to alter the architecture of the Struthion Pool in 135 AD.
The unusual name “Struthion” comes from the Latin for sparrow. This may refer to the fact that there were many other reservoirs in the city, and this was one of the smallest. Today the pool lies beneath a public plaza and is accessed via the Western Wall Tunnels or the Convent of the Sisters of Zion.
History of the Struthion Pool
The Hasmonean built an open-air aqueduct system to bring water into the city. The water was gathered and stored in the Struthion Pool. When Herod the Great took the city, he expanded the Temple area. Herod cut the aqueduct in half, blocking off the southern section, which was no longer used. The northern section of the aqueduct continued to bring rainwater to the pool. The pool acted as a moat protecting the northwestern side of Herod’s Antonia Fortress. During this period, pilgrims to the Second Temple would have used the pool for washing, drinking, and even ritual purification.
In 135 AD, Hadrian seized Jerusalem and built his city, Aelia Capitolina. He had the pool covered with a roof supported by arches and added a wall that divided the pool length-wise. The arches and wall supported a marketplace built above the pool. This turned the pool into an underground cistern. The pool was virtually forgotten for hundreds of years.
Then, in the 1800s, the pool was uncovered during the construction of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. The nuns feared that somebody might enter the convent via the pool that connected to the ancient Hasmonaean aqueduct. Another wall was built dividing the Struthion Pool. This time it cut the pool across its width to prevent strangers from entering through the aqueduct at the southern end. Today, the northern section of the pool is accessed from the convent, and the southern section is connected to the Western Wall Tunnels.
Visiting Struthion Pool
The Struthion Pool measures 171ft x 46ft (52m x 14m) and lies beneath a paved plaza supported by Hadrian’s vaulted arches. Above ground, you can still see part of the market’s arched entrance way or Ecce Homo. On a visit to the Struthion Pool, you can see the openings in the stone ceiling where people once dropped their buckets to draw water. The dark and damp pool has dramatic stone walls with a beautiful curved ceiling.
Visitors to the Struthion Pools can enter via the convent. On a tour of the Western Wall Tunnels, you can follow the route of the Hasmonean aqueduct, which ends at the pool. From here it would have been possible to exist via the convent, but an alternative exit has been created so that visitors can leave the pool through an opening by the 1st Station of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa.