Middle Easterners dream of flowing streams of water, raindrops in the summer and brushing their teeth with the faucet running. Even lacking this basic necessity, cities flourished in the arid climate and the reason lay underground.
To supply cities miles away from any source of water, the Romans constructed extensive water systems of aqueducts, canals and clay pipes. In Israel there is a system which extends for twenty-three miles from the Tzabirin spring to the ancient city of Caesarea, where it provided water to the growing population. There are guided tours of a restored underground aqueduct at Mei Kedem near Zichron Yaacov. Amazingly after more than two thousand years, water still runs within it, reaching waist high in some places. Anybody who has recently called on a plumber for dripping pipes can appreciate the workmanship of such a project.
Besides the short stretch at Mei Kedem, most of the aqueduct is not renovated and filled with debris and mud that has accumulated over the years. What better way to learn about ancient history than to submerge yourself in it. Armed with a dying stick light we lowered ourselves down a long shaft into the tunnel where we crawled in the muck single file. My boys, knowing very well of my claustrophobic tendencies, especially in pitch black, muddy crawl holes that hadn’t been cleaned since Rome ruled the world had great fun teasing me.
“Mom, you have to crawl faster or the mud will suck you under!” or “MOM! We took a wrong turn!”
Really, I am not sure what caused me to crawl in there except how enthusiastically happy they were about the expedition and I didn’t want to feel left out.
After an in depth introduction to Roman underground aqueducts we traveled to Casaeriea (by car, not sludging in a tunnel). The city’s very existence was based on the constant supply of fresh water from the Roman water system.
It is too bad that the Romans are not around to solve Israel’s water problems of today. It seems with all of its modern technology Israel lacks a systematic water management program. Together with ongoing droughts, over-pumping and pollution the water crisis has exacerbated to critical conditions.
Rome’s accomplishment was not their advanced engineering but the ability to harness their knowledge and stay focused throughout the project. Of course it is easier to stay on mission when there is only one man, the Caesar dictating all the rules.
Finally after years of postponement, the Israeli government has approved the construction of two desalination plants, one in the Sorek area south of Tel Aviv and the other in Hadera. Hopefully this will be the first step in becoming water sufficient and more importantly, reducing environmental damaged caused by salinization.