A 12th-century Crusader castle in Israel had an ingenious water supply system, archaeologists find

Rainwater was channeled into drains, allowing access to water in different parts of the building’s old building.

A Crusader-era castle in northern Israel provides insight into the construction methods of its 12th-century Frankish builders. The work is taking place under a unique agreement between Mi’ilya, the city where the castle is located, and the Israel Antiquities Authority. The IAA allows Mi’ilya to excavate his own historical sites, which is virtually unheard of in Israel.

The excavation effort is led by archaeologist and educator Rabei Khamisy, who was born and raised in Mi’ilya. The Haaretz report notes that Khamisy knows the site better than anyone, as he and his friends used to explore every nook and cranny in their youth. A now grizzled Khamisy recalled how they inserted a ladder into a particular dark well and descended as far as they could.

Now, as an expert, Khamisy has identified that this dark well actually leads to a cistern, and he has since discovered two more. The well he and his friends played in extends from the top of the wall to a cistern carved into the bedrock. Another shaft begins inside the castle, in a room that has been redesigned to accommodate guests as part of an effort to repurpose the site into a hotel.

Water hoses and buckets

In this room, which is now fully equipped with a television and other 21st century creature comforts, visitors can still peer into the hole, now fenced off for security. This is where the revelations about Frankish architecture come in. Khamisy noted that the well must have been planned from the start, since the bricks were shaped to accommodate ceramic pipes.

These pipes direct rainwater into the cistern, which can be drawn into bales for later use. thethe pipes extended over several floors accessible from different points. In another unique design, each floor has a notch in the ceiling near the shaft.

It is believed that a post was fixed in the notch, which was connected to an arm which could be swiveled in order to position the bucket of water above the hole to be descended. This would ensure that the buckets on the lower floors would not interfere with those on the upper levels when not in use.

Khamisy told Haaretz:

“It’s amazing! You can find something here or there, but it’s complete. You have the well, you have the pipe, you have the entrance to it, you have the place where they took the water It’s just a little damaged,” Khamisy says. “It’s the best place to work on water systems in the Crusader era. It’s heaven for that research.”

The city is hollow

It’s unusual for the IAA to allow a historic site like this to be turned into a hotel, but it’s part of their deal with Mi’ilya. Haaretz explains that the IAA didn’t want to cover the $3 million excavation cost, but the city was able to raise the funds. With the citizens bearing the expenses, they have been given a great deal of freedom to take charge of the excavations, although the IAA still sends representatives to ensure that the work is properly undertaken.

If the agreement exists, it is thanks to Salma Assaf, a local entrepreneur. In 2019, Aleteia reported on Assaf’s efforts to excavate and preserve the largest Crusader-era winery ever discovered, in the basement of his restaurant. Assaf is currently working with IAA to turn the cellar into a museum, which could open as early as April.

Similar to IAA’s deal with Assaf, the city of Mi’ilya will retain rights to the castle, as it is owned by citizens of the city. In exchange, the IAA will be able to observe the discovery of another historical monument, at no cost to them, and benefit from all the discoveries made. While the IAA normally aggressively protects national heritage sites, they decided that the Mi’ilya Castle excavation was significant enough to make an exception.

Learn more about the unique archaeological operation at Mi’ilya and its findings at Haaretz.

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