Beneath Mandate-era Nazareth Fort There's a Massive Surprise

After the establishment of Israel, the huge fort became the IDF's Northern Command headquarters.

The architect, first lieutenant Omer Neeman, spent several minutes running his hands along the massive reinforced concrete wall under the Nazareth fort.

"Look at this finish. This concrete is of extraordinary quality," said Neeman.

He was standing underneath the kitchen of the Israel Defense Forces' Home Front headquarters in Nazareth, where a huge water reservoir recently was discovered.

The base is in the Tegart Fort, one of dozens of similar fortresses the British built as police headquarters in pre-state Israel during the late 1930s. Many were built by the Solel Boneh construction and civil engineering company.

After the establishment of Israel, the huge fort became the IDF's Northern Command headquarters and later the Home Front's northern headquarters.

At the heart of the fort the British built a jail, and the original bars remain on several windows. Over the years the prison area became the base's kitchen.

The forts are named after British police officer and engineer Sir Charles Tegart, who designed them in 1938 based on his experiences in the Indian insurgency.

The huge water reservoir under the Nazareth fort was discovered accidentally, during recent kitchen renovations.

The workers were digging through the kitchen floor to lay new sewer pipes when they found a 5.5 meter deep cavity, 15 meters long and 5 meters wide. Two small openings, apparently to let in rainwater, were found in the cavity's upper wall.

Inside, the builders found metal pipes and some of the original pumps. They sawed through the cavity's concrete walls.

"It took them a whole day to cut through 80 centimeters of reinforced concrete," said Neeman.

When the wall was finally opened, they found another, even larger cavity - 30 meters long and 10 meters wide, also with an opening for water. Twelve concrete pillars supported the space from within.

Neeman, the architect in charge of preservation at the IDF's construction center, was notified of the discovery.

"In the past, not knowing any better, interesting findings like these in IDF bases were destroyed," said Neeman.

"Today this has all changed," said Shimon Zafrir, of the the Council for Restoration and Preservation of Historic Sites in Israel, northern district.

"The army has understood the importance of preserving these sites. The army has an authorized body to deal with preservation," he said.

Neeman says he is writing a code for preserving structures on military territory. "The structures are in our hands and it is our responsibility to preserve them, for both their historic and their architectural value," he said.

Zafrir came with Yossi Feldman, the director general of the preservation council, to check out the reservoirs under the Nazareth fort.

"We were in shock, it's an enormous structure," said Zafrir. "It's extraordinary. Neither of us had seen such a thing. I'm intrigued about the reasons for building this monstrous thing. I would consider placing the Command H.Q. inside this fortified hole during war," he said.

"This could be an atomic shelter," says Neeman jokingly. "It's an unusual investment. Who knows, maybe they meant to stay here forever, or had other plans for this building."

"The British built water reservoirs on the roofs of all the Tegart forts, so I wonder why they made the tremendous effort and investment of building this gigantic underground reservoir. It's a mystery. Maybe future researchers will be able to shed light on it," he said.

The IDF's construction department has decided to open the reservoirs to the public, and have installed a special entrance and lighting.