Crumbling and neglected, located smack in Jerusalem's city center, lies an ancient, man-made pool that was carved into the bedrock about two thousand years ago, unsurpassed in the region for both its size and for the tranquillity it offers urban pedestrians.
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Known since time immemorial as the Mamilla pool, the site shares only its name with the glitzy open-air shopping mall now doing business across the road - and seemingly worlds away. The site's origins are shrouded in mystery: built during the period of the Second Temple, the site's construction is attributed by some to King Herod the Great.
A walk down the heavy stone staircase embedded in the wall will take you to the pool's bottom, where the bustle and crowds of Jerusalem seem like a faraway dream. Most of the time, the place is entirely deserted, which befits the site's eerie splendor.
For countless generations, the pool acted as a reservoir serving the denizens of the nearby Old City. Linking the region's natural springs to the pools within Jerusalem, Mamilla played a central role in ancient Jerusalem's sophisticated water supply infrastructure. Today, cut off from its sources, the pool is bone-dry during summers and only partially covered with a shallow layer of water throughout the wet seasons. During the 1940s, an attempt was made by British authorities to put the pool back in service, and Jerusalem's old-timers can tell you about the days when it was full enough to swim in.
The site, considered a micro-ecosystem, until recently served as a habitat for a large number of animal species – including a unique species of frog found nowhere outside of it – but, sadly, the number of creatures who call the place home has drastically dwindled in recent years. Still, you are likely to meet some bathing birds and perhaps catch sight of a tadpole or two if you visit during winter or spring.
It ought to be said that the site's neglect, which is responsible for a certain amount of its charm, also means plenty of broken glass and other litter, so watch out. Also, be advised that the area is well known for being slightly creepy after sunset, so keep aware of your human surroundings.
The pool is located inside the Muslim cemetery adjacent to Independence Park, near Agron Street. It is surrounded by a fence, which is open near the staircase. Being sunken in the ground, it might take you a few minutes to find, but don't worry – it's there.