Ayin Silwan

A little-known treasure for the visiting set, and a little-visited site for anyone not from the Silwan neighbourhood of Jerusalem, the spring (Ayin) is rather an oasis set amid a somewhat less tranquil area where excavations to find the lost ‘City of David’ mean increasing pressure on residents.

Curious after captioning a video about the site (see below, make sure the captions are on), a visit seemed quite necessary.

According to the spring’s custodian, Silwan was in ancient times a small village,  founded around the spring we know today as Ayin Silwan. The founding tribe, known as the Yabousites, dug into a stream with a collecting pool. The water from the spring was used to irrigate crops in the area, and was later used by the Canaanites. Cool!

The ancient columns set amid a cool pool of natural spring water seemed particularly discordant given the Silwan that one hears about, and the surface level of the neighbourhood passed on the lower hill behind the Old City as one takes the quiet route from East to West.

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Starting at the southeast corner of the Jerusalem city wall, Silwan stretches through the valley hugging the Old City.

Once you are at the main entrance to Silwan, just across from Dung Gate where today’s entrance to the wailing wall plaza is, turn down the steep hill and descent into the valley. Follow the main road and keep an eye out for green. This won’t be hard.

Even in the spring when patches of grass grow between the houses, the neighbourhood is so densely inhabited that the open space of Ayin Silwan is hard to miss.

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Its sort of a left and a right and a left and a down. Don’t worry about getting lost, the whole neighbourhood is an interesting wander.

Well, interesting perhaps doesn’t cover it.

The area has been the target of Zionist groups seeking to establish a Jewish presence in the area. Its a bit chicken-or-egg as to whether folks started coming and then decided to find the City of David or vice versa, but, today its stated as the reason for settlement activity.

(There is absolutely old stuff there, but interpretations of just what it is, um, differ widely)

Palestinian residents live in the area in rather tense discord with their new neighbours. There’s a lot out there to read on the issue (take a look hereherehere, and here), and we are here for Ayin Silwan for now, so, keep heading down the stairs to the site itself.

Right, avoiding politics is futile. You see two separate entrances, which to take? The lower entrance at the bottom of the valley is the new one giving access to the new Zionist community members and tour groups that visit the area. The top entrance is the older one,  and you will be greeted by a lovely bespectacled man who knows everything about the area, so, lets go there.

First there is an upper platform, with some infobooklets on Silwan and its history. This portion of the spring is administered by the Awqaf — which vague translates to the Islamic Endowment, which functions in this case sort of like the English Trust if you know what that is, or a National trust but that is specifically guarding Islamic sites and Muslim communities past and present. Though, as you can see, challenges on the ground mean its not so easy to renovate (or keep out vandals).

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The tunnel goes all the way back to the spring the whole place dotted with pillars, and down the other side.

I’ll let the custodian of the spring tell you its history. He was still there when I went for a visit, and if you’re lucky, will be there for yours!

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