Keep cool - and learn something - this summer by exploring Roman water tunnels.
By SHIRA TEGER
The kids are out of school and you're faced with the challenge of how to entertain them. You want them to have fun, but you don't want their brains to rot in front of a screen for the whole summer. So the trick is to do something entertaining and sneak in a bit of education without them noticing. And ideally, you'd like them to get outdoors.
Luckily there are options that fit these criteria. One option is the Mei Kedem archeological site in Alona Park, near Binyamina.
Back when the Romans ruled the Holy Land, they took on a lot of construction projects. One of them was the creation of a water system to bring potable water to the growing city of Caesarea. Many people are familiar with the end of this system - the ancient aqueducts in Caesarea. But if you trace the ducts all the way back, you'll reach the Ein Tzabarin Springs, about 23 kilometers northeast of the city. A network of canals, tunnels, clay pipes and aqueducts conveyed water from those springs to the port. Every now and then, new parts of the system are uncovered - typically by accident.
Mei Kedem is one of these sites, found in 1967; after years of restoration, it now offers visitors a chance to explore a 280-meter stretch of a 6-km. water tunnel. The architects of the system utilized the varying heights of the topography and the underground springs to keep a gravity-based water system going. They started at the bottom of a hill and dug a horizontal tunnel into the hillside until they reached the natural springs at Ein Tzabarin. They sank diagonal shafts into the ground every 50 m. Then, at the bottom of each shaft, two teams would go down and start digging in opposite directions until they met the team working from the adjacent shaft. In this way, the tunnel was completed.
There are even little niches in the walls of the tunnel where candles were placed to light the diggers' way. The chisel marks and slight curves show where diggers didn't meet up perfectly.
Now, visitors to the well-maintained site are treated to an explanatory film (English is available, just make sure to ask in advance) and a guided walk through the excavated tunnel. Spring water flows through the tunnel all year round, so it's a great, cool summer treat.
Water shoes are required, as are flashlights (though the tunnels are well lit, both by strings of electric lights, and the sun that peeks through the open shafts). The water reaches about 70 cm. at its highest point, so the vertically challenged (like me) may want to bring a spare set of clothes, too. The whole endeavor (film and tour) takes about an hour. The grounds outside the tunnel are landscaped attractively, which makes for a nice picnic spot.
If you want to make a day of it, you can create your own custom-built tour of the exposed parts of the Roman aqueducts and follow it all the way to Caesarea, then hang out on the beach with the arched water carrier in the background. Start at Ein Tzabarin, stop at Mei Kedem, then go to Shuni and its ancient aqueducts. If you're really on an aqueduct kick, you can visit Taninim Springs and Ramat Hanadiv, both in the area.
And have fun!
THE DETAILS Mei Kedem, Alona Park
Directions: From Highway 4, go oh Binyamina toward Givat Ada. From Ada junction, take 654 past Aviel and onto 6533 toward Amikam. Signs will point the way.
Contact:(04) 638-8622; www.meykedem.com
Cost: NIS 24; NIS 18 for kids over five
Hours: Daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays until 2 p.m.
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