New Integrated Knowledge based approachs to the protection of cultural heritage from Earthquake-induced Risk

The Pool of the Arches
Documentation of the Pool’s Structure
Implemented by: Landscape Arch. Sivan Ornai

Following the closure of the Pool of the Arches in 2008 due to danger of collapse, the Conservation Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority was requested to stabilize and rehabilitate the pool’s structure. In August 2008 Jacob Sheffer (eng.) conducted an engineering survey of the structure in order to determine its condition and the measures that were required to eliminate any hazards.
The purpose of the current documentation is to gather existing information in order to evaluate the importance of the Pool of the Arches from various standpoints and to formulate architectural recommendations for its preservation and for further studying of it. The documentation will include the collecting, compiling and analysis of information from historical, academic and archaeological sources. It will also contain detailed and up to date photographs of the site and the engineering work that will be implemented there during the winter of 2009.
The “Pool of the Arches”, “St. Helen’s Pool” and “Bīr al-Anezīya” are all names of the underground water reservoir that was built in the city of Ramla during the reign of the caliph Haroun al-Rashid, in 789 CE (the Early Islamic period).

The Pool of the Arches is an impressive architectural remain from the Abbasid period, from the golden age when Ramla was the capital of Jund Filastin. The structure was erected in order to ensure a permanent supply of water for the residents of Ramla, which was well-known for the poor quality of its water. The size of the pool and its lofty vaults and arches have greatly impressed travelers who visited there from the sixteenth century until the modern era – more than 1,200 years after its construction.
Bearing in mind the hundreds of years that have elapsed since the pool was built and the severe earthquakes that have struck the region, the pool is very well preserved. In the second half of the twentieth century the pool was developed as a center of tourism; boats were sailed in it and archaeological artifacts were exhibited in the open public area above it. The inside of the cistern was made famous as the headquarters of the brigand Elimelekh Zorkin and his gang in the movie “Get Zorkin” (1971).
The Pool of the Arches is located close to what is today the center of Ramla. It is surrounded on the east and west by residential buildings and on the north and south by Hagana Street and HaShomer Street respectively. The entrance to the cistern is from Hagana Street, near Herzl Boulevard, which is the city’s main thoroughfare (Fig. 1). On the grounds above the pool is a large open public area where there are lawns, paths, places to sit and service buildings, trees, shrubbery and a fenced-in section where the vaulted ceiling of the pool is located. The ceiling was exposed during the British Mandate in order to stabilize the roof and has since remained uncovered (Figs. 2, 3).

The pool is a subterranean barrel-vaulted structure that covers an area in excess of 400 sq m. It was built of six vaults that are borne on a system of pillars and pointed arches. The southern vault collapsed and was sealed during the British Mandate. Windows, also in the shape of a pointed arch, were built above the arches. Today sixteen openings which were intended for drawing water from the pool, are visible in the vaults; while in the 1930’s there were twenty four such openings (Creswell 1932). Today a modern metal staircase leads down to the pool. It was built on top of the original staircase which is made of stone. At the bottom of the staircase is a poured concrete surface that is abutted by wooden docks. These are modern additions that were implemented when the pool was developed as a tourist site (Figs. 4, 5, 6).
In accordance with the findings of the survey and the documentation, the main conservation work at the site will include:
Completing the debesh construction on top of the vaults
Preparing proper drainage for the ceiling of the vaults.
Stabilizing the building stones in the walls and the pillars.
Plaster conservation
Installing a tension and pressure retaining system that will support the southern side of the pool.

The Pool of the Arches is a spectacular example of Islamic architecture and heritage in Ramla. After eliminating the danger of the structure’s collapse tourism activities can be resumed in the pool, along with the experience of sailing in it.
Creswell, K. A. C. 1932. Early Muslim Architecture: Umayyads, Early Abbasids & Tulunids. Oxford.

Sivan Ornai, February 2009

To view the figures, click on the figure caption
Fig 1 - Location of the Pool of the Arches.

Fig 2 - A schematic plan of the ground level above the Pool of the Arches, January 2008.

Fig 3 - View from above, the ground level of the pool.

Fig 4 - Plan of the pool’s interior (from the survey conducted by Jacob Sheffer [eng.]).

Fig 5 - The pool’s interior, looking west. The pointed arches supporting the vaulted structure.

Fig 6 - The pool’s interior, looking south.

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