|The Old City|
|Conservation of the western ritual bath (miqve) in the Western Wall tunnel|
|Orderer||Western Wall Heritage Foundation|
|Duration||25.11.07 - 31.12.07|
Aliza Van Zaiden
The western ritual bath (miqve) is located in the Western Wall tunnel, in the complex of three ritual baths that date to the Herodian period.
The aim of the project was to conserve original structural components and prepare the miqve for visits by the public.
The miqve is located inside a barrel-vaulted chamber that measures 4.0 x 7.5 meters. The vault was meticulously built and was well-preserved. The entrance to the miqve was fixed in the southern wall and was 1.5 meters wide by 2.5 meters high. Seven stone steps (each 1 meter long by 0.5 meters wide) descended to a pool of water that measures 1.5 by 4.0 meters. The eastern and western walls of the chamber were made in a manner characteristic of the Herodian period; the remains of plaster can still be seen on them. The northern wall was built of small fieldstones (debesh construction) and the original plaster is well preserved on the wall. The plaster, which was applied to the wall to a height of 6 meters, was lime-based and included soil and carbon among its components.
The high humidity in the miqve’s chamber, the lack of ventilation, percolating sewage and artificial lighting have all caused the movement of salts in the walls and the development of microorganisms that accelerate the weathering processes of the construction materials.
The problems that were identified at the site include:
1. Encrustations on some of the stones. The percolation of rainwater and seepage of sewage expose the stones to different minerals which are causing the stone to crumble.
2. The original plaster is becoming detached from the walls and lacunae are forming in the plaster.
3. Bonding material is missing from the joints. Several years ago the Ministry of Religious Affairs covered the wall with concrete. During the course of the excavation the concrete was removed from the wall at which time the surface of the stone was damaged, as was the bonding material in the joints.
4. Previous intervention which involved the use of cement is accelerating the weathering of the stone.
5. An outside contractor drilled six perforations in the miqve’s northern wall for the purpose of drainage. The drillings are a modern intervention that occurred about one month prior to the implementation of the current conservation measures.
6. On the other side of the miqve’s northern wall is a cistern. Liquid sewage from the Moslem Quarter drains into the cistern and there is concern that the plaster and stones will be damaged by the polluted water.
The conservation intervention that was conducted included:
1. Cleaning the concrete from the stones both manually and by means of mechanical equipment.
2. Removing the encrustations from the surface of the stones.
3. Pointing up joints with lime-based bonding material.
4. Plaster conservation, stabilizing the edges of the plaster so as to prevent further disintegration and weathering, and filling in the lacunae with lime-based bonding material.
The long term preservation of the site requires ongoing conservation maintenance by a conservator. The maintenance measures that are needed there mostly include renewing the edges of the plaster and pointing up the joints with bonding material.
To view the figures, click on the figure caption