We’re not sure who built the enormous water reservoirs three miles south of Bethlehem, but there’s no evidence that they are related to their namesake. It is most likely that King Herod or one of his successors built these pools to supply Jerusalem with water. A complex and sophisticated series of aqueducts was constructed both to feed these three pools as well as to transport the water from here to multiple locations in Jerusalem.
The water system naturally required repair over the years, but it continued in use, off and on, through the British Mandate period. One evidence of the significance of these pools is the presence of a fortress built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. (Yes, this is the same ruler who built the walls around the Old City of Jerusalem and constructed the fortress still standing at Aphek-Antipatris.)
The photo below was taken by the American Colony photographers in the early 1900s.
Today the area has changed dramatically, making it difficult even to locate Suleiman’s fortress. Other attempts that I have made to photograph the three pools have been thwarted by the forest that has been planted in the area.
The top photograph is from the newly published Southern Palestine volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (originally Library of Congress, LC-matpc-07571). The CD includes more than 550 high-resolution photographs from the Dead Sea, Jordan River, Jericho, Judean hill country, Shephelah, and Negev.