Tour Guide Israel – The Sebil in the Middle Eastern lands
הרהט – המזרח התיכון
A sebil is a public water fountain, often decorated with stone carvings. Sebils were
built at crossroads, city gates and outside mosques throughout the Ottoman Empire to provide drinking water for travelers and enable ritual purification before prayer. The construction of many sebils was considered the hallmark of a beneficent ruler.
The importance of public supply of water in the Middle East is immense – with only 3-4 months of rain a year – November-March.
In 16th century, sebils were a symbol of public possession. Endowing money for the construction of sebils was considered an act of piety.
Initially, they functioned as kiosks where water was distributed to passersby. Often they were decorated in the Ottoman geometrical style and inscribed with Ottoman Turkish verses.
Until the spread of in-house plumbing by the end of the 20th century, they were essential for the daily life of of most Middle Eastern countries.
In Jerusalem there are dozens of them. Small ones at the doors to house, big ones “on the road” and anything in between. In the 14th and 15th Centuries the Mamluks built many sebils between the walls of Jerusalem and outside. Suliman the Magnificent was one of the greater builders and led to putting the onus of public drinking water on the local governments.
The stand out with their single arch on the sides of the streets and usualy standing alone, un-attached to a larger building.
Walking thru the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem you will see many. Even outside the city gates. Today they are only for decoration or as archaeological finds.
Here are some of them-
Even today you can see old and modern, side by side – in the Eretz Yisrael Museum in Tel Aviv.
Even today you can see old and new, side by side, one run by the gradient of the system and the other electronic.