Sinkholes, Tzfat Style


Every once in awhile the news reports a sinkhole opening somewhere in the world. For some reason, the ground shifts and a hole, usually under pavement of some sort, opens, making passage impossible.

A couple of years ago, a sinkhole opened in the main street of Tzfat's Pedestrian Mall. This wouldn't have been so unusual, except that, in trying to close it, massive loads of sand and dirt were trucked in and poured down the hole....and poured, and poured, and poured. The sand and dirt disappeared into the hole, making no discernable difference to the hole.  Traffic along the street was blocked for months.

At some point, one of the Wise Men of Tzfat decided to have some workers climb down into the hole to check and see what was happening. The workers quickly returned, reporting that under the street were arches and buildings from "another city".


Tzfat has, over the last thousand years, suffered a number of earthquakes, each one causing a landslide that has buried the city under dirt and rubble. That, together with years of neglect, has created a situation whereby successive layers of the city have been built on top of previous layers. As one walks along the Old City lanes, you can discern the outlines of arches peeking up from the street - these are arches of doors and windows of homes and buildings which are still intact under the ground.

The Livnot U'Lehibanot program has, over the past 30 years, been at the forefront of excavating these ruins and renovating them and they are now part of the modern city. These rooms, buried for hundreds of years, are dug out by program participants, and with the assistance of a professional staff, plumbing, electricity, and other modern conveniences are added to the rooms to create buildings which are used today. The Livnot campus is composed of such rooms, and they have excavated other areas of the city for public use as well.

Residents of the Old City often joke that when they buy property in the Old City, they can assume that, with a bit of digging, the size of their house can easily double.

Archeologists were called in to investigate Tzfat's sinkhole, but were not surprised...after all, the entire Old City of Tzfat is comprised of these types of layer-on-layer buildings. So, with some assistance from some engineers who are familiar with the unique way in which the city is built, the sinkhole was closed up, and those particular buildings will wait under the ground for some future explorers to arrive.