The flour mills in the Ridwan gardens, 'Akk o

Yoav Lerer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Three excavation seasons were conducted in 2004-2007 in the flour mills compound southeast of Tel 'Akko and south of the Baha'i gardens known as the Ridwan Gardens (map ref. 208768/757767). Before the drying up of the Nahal Na'aman marshes and before the river course was diverted into a canal in the first half of the twentieth century, the river forked naturally into two branches: One wound southward and the other to the north. An island covering about 120 dunams (30 acres) was formed between the two branches. Water was diverted into the island by means of wide channels, which powered the flour mills (Fig. 1). In 1875, Abdul-Baha-founder of the Baha'i religion-leased a plot on the island north of the mills and used it as a retreat. The Ridwan Gardens (meaning 'Garden of Eden' in Persian; Figs. 2, 3) were established upon this artificial island. From the end of the nineteenth century onward, the flour mills had a number of owners who leased them on a yearly basis. Early in the twentieth century, the Land Development Company and British Mandate authorities began examining the possibility of drying up the Na'aman marshes. This required the purchase of the flour mills and cessation of their operation. Shmuel Avitsur, who surveyed Israel's water-powered installations between 1953 and 1955, recorded the flour-mill compound, counting eleven pairs of millstones set within four buildings. The excavations exposed five buildings (A-E, from east to west), which were used to mill flour; these contained 15 milling units (M1-15; Plans 1, 2). The easternmost building described in Avitsur's survey appears to be Building A, containing milling units M1 and M2; Building B lies to its west and contains milling units M3-6; a paved area separating the two buildings was exposed during conservation work (Fig. 4). The main structure to their west is Building C, where milling units M7-9 are situated. The ruined building, which Avitsur described as being the westernmost structure in the compound, was found to comprise two buildings: Building D, with milling units M10 and M11, and Building E, with milling units M12-15. The buildings are all built of kurkar and survived in various states of preservation. The water-powered technology used at the Ridwan Gardens flour mills is known from other mills operating during the Ottoman period. The feeding channels at the Ridwan Gardens' mills were in the form of an almost horizontal, slightly downward-sloping funnel, terminating in a rectangular nozzle-like opening, through which the water flowed rapidly to power a horizontal paddle wheel. Building A (Figs. 5, 6). This easternmost mill is the only structure that was not built together with the other buildings and was fed by a separate water channel. Two milling units (M1, M2) operated in the structure. The flourcollection receptacle was exposed at floor level. The paddle wheels were excavated in milling units M1 and M2, as were the channels (Fig. 5). The mill was probably in operation until the 1920s, when the mill complex was purchased. Cannon balls from the days of Napoleon were discovered in the building (Fig. 6)-these were probably responsible for the destruction of the mill, which is marked on Jacotin's map. Building B (Figs. 7-11). The building (11 × 15 m) is divided into three narrow rooms separated by arches (Plan 1); the entrance is in the north (Fig. 7). The two northern rooms near the entrance (1, 2) were used to store grain and flour, or equipment, and as living quarters for the mill workers, while the southern room (3) was used as the mill. Four pairs of millstones operated in the southern room, each pair set above a separate paddle-wheel chamber and channel. Four milling units operated in this building; three were built as one unit (M3-5; Fig. 8). Beside each pair of millstones, a wellplastered pit was built (1.0 × 1.5 m, 0.6 m deep) that was used as a flour receptacle (Fig. 9). In M3, half of a basalt lower millstone had survived (diam. 1.2 m; Fig. 10)-probably the last one to have been in use. In the paddle wheel in M5, a base stone was found with the leverage beam on it, as well as numerous metal parts including an iron socket (nuqta; Fig. 11). Building C (Plan 3). This building is different from the other structures; it was erected in an organized and meticulous manner. Its entrance is located on the western side, and it is divided into three narrow rooms separated by arches on which wooden beams were placed to support the roof. Near the southern wall, three milling units were exposed (M7-9). Milling units M7 and M8 are different from all the others, as their millstones and flour receptacles are situated above a cross vault, thus indicating a connection between them. In a section excavated opposite the entrance to M7, the flooring (L204) was dismantled (Fig. 12). The foundation of an ancient wall (W1), on a north-south alignment, was discovered in the northwestern corner of M7; it appears to have been the western wall of an ancient channel. Another meticulously built wall (W2) was found to its east, beneath the M7 channel. An earlier floor (L209) was discovered between the walls. Building D. The channels of M10 and M11 were exposed on the northern side of the building. They were covered with flat stone slabs, enabling access to Building C and passage to Building D. Building E (Plan 4). The building (8 × 22 m) had been destroyed to floor level (Figs. 13-15). It was not documented in Avitsur's survey. It contained the remains of the floor foundation, channels and paddle wheels for milling units M12-15. It was probably deliberately destroyed soon after the Land Development Company purchased the flour mills. Since the destruction occurred not long after the mill was operative and no subsequent use was made of the structure, it yielded several milling elements that were not preserved in the other mills. A nearly intact metal paddle wheel (inner diam. 1.3 m, outer diam. 1.83 m; Fig. 16) with wooden slats in the center, was found in the paddle-wheel chamber of M15. Pottery finds (see Stern, this volume) and Zanjid coins (see Kool, this volume), dating to the Crusader period, relate that sections of walls and flooring that were found in Building C belong to an earlier structure whose purpose could not be established. Historical records indicate that these may be the ruins of the 'King's Mills' that operated here in the twelfth-thirteenth centuries CE. The meager finds from the excavation date from the late seventeenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Notable among the finds are the small Napoleon cannon balls, a Zanjid coin and an Ayyubid coin from the twelfth century CE, a small amount of Crusader pottery from the thirteenth century CE and a single fragment of glazed Mamluk pottery from Egypt. Based on architectural analysis and the water-powered technology, the mills were built in several stages. The first to be built were Buildings C, A and E (Phase 1); later, Building C was enlarged (Phase 2); then, Building D was built (Phase 3); Buildings D and E were joined together (Phase 4); and finally, Building B was constructed (Phase 5). It is unclear whether the mills operated at the same time. The process by which the buildings fell into disuse was also gradual. The first mills to cease working were those in Buildings A and E, followed by D and C. Building B remained in operation until the time when the Land Development Company purchased the land.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAtiqot
PublisherIsrael Antiquities Authority
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9789654066211
StatePublished - 2016

Publication series

ISSN (Print)0792-8424


  • British Mandate
  • Installations
  • Na'aman marshes
  • Napoleon cannon balls
  • Numismatics
  • Technology


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