Located 36 km east of Jerusalem, Jericho is on the road to Amman and at the junction of the highway to the Galilee. In Jericho is Tel As-Sultan, the ancient city of Jericho, which is the lowest (258 m below sea level) and the oldest town on earth, dating back more than 10,000 years. It grew up around a perennial spring, Ain As-Sultan, in an area of fertile alluvial soil which attracted hunter-gatherer groups to settle and start the process of plant and animal domestication. Ain As-Sultan is known as Elisha’s spring, where the prophet Elisha cleansed the water of Jericho.
Jericho’s moderate climate makes it a favourite winter resort, as it is always a number of degrees warmer than other parts of Palestine owing to its low elevation and the height of the surrounding mountains. It is an important agricultural area, producing fresh fruits, and vegetables year round. Jericho dates, bananas and citrus fruits are especially famous.
Tell As-Sultan (ancient Jericho), the Oldest City in the World
The site of Tell As-Sultan is located in the lower plain of the Jordan valley, approximately 10 km north of the Dead Sea. At a depth of 250 m below sea level, and with a history dating back to the Neolithic period, it is the lowest and the oldest town on the earth. The mound where the ruins of the town were found covers an area of about one acre.
The city of ancient Jericho was mentioned in historical sources, a recent find has the name appear on a scarab from the second millennia BC.
Successive excavations at the site uncovered its cultural history stretching 10 thousand years. The earliest remains belong to the Natufian culture (10th-8th millennia BC), and consist of flint tools, which attests to the presence of a hunting Natufian camp near the spring. The remains of the early Neolithic settlement are represented by a small settlement, with round houses built of mud brick and surrounded by a wall and a round tower, representing the earliest preserved piece of a fortification system.
Jericho played a major role in the early stages of Christianity. In the late Roman and Byzantine periods, the town was reduced to the area of modern Jericho. It was mentioned in several classical sources, including the sixth-century Madaba Mosaic map, where it was marked by the symbol of a church and a palm tree, along with the inscription, “Of St. Elisha.”
Archaeological excavations in the last century have revealed archaeological remains from various sites in the historic core of modern Jericho which shed light on the history of Jericho during the Byzantine period. A considerable number of churches from the Byzantine period have been found in the vicinity of Jericho, including Tell Al-Hassan, the Coptic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church of Abuna Anthimos, and Khirbat En-Nitla. Byzantine remains, including a colourful mosaic floor, were uncovered in 1962. In 2010, during construction work of the Russian museum in Jericho, a salvage excavation was carried out in the area by a Palestinian-Russian expedition, under the direction of Dr. H. Taha and Dr. L.A. Beliaev. The expedition uncovered more architectural remains, including a mosaic floor, which was found during bulldozing work, and a series of buildings dating to early Roman, Byzantine Umayyad, Medieval, and Ottoman periods.
A series of rehabilitation work was carried out in the site by the Palestinian Department of Antiquities during the last decade, within the framework of cooperation with the University of Rome La Sapienza and UNESCO. The site continues to reveal information of some of the earliest civilizations on earth, as well as details about their ways of life and habitation.
Monastery of Temptation (Deir Quruntel)
The summit of the Mount of Temptation rises sharply 350 m above sea level, commanding a magnificent view of the Jordan Valley. The 30 to 40 caves on the eastern slopes of the mountain have been inhabited by monks and hermits since the early days of Christianity. It is the site where Jesus spent forty days and nights fasting and meditating during the temptation of Satan. A monastery was built in the sixth century over the cave where Christ stayed. The path leading to the monastery is very steep and difficult to climb, but is well worth the walk. Alternatively, a cable car scales the heights of the cliff, providing a spectacular view of the surrounding valley.
Hisham’s Palace is located on the northern bank of Wadi Nueima, 2 km north of Jericho in the Jordan Valley. It was identified as the ruins of Kh. Al-Mafjer. The site was built by Caliph Hisham bin Abed el-Malik who reigned between 724 to 743 AD. The site was used as a winter resort. The spectacular palace was destroyed in a severe earthquake in 749 AD.
The excavation was carried out by the Palestinian Department of Antiquities, between 1935 and 1946 under the direction of D. Baramki and R. Hamilton. The excavation uncovered a significant part of the palace complex. In 2006 excavation was carried out in the bath area, under the direction of H. Taha and between 2010 and 2013 a joint Palestinian-American expedition uncovered the north gate of the palace and remains of the Abbasid occupation in the northern part of the palace
The site is composed of a palace, a thermal bath complex, a mosque, and a monumental fountain within a perimeter wall that was never completed. The three first principal buildings were arranged along the west side of a common forecourt, with a pool covered with a pavilion in its center.
The palace was two stories with towers at the corners. The entrance to the palace was through a vaulted passage, lined with benches on both sides. It was planned around a central courtyard that was enclosed by four arcaded galleries. On the southern side a small mosque was found. In the western gallery of the central courtyard a stairway led to an antechamber paved with mosaics, which lead to an underground vaulted room, or sirdab, with benches and a mosaic floor. The common mosque is attached to the northern wall of the palace.
The large bath is located in the northern part of the palace. It consisted of a domed porch on the east, a great reception hall, a series of small bathing rooms and a latrine. The reception hall was paved with 38 colorful mosaics. In the southern part of the bath, a large swimming pool was found.
At the northwest corner of the reception hall is the diwan, a small guest room, with benches along the walls. The floor of the diwan was paved with fine mosaics, depicting the scene of the tree of life. The palace was supplied with water through an open channel from the Ein Deuk and Ein Nueima springs at the foot of Mount Quruntul.
Following the transfer of authority to the Palestinian side in Jericho, a large restoration and rehabilitation program was carried out by the Palestinian Department of Antiquities at the site, in cooperation with UNESCO, the Italian Cooperation, ANERA and USAID. The archeological park now includes a modern interpretation centre, a mosaic laboratory, and a site museum, as well as a new bridge and access roads.
The Sycamore Tree and Russian Museum
The sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbed so as to see Christ on his walk to Jerusalem has been housed since 2010 on the grounds of the Russian museum in Jericho. A salvage excavation was carried out on the lands of the building in June-September 2010 by a Palestinian-Russian expedition, the fruits of which are on display in the museum itself.
Just north of the Russian compound, remains of a mosaic floor appeared during bulldozing work. Excavation teams revealed a series of buildings, and mosaic pavements dating to the early Roman, Byzantine Umayyad, Medieval and Ottoman periods.
These, and ruins of Byzantine churches in the area are a testament to the major role Jericho played in the early stages of Christianity.
Ain Ad-Deuk Synagogue
The site of the Ain Ad-Deuk synagogue is located on the northern Bank of Wadi Nueima, northwest of Jericho. The site was exposed in 1918 by a shell fired by the Turks at the British in the area. Excavations in 1919 revealed a mosaic floor decorated with menorahs and Aramaic inscription.
The synagogue consists of a main hall, a narthex, and an adjoining courtyard surrounded by a wall. The entrance of the courtyard was to the north. The hall had a basilical plan and was divided by two rows of six columns into a nave and two aisles. The entire hall was paved with mosaics, while the narthex was paved with a white mosaic laid in black frame.
A series of conservation activities were carried out at the Synagogue by the Palestinian Authority Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in 2002 and 2004 aiming to maintain the mosaic pavements.
Shahwan House Mosaic
In 1936 a synagogue was discovered north of Tell As-Sultan in what is today the house basement of the Shahwan family. The remains revealed a building with a rectangular plan, divided into a nave and two aisles by two rows of square pillars. The pavement of the building is of mosaic with stylized geometric and floral design. In 2008 a series of restorations were carried out, including the restoration of the mosaic pavement.
Tawaheen As-Sukkar (The Sugar Mills)
Located in the lower foothills of the Jordan Valley, the original function of the once industrial zone is preserved in the name of the site, ‘the sugar mills.’ The mills give visitors an opportunity to take a look at an industrial installation for manufacturing sugar that was part of the economic activity in the Jordan Valley during the medieval period.
The Jordan Valley’s sugar cane cultivation and mills were mentioned in several early medieval sources, which described Jericho in 1225 AD as a city famous for sugar cane and dates. Three different components of the manufacturing process can be seen in the ruins of a water aqueduct, a courtyard, press, mill house, refinery, furnace, kitchen and a storage house. These represent three parts of the process: a water system, refinery, and the agricultural land.
Sugar cane was planted and harvested on the land, then shredded, crushed, and pressed. It was later boiled, and the resulting crystallized sugar was removed from the containers. The mill was powered by water brought by aqueducts from the springs of Ain Nueima and Ain Deyuk at the north-eastern foot of Mount of Temptation.
Located 15km south of Jericho on the western shore of the Dead Sea, this is the site where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were found. A Palestinian shepherd looking for a stray goat made the discovery of the scrolls in 1947.
The scrolls consist of copies of biblical and apocryphal literature, the writings of the sect, including the Commentaries, the Rule of the Community, the Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, and the Damascus Document. The dates of these scrolls range from the second century BC to 68 AD, but mostly dated from the first century BC. The study of the scrolls developed into an academic discipline known as Qumranic studies. It provides us with valuable information about the history of Judaism and the early phase of Christianity.
Following the find, several excavations were carried out in the site and the surrounding caves. The excavated site revealed a large complex of buildings, including communal facilities, a sophisticated water system, a library, and a large cemetery.
Wadi Qelt and the Monastery of Saint George
Wadi Qelt is a natural rift with high, sheer rock walls extending 45 km through the hills between Jerusalem and Jericho. Hermits have inhabited the wadi since the third century. Today, it is a wonderful place for hiking, especially in the winter. The Monastery of Saint George, Deir Al-Qelt, is an impressive structure carved out of the rock of the cliff walls. Built in the fifth or sixth century, the monastery was destroyed during the Persian invasion of Palestine. Most of the present monastery dates back to a 1901 restoration done by the Greek Orthodox Church.
The Good Samaritan Inn
Located 10 km east of Jerusalem on the main road to Jericho, the Good Samaritan Inn (Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, literally ‘The Red Inn’) is a sixteenth-century structure that once served as a rest stop for travellers. Today, the inn is occupied by a souvenir shop and a Bedouin tent serving refreshments to tourists. On the other side of the road are the remains of Saint Euthymius Church, which was built in the fifth century to commemorate the biblical story of the Good Samaritan.
Maqam An-Nabi Musa
Nabi Musa is the Arabic name for the Prophet Moses, who is recognised as one of the most important prophets in Islam, as well as Christianity and Judaism. Maqam An-Nabi Musa has been the site of an annual pilgrimage since the time of Salah Ad-Din. Set in an awe-inspiring landscape 20 km east of Jerusalem, the shrine is a splendid example of medieval Islamic architecture. The shrine, mosque, minaret, and some of the rooms at the site were built in 1269, and successive additions were added in 1475.
The Jordan River
The Jordan River flows from Mount Hermon in Syria, about 3,000 feet above sea level, to the Dead Sea, which is 1,300 feet below sea level. The winding Jordan River, with an average width of 100 feet, covers a distance of only 65 miles as the crow flies. However, if it were stretched out, the riverbed would cover 160 miles end-to-end. Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan River, and ever since, the river has been a holy site for Christians, with many pilgrims visiting the river every year to be baptised.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea, also known as the Salt Sea and the Sea of Lot, is a unique body of water in the Jordan Rift Valley. The Dead Sea is 85 km long and 17 km wide and covers an area of about 677 square km. It lies about 417 m below sea level, making the Dead Sea the lowest point on Earth. In addition, the Dead Sea is the world’s saltiest large water body, with a salt concentration ten times higher than the Mediterranean. The earliest traces of nearby human habitation date back to the Chalcolithic period (approximately 4500 to 2500 BC). It was mentioned in the Bible and described by many Greek, Roman and Arab writers.
The entire basin is a spectacular landscape characterised by the abundance of a variety of ecosystems, including semitropical marshland, mudflats, wetlands, semi-desert, and arid desert. The diverse ecosystems surrounding the Dead Sea make this area an important site for biodiversity. It is home to some rare and threatened flora and fauna, such as the Lesser Kestrel. The Dead Sea basin is considered one of the main global bird migration routes, as well as an important bird habitat in the Middle East. Along with its ecological importance, the Dead Sea is rich minerals, attracting millions of visitors who wish to take advantage of the therapeutic qualities of its waters.