Jericho, Palestine – The Oldest City on Earth and the Mountain of Temptation
Seeing Jericho, the oldest city in the world whose walls fell when the trumpets of Jericho sounded, and climbing Mount Temptation has always been a dream of mine. After all, this is where biblical history was created many years ago. Despite its status as the officially recognized first city on earth, it is in the Palestinian territories. And despite the fact that it is easily accessible by regular bus (from Jerusalem to Ramallah and from there to Jericho), many people are afraid to go there. And in vain. Despite the fact that Israel is in a permanent state of war with almost all the Arab states and exchanges greetings in the form of bombings and bombs with Lebanon and Syria, the country is very cozy. To come under fire is a matter of chance. You have to go through not very comfortable procedures for checking the luggage more than once or twice during the trip, in cars and railway stations. Nevertheless, the clean central streets will put your guard down, and the army’s presence in the streets will add color and confidence that you are well protected.
A panoramic view of modern Jericho from the Mount of Temptation
Driving from Jerusalem to Palestine
Should you ever decide to leave blessed Jerusalem, there will be a big surprise! As you approach the Arab part of the city (El Qud), you will realize that you are in a foreign land. Suddenly, it is much messier, you will find more garbage in the streets. That’s right, we are practically in poor Palestine. The shuttles and buses go to the Palestinian territories, where the biblical Jericho is located, from two bus stations. They are located near the Damascus Gate. The first can be seen immediately from the gate, and to go to Ramallah, you have to go around the block. Buses (#18) from Jerusalem to Ramallah, the capital of Palestine, leave every ten minutes and the ticket costs 7 shekels. The trip takes about an hour.
You will notice the difference right away. The poor neighborhoods of Jerusalem will pass before your eyes, with nothing to do with the splendor of the Jewish part of the city. The only link is the new streetcar that connects the Jewish and Arab parts of the city. There is a checkpoint at the border of the city, and after that you will find yourself at the famous wall with graffiti calling for the freedom of Palestine and a portrait of Yasser Arafat on it.
So, Jericho was on my agenda for the day, and I wanted to see it before dark, so I left Nablus very early. In Ramallah I found another bus station after asking the drivers for its location, and took a service (18 shekels). As soon as the bus was full, the driver pressed the gas and drove like he was in a Formula 1 race! The city scenery was quickly replaced by the countryside, and then we drove into uninhabited territory. It seemed as if somehow the service had transported us straight to Mars. These desolate, sand-colored mountains captivated me forever. One could admire such beauty forever.
Bare, hilly terrain.
What is it like today, the biblical city?
Like oases in the window, small towns occasionally flashed through the window, and finally the City of the Moon, the City of Palms, the oldest settlement in the world – Jericho!
Even the most conservative scholars agree that this city has the oldest history. Of course, ten thousand years is too much, they lament, but six thousand is just right. But I do not believe the scientists or theologians who tend to protect their interests, but the science enthusiasts. The modern city is an ordinary large Arab village, with beautiful mosques and a large market in the center. But there is much to see here as well. Among the attractions of the most ancient city on earth are the winter palace of Herod, the palace of Caliph Hisham and the fig tree of Zacchaeus.
Amazing greenery on stone ground
Zacchaeus’ two-thousand-year-old Sycamore tree in Jericho
The trunk-xil of the Sycamore after the sanitation
But they all pale in importance to the hill whose excavation exposed the very first city on earth ten thousand years old! In my eyes, the value of fallen Jericho exceeded that of all the cities of Palestine.
Ahead is Mount Temptation!
To find the old city, Tel-es-Sultan, it was a bit of a scramble and I had to walk about four kilometers. It is located by the mountains, on the outskirts of modern neighborhoods. The entrance is 10 shekels. And the search was worth it! Some people like castles or skyscrapers, some admire bridges or pyramids. So do I. But the excavation of Jericho made the most amazing impression on me. In the open jaws of time, I saw the remains of a life so far away from us. And it seemed that the trumpets that had once shattered these walls are not silent to this day. And the city, lying in ruins, would never rise again. How many secrets did it hide, this mysterious city?
The oldest city on earth.
The hill on which Jericho stood.
The ruins of Jericho are hidden under a thick layer of cinder
Excavations have been carried out on the hill
Several layers of foundations from different historical periods
Excavated foundations of destroyed Jericho buildings
Here, archaeologists have dug deep enough
New Jericho is not far from historical Jericho
Mount Temptation in Jericho
The ruins of Jericho are located at the foot of the Mount of Temptation where Jesus spent 40 days without water or food. You can get there by cable car for 55 shekels. At the top there is a functioning monastery. The caves, where even now live hermit monks, are clearly visible. And from the mountain itself there is a view of Jericho, and from there you can see the neighboring Jordan and the Dead Sea.
The impregnable Mount of Temptation
Here Jesus spent 40 days without water or food.
Mount of Temptation and the clouds
The Greek church on Temptation Hill
Twilight was slowly descending on the ancient city, and we had to think about the time to return from Jericho to Jerusalem.
View of Jericho from the Mount of Temptation
A panoramic view of modern Jericho
An incident at the border.
At six o’clock it is completely dark in the Middle East. So when I returned to the center in complete darkness, all the buses and shuttles were long gone. But there are no hopeless situations. I found a shuttle bus to Qalandia on the border between the Palestinian and Israeli territories, where I could catch a shuttle to the Holy City. It cost 18+10 shekels. However, I did not know that in Kalandia everything is very strict. When I got off the bus and tried to cross the border between the Israeli and Palestinian territories on my own, believing that the buses to Jerusalem were waiting for me on the other side, I was stopped by the border guard from the tower ordering me to turn back. I do not know Hebrew, but I immediately understood the intensity of the Arab-Israeli conflict, because I could hear in the officer’s voice a clear threat of execution. Some of the drivers in the queue told me not to walk, that there would indeed be shooting, and where the shuttle was waiting. Having happily escaped the mournful fate, I was soon rushing to Jerusalem.
What else to see
Other cities that happened to be on the other side of the border – Bethlehem (Beit Lehem, the birthplace of Christ) and Hebron (Hebron, the Cave of Machpelah, the burial place of the patriarchs Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rebekah) also deserve a lot of attention. Shuttle bus to Bethlehem costs 7 shekels, then you can go to Hebron for 10. And the same route back to Jerusalem.
The Palestinian territories is a very limited name for an entire country. It has always been simply Palestine, and the ancestors of today’s inhabitants have always lived here. And it is strange to hear the ringing voice of the border guards who control others, deluding themselves that it is possible to survive sitting on a time bomb that they themselves once set in motion. The earth will tear down all boundaries, sparing neither the right nor the wrong, if its patience is long tested. As it once happened to Jericho. So maybe we shouldn’t?
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Jericho. The most ancient city on the planet.
Jericho. The city is called Jericho in Hebrew and Jericho in Arabic and is located at the foot of the Judean mountains opposite the Jordan River flowing into the Dead Sea in the Jericho Oasis. Jericho is the oldest excavated city in the world, with about 10,000 years of almost continuous settlement. It is also the lowest city in the world, located more than 350 m below sea level in an oasis considered the largest in the entire Middle East and located a few kilometers north of the northern tip of the Dead Sea.
The name of the city, according to one version, comes from the word “moon” – “yareah” in Hebrew, according to another – from the word “smell”, “fragrance” – “reah”. The second hypothesis is probably related to the fact that in ancient times the oasis of Jericho was used to grow spices and incense, the only place in Israel where these crops can grow due to the unique climate and the presence of water. The oldest archaeological evidence is the remains of a Neolithic tower, about 8,000 years B.C. The oldest written reference is the book of Joshua.
Immediately after the forty years of Jewish wandering in the desert and the death of Moses, the Jewish army crosses the Jordan at about the present Allenby Bridge and becomes encamped at Galgala just on the eve of the Passover. Jericho becomes the first city captured by the Israelites using a clever military trick: the Jewish army circles the city seven times, so that it appears to be seven times as big as the besieged, then trumpets seven times in seven jubilee trumpets – “and the walls of the city fell” (Joshua 6). Hence came the famous statement about “the trumpets of Jericho.” Jericho was completely destroyed, its inhabitants exterminated to a single person, with the exception of the harlot Ra’ab, who sheltered the Jewish spies in her time, for which she was spared.
It must be said that archaeologists have not found any evidence of that era, since the layer that should correspond in time to the Jewish occupation of the Promised Land, as well as all the subsequent layers in time, were washed away by the winter floods of Wadi Kelt, which comes out here. This, of course, is not proof that the events described in the book of Joshua did not actually take place. According to the division of land between the tribes, the oasis of Jericho – the city itself was not rebuilt – went to the tribe of Binyamin. Later it served as a regional and agricultural center at various times and is repeatedly mentioned in the Bible. In the Hasmonean period a whole complex of royal summer palaces was built here, later rebuilt by Herod the Great for his needs. In particular, Herod built here a theater and a hippodrome in one building, which is quite unusual.
It was given as a valuable gift to the famous Cleopatra by Mark Antony, a lover. It was destroyed during the Jewish War and rebuilt by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the first half of the 2nd century A.D. After the destruction of the Second Temple here for some hundred years – at least till the 7th century. – The mosaic floor of a late Talmudic synagogue has been found. The site was again completely destroyed during the Crusades and later became one of the major Arab centers, as it remains to this day. In 1994 it was handed over by the Rabin government to Arafat and became one of the main centers of the Palestinian Authority.
This place has always been of extreme strategic importance for three main reasons: it was and is the crossroads of the most important roads and caravan routes of the Middle East, it is the largest oasis with plenty of fresh water thanks to Wadi Kelt, Jordan and a number of local sources and there is a unique climate that allowed to grow unique cultures, spices and fragrances, especially in the ancient world, here found the oldest persimmon plantation in the world, it is believed that this fruit first began to cultivate here. Excavations in this historically interesting place have been conducted since the middle of the last century. The excavations have been attended by archeologists from all over the world, including such famous ones as Kathleen Canyon and the Israeli Ehud Netser. The excavations of the Hasmonean and Herodian palaces, conducted largely in our time under the direction of Ehud Netzer, are located right where the Wadi Celt leaves the rocky cleft and bursts out into the open space. The Hasmoneans have been building here probably since the founding of the dynasty, although maximum development occurred in the period of Alexander Jannai. After this, the most successful Hasmonean king, Queen Alexander Salome – Shlomtzion ha-Malka completed two more palaces, and during her lifetime, Herod, the gradually entering into power son of Antipater builds his first villa – a summer palace. The Herodian construction here is rather unusual: it was carried out by a special construction team sent from Rome by Augustus Agrippa, the Emperor’s son-in-law, and is therefore quite unlike the typical Herodian construction in other places.
First, the buildings are made of unusually small bricks. Secondly, the walls are not made of square bricks, as elsewhere, opus quadratum, but of diamond-shaped bricks which stand on a sharp edge, opus reticulatum. Such construction is observed only in this period and in only three places in Israel – here, at Banias, and near the Shechem Gate in Jerusalem. It is most likely that the same brigade built in all three places, which then returned to Rome. The back wall of the Herodian basin, with niches for statues and plaster, is well preserved here. The structure has a good sense of the purely Hellenistic combination of architecture and nature, unusual for Roman architecture. In Israel, more than in Rome, the traces and ideas of ancient Greece are preserved. There are also the ruins of a large palace with a huge central hall, with a well-crafted floor lined with colorful stones, and pools with brick pillars with remnants of a very thick layer of plaster, and a circular room with a circular structure in the middle of an unknown purpose: perhaps a pool, or a fountain, or something else. Perhaps Jericho’s main attraction is the mound of the ancient city, Tel Yeriho. The Arabs call it Tel es-Sultan and the spring next to it En-Sultan, the same one in which the prophet Elisha – Elisha – desalinated water. It was on this spot that the walls stood, fallen from the sound of the trumpets of the Israelites. Excavations conducted here many times, since the time of the English explorers of the last century, have uncovered much of interest. First Warren and then Kathleen Canyon excavated the entire cel, exposing the ruins of the city all the way down to the Neolithic tower – the 8th millennium BC, when there were no cities anywhere in the world at all. We also found red-brick city walls dating back to about 3,000 B.C., the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, when, again, there were virtually no cities anywhere in the world.
The area of the town of that period is about 40 acres and is a large settlement for that time. The city was surrounded by a rampart, an embankment also preserved under a layer of earth, which surrounds an area twice the size of the city, which means that there may have been houses outside the fortress walls as well. The mound had not only a military purpose, but it also protected the city from floods. In Joshua’s time it no longer existed, so the layer of this period was later washed away. There is now a Coptic church in the city, in the courtyard of which the floor of a Byzantine Basilica of the Virgin was found. Not far from the bus station there is a building of the Russian Orthodox mission and dormitory for pilgrims, on the territory of which a Byzantine tomb tablet of 566 with a dedication to the local bishop was found. Today this building serves the Palestinian administration. The ruins of various Byzantine buildings and churches have also been discovered in various places in the city including Andrea, Tel el-Hassan and others. Just 600m south of the main mound are the remains of the Herodian buildings, the theater and the hippodrome – Tel Samarat. In Jericho there is also an ancient synagogue dated to about the 8th century A.D. with a mosaic floor which was discovered by chance during the reconstruction of an old house. The mosaic depicts the menorah and the arch of the covenant, the aron a-kodesh. There is also an inscription on the floor that reads, “Peace to the people of Israel.” The synagogue was discovered in 1936. The house is now owned by Jews and can be visited. Another important point of interest in this ancient city are the ruins of the Arab palace of the Umayyad rulers of Jericho in the 8th century AD, known as the “Palace of Hisham. It was founded between about 747 and 749 by the ruler El-Walid on a rather large area including his own farm which stretches to the shores of the Jordan River. It is thought that before El-Walid, in 724, another ruler, Hisham el-Malik, took a liking to the site but did not manage to build anything. Today, however, the palace is mistakenly called after him.
Entrance to the palace through an impressive gate with niches for statues is quite unusual for Islam, which forbids all kinds of images of man. The sculptures found are now in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. The gates are elaborately decorated with elaborate ornate carvings, arabesques so accepted in the Muslim world in everything, right down to the ornate speech. There is no symbolism in the images, only decoration. Behind the gate there are seats – lay-beds with stone head-rests. Then there is a huge courtyard with a beautiful abstract sculpture in the middle. From the courtyard there is a descent under the ground, where it is much cooler – there were rest rooms. The palace was never finished due to the injury and death of El-Walid, but he managed to build most of the structures. The palace was excavated by the Jordanians until 1967 and by Israeli archaeologists. A huge and splendid bath-house with mosaic floors and very thick columns has been preserved.
The baths were supposed to be covered by a roof, but it either collapsed over time or was never built at all. The building is decorated with stone carvings and was covered with plaster. The guest room, with very beautiful mosaics, with walls and roof, is completely preserved. Nearby are the toilets. The entrance to the baths was decorated with a dome and carvings, which are also in the Rockefeller Museum today. There is also a mosque with a mihrab and a pool with small arches – arabesques and a fountain. Today Jericho is part of the Palestinian Authority and it is not recommended to visit the city. From Jericho to Ramallah, there is an ancient road that includes Roman verst posts.