Jericho is actually one of 5 cities in the world claiming to be THE oldest one. The complete list as follows:
• Jericho in Palestinian Autonomy
• Byblos in Lebanon
• Damascus in Syria
• Luxor in Egypt and
• Beirut in Lebanon
The truth is all 5 of them have a history dating back many thousands of years. Only in Jericho, though, the first settlements that were discovered date back even more than 9 000 years BC. That makes this city ca 11 000 years old. ELEVEN. THOUSAND. And you can really feel it walking through the city. It’s an incredible city. Feels almost like the time stopped here, but at the same time, it’s got this strangely modern feel to it too. It’s not a big city. I’ve found statistics that say about 20 000 people live here. It’s also not the nicest looking place. I will remember it as very busy and noisy and dirty. But you just know walking those streets it is special, anyway.
TELL AL-SULTAN AND HOW TO GET THERE
Ancient Jericho in the West Bank is otherwise known as Tell al-Sultan. It’s not that easy to get to Jericho from Jerusalem using the public transport – even though it’s so close – not even 40 km. By the way. If you want to google it using Google Maps. Don’t. You will not find the route – as Google just “cannot calculate” some routes to and from PA. There’s tons of multilayer politics behind it. It might be easier, though, to go to Bethlehem or Ramallah from Jerusalem and start your journey to Jericho from there.
Another thing is – not everyone can go to Jericho with their own car. You will have to have a special car insurance for West Bank. Not all rental cars companies have them, but with a little research, you will find them. Also, as always – you cannot be Israeli to enter West Bank. Well – you can – but you just have to have another citizenship as well.
It always amazes me how Jericho is this warm and cosy place not even 40 km away from Jerusalem. You can experience it, especially in the winter months when the temperature difference can be as high as 10 degrees. It’s warmer in Jericho of course. 😉 One of the reasons for that is that Jericho is situated 260 m below the sea level, plus there’s the height of the surrounding mountains, too. They are warming the city up like a blanket. With Jerusalem, at almost 800 m above the sea level, you get around 1100 m difference.
THE LOWEST CITY ON EARTH
Those precious meters below the sea level make this city the best in another category. Besides being the oldest, Jericho is also the lowest city in the world!
The moderate climate is also the reason Jericho is considered a winter resort. It’s also important agriculturally – with the production of fresh fruit and veggies all year round. Especially bananas and dates from Jericho are quite well known. Just like thousands of years ago the area is full of date palms, and banana farms. In the Bible Jericho is called – “the city of palm trees”.
Like many cities in the region, Jericho has some complicated modern history. Before that as well, of course, but I’d have to write a book not a blog post to cover that;)
In the last century, it was occupied by Jordan (1949-1967), then by Israel until 1994. Then, under the Oslo Accords, the administrative control over the city was given to the Palestinians.
If you’ve already walked around the city, had your lunch and drank your lemonade – you may look around and see what else there is to see:
MOUNT OF TEMPTATION
You cannot not see it. The peak of the mountain is about 350 m above sea level and you’ll get to see an absolutely magnificent view of the Jordan Valley. It’s precisely the place where Jesus is believed to have spent 40 days fasting and meditating during the temptation by Satan. The Monastery was built a little above the cave where he is said to have stayed. To reach the place you can take a walk, but there’s also a cable car that goes up to the monastery. It is a very short but a very scenic route.
On top of the mountain, there’s also a place you can get something to drink or get a souvenir. The man draws and creates the sand bottles.
Otherwise known as the Umayyad palace at Khirbet al-Mafjar. You will find the ruins of this desert palace some 3 km north of Jericho. It used to be the residence of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham – between 724-743AD. It’s a sizable complex of the ruins of buildings with absolutely amazing mosaic floors.
One feature probable everyone interested in the area has seen is the hexagonal Umayyad star.
After the transfer of authority to the Palestinian Autonomy, there was a large rehabilitation and restoration program carried out in cooperation with the international help – such as UNESCO and USAID. There’s a modern mosaic laboratory and museum within the archaeological park now.
THE SYCAMORE TREE
The Sycamore tree of Zachhaeus is said to be over 2000 years old now… The legend says it’s the exact tree that Zacchaeus climbed onto in order to better see Jesus going through Jericho from Jerusalem. Since 2010 the tree is on the grounds of the Russian Museum in Jericho. There’s always a lot of fruit vendors around it – all of them are more than willing to tell you the legend for a small fee;)
THE SITE OF THE JESUS BAPTISM AT QASR EL-YAHUD ON THE JORDAN RIVER
THE FOUNTAIN OF ELISHA’S
Also known as – Ain Es-SultanThere’s a story about why it’s called this way. It says the prophet listened to the people of Jericho, and cleansed their water by casting a handful of salt into it. The Byzantines built here a church in honor of St. Elisha’s.
THE MONASTERY OF SAINT GEORGE
The Monastery of St. George in Wadi Qelt is carved out of the rock and is sort of hugging the canyon walls. It was built in the fifth century and later destroyed during the Persian invasion of Palestine. Most of the present monastery dates back to 1901 when it was restored by the Greek Orthodox Church.
Hermits and monks have inhabited Wadi Qelt since the third century. Today, it is amazing hiking place – especially in winter – might be too hot in the summertime.
TUSCANY? WHAT ABOUT IT?
Did you know that Pisa in Tuscany, Italy is a twin city of Jericho? 🙂
To sum up. If you have some time left after seeing Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and Haifa and Acco, and Eilat and Makhtesh Ramon and maybe even Ramallah… OR if your journey is one with the religious background or if you simply love the history of this area. For me – it wasn’t the greatest of experiences ever, although I cannot deny it – stepping the stones of the place that was inhabited for 11 thousand years just gives you the nicest of chills – you might want to check it out for yourself:)