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 es-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.
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.