Jericho, the Ancient City, where Time Stood Still

Local authorities proudly call Jericho the ‘world’s oldest continuously inhabited city’ and this is no idle boast – archaeological evidence traces the city’s history back over 10,000 years. Earthquakes proved Jericho’s biggest challenge, leveling many of its most fantastic sites – such as Hisham’s Palace – over the centuries.When you visit Jericho, you will see it frozen in time; not much has changed since those times. Click here for maps of Jericho.

This article reads like an itinerary for a tour in and around Jericho. This article gives you enough information to go around this ancient city. But if you want or need more input and deeper background information, or if you are a Pilgrim and want deeper information about the Christian penetration of this place, talk with Wim the guide. Jericho is one of his many specialties.

In this article you find information what’s to see and where to sleep and eat.

Map Of Jericho
Map Of Jericho

Jericho has modernized somewhat since the Canaanite period, but not much. Small-scale farming still makes up a significant portion of the local economy, although tourism is making inroads. The town is rather scruffy and unkempt but retains a raffish charm and a smiley demeanor. Most visitors just stay long enough to ascend the Mount of Temptation and marvel at the archaeological remains of Tel al-Sultan (Ancient Jericho).

Brief History
Settled history in Jericho dates to around 10,000 BCE when hunter-gatherer groups settled here around a spring. Mudbrick buildings were erected at the site and by 9400 BCE it’s believed that some 1000 people lived here.

For the biblically astute, Jericho is known as the first city the Israelites captured after wandering for 40 years in the desert: shaken by horn blasts and the Israelites’ shouts, the city walls came crashing down (Joshua 6). Following Alexander the Great’s conquest of the region in the 4th century BCE, Jericho became his personal fiefdom.

Further waves of occupiers arrived and departed until Jericho fell into the hands of Mark Antony, who gave it to Cleopatra as a wedding gift. Herod later leased it from Cleopatra and improved its infrastructure with aqueducts and a hippodrome. The 1st-century aristocracy of Jerusalem used the city as a winter getaway.

Christians celebrate Jericho as the place where John the Baptist received his own baptism in the Jordan River and where the temptation of Jesus took place on the mountain.

In the 1967 Six Day War Israel captured Jericho from Jordan. After the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, it became the first city to be handed over to Palestinian Authority control. During the Second Intifada, the Israeli army attacked the Palestinian Authority prison and security headquarters in Jericho.

Today Jericho has returned its attention to tourism and daily trade, and though you won’t find a great many foreign visitors in town, it makes an interesting stop for a night or two.

Sights

Tree of Zacchaeus
Tree of Zacchaeus

A gaggle of storefronts and restaurants with colorful bouquets of household products, fresh produce and roasting snack foods spilling into the streets marks Jericho’s diminutive and dusty town center. The Tree of Zacchaeus, nearby on Ein as-Sultan St (a sycamore said to be more than 2000 years old) received its name from the story of the wealthy tax collector who was too short to see Jesus amid the crowds and thus climbed this very tree to get a better view. Seeing this, Jesus asked the tax collector if he could visit his home, a gesture that so moved Zacchaeus that he decided to dedicate himself to a life of charitable deeds.

Jericho
Jericho

Many of Jericho’s sights are outside the city, making for good drives, hikes or cable car rides into the surrounding area. The best way to see these sites is to hire a driver for the day – 30NIS to 40NIS an hour is a fair price.

The new tourist information center in Jericho’s main square is an excellent place to stop at early in your visit. Staff speak fluent English and have a huge variety of information about sights and tours, as well as very useful maps of the area. It is open every day.

Tel al-Sultan (Ancient Jericho) (adult/child 10/5NIS; 8am-5pm)

Tel al-Sultan near Jericho
Tel al-Sultan near Jericho

It is impossible not feel a sense of history strolling around the mounds and ruins at Tel al-Sultan, where remains of dwellings and fortifications dating back some 10,000 years have been unearthed. You will see what look like sand dunes and stairways (the oldest known stairways in the world); underneath, the layers of civilization beneath go back even further into the mists of history.

Tel al-Sultan near Jericho
Tel al-Sultan near Jericho

The remains of a round tower, thought to date from 8000 BCE, indicates that Jericho was possibly the world’s first fortified city; legend has it that the tower withstood seven earthquakes. Though a large portion of ancient Jericho remains unexcavated, Tel al-Sultan is an essential part of any trip to the city, and what has already been identified here is very well explained on signposts throughout the site.

Mount of Temptation & Monastery of the Qurantul (round trip 55NIS; 8am-9pm)

It was on the Mount of Temptation where, so we’re told, Jesus resisted Satan after his 40-day fast in the desert. The Monastery of the Qurantul marks the spot where the Devil urged Jesus to make a loaf of bread out of a stone (Matthew 4:1–11). It’s an incredible feat of engineering, cut into the cliff face with dramatic views over the Dead Sea to Jordan.

Opening times for the monastery are sporadic but as with all tourist attractions in Palestine it is best to go early – or at least a couple of hours before sunset.

Note that the caretaker may lock the door if he is showing big groups around, so it is worth hanging around a few minutes if you find it closed.

Cable cars stop just before the monastery, and even the short climb up the stairs to the front gate can be a struggle in the midday heat. They sometimes stop running without notice, making for a sweaty 400m climb. The juice sellers and a couple of restaurants provide a good spot to catch your breath.

Hisham’s Palace (Khirbet al-Mafjar; admission 10NIS; 8am-6pm)

Hisham’s Palace
Hisham’s Palace

A short drive north of Tel al-Sultan, this is a spot not to be missed. The sprawling winter hunting retreat of Caliph Hisham Ibn Abd al-Malik must have been magnificent on its creation in the 8th century, with its baths, mosaic floors and pillars – so much so that archaeologists have labelled it the ‘Versailles of the Middle East’. It was not fated to last, however – it was destroyed by an earthquake soon after its creation.

The caretaker will direct you to a cinema, where you will be shown a 20-minute video on the history of the site, which gives much-needed perspective for a walk around the ruins. A high point is an amazingly well-preserved ‘tree of life’ mosaic in the entertaining room of the bathhouse. On one side of the tree two deer graze peacefully, while on the other a deer is attacked by a lion. There are various interpretations of the mosaic, including the struggle between good and evil, peace and war, as well as good versus bad governance.

Wadi Qelt & Nabi Musa

Wadi Qelt
Wadi Qelt

The steep canyon of Wadi Qelt links Jerusalem to Jericho and has a number of interesting religious sites along its course, as well as springs, plants and wildlife, and often breathtaking views over the mountains and desert. The whole canyon is hikeable, although it would take a full day, and even in the spring and autumn the heat can be intense. The key sites of the wadi are linked to the highway that connects Jerusalem with Jericho and the Dead Sea, and are well signposted in both directions. See for more information the Wadi Qelt & Nabi Musa article.

Qasr al-Yahud (9am-4pm Apr-Oct, 9am-3pm Nov-Mar)
Qasr el Yahud Jordan River Baptizing8At an isolated spot on the Jordan River, on the border between Jordan and the West Bank, stands the reputed spot of Jesus’s baptism by John (Matthew 3), which began his ministry. John was based here because it was an important crossroads for passing traders, business people and soldiers, but the same cannot be said of the site today. It was only reopened to pilgrims in 2011; you must pass an Israeli checkpoint and drive through a deserted landscape surrounded by barbed wire and  minefields to reach a car park, from where it is a short walk down to the river.

Expect to see dozens of pilgrims, most in white T-shirts or smocks, taking turns in walking to the water and submerging themselves. The Jordan River is divided in the middle by a piece of wood – which denotes the border and prevents people from wading to the other side. Just meters away, armed Jordanian soldiers loll on a bench, facing their Israeli counterparts. Whether you are religious or not, it is a beautiful spot, and the site has been fully renovated with changing facilities, a gift  shop, a food and drink outlet and shaded areas where you can sit and admire the view.

Inn of the Good Samaritan (adult/child 21/9NIS; 8am-5pm Apr-Oct, 8am-4pm Nov-Mar)

Inn of the Good Samaritan
Inn of the Good Samaritan

Located just off the main road between Jerusalem and Jericho, this site is associated with the popular parable told in Luke 10: 25-37. In the story, Jesus describes a man who is robbed, beaten and left for dead on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. A priest passes by and then a Levite but neither lends a hand to the stricken traveler. Finally, a Samaritan stops to help the stranger, dressing his wounds and bringing him to a nearby inn; thus ‘good Samaritan’ became a byword for  compassionate individual’.

Inn of the Good Samaritan
Inn of the Good Samaritan

Historians suggest that an Israelite rather than a Samaritan was the original hero of the story, and that a Greek translator mistakenly swapped the words while compiling the book of Luke.

Inn of the Good Samaritan
Inn of the Good Samaritan

Archaeologists have unearthed a Second Temple-era palace, presumably constructed by Herod, which may have been converted into the inn mentioned in the Bible. A church was added under the Byzantines, and during the Crusader period a khan (travellers inn) was erected. The ruins you can see today are a confection of foundations and mosaics from the different eras of construction. Also on the site is a new Israeli museum housing a collection of mosaics.

Jericho Cable Car (www.jericho-cablecar.com; 60NIS; 8am-8pm)

Jericho
Jericho

The Swiss-made red cable cars that ply the route between Tel al-Sultan and the Mount of Temptation are visible from throughout Jericho. Although they may appear dated, the 20-minute ride is a great way to see the city and the farms that dominate its outskirts. Even when the site is quiet, cars leave fairly regularly.Look out for the network of irrigation ditches that intersect the groves growing bananas and oranges, a technique used in this city for thousands of years.

Sleeping

Jericho’s accommodation scene is hardly burgeoning, but there is a handful of options for each price category.

sami-youth-hostel-2
Outside of Sami Youth Hostel

Sami Youth Hostel (02-232 4220; eyad_alalem@live.com; NIS 120)
The best budget option in Jericho, this guesthouse is nestled deep in the ramshackle refugee camp, with a dozen private rooms in a clean, quiet and enigmatically furnished two-story hostel. Coming into Jericho from Highway 90, take a left at the first roundabout, then continue straight – the guesthouse will be on your right. Failing that, ask any local for ‘Hotel Sami’ and they will point the way. The owner, Sami, speaks perfect English, and can advise on tours to the sights around Jericho.

Inside the Sami Youth Hostel
Inside the Sami Youth Hostel

Oasis Hotel (02-231 1200; http://www.intercontinental.com; d US$120-40, US$200)
Until 2014 this cavernous hotel was the Intercontinental Jericho, and the logo is still visible on the side of the building, one of the tallest in the city. Much of the decor has remained the same, and rooms are clean and modern, with baths and TVs.  The hotel also has two pools, a bar and helpful staff.

Oasis Hotel in Jericho
Oasis Hotel in Jericho

Jericho Resort Village (02-232 1255; http://www.jerichoresorts.com; s/d 350/450NIS, bungalows 500-550NIS)
Out in the north of the city by Hisham’s Palace, this resort hotel has two pools and a range of comfortable and well-furnished rooms, including modern chalets, doubles and singles. In 2014, the owners added two levels to the main building. It is popular with tour groups so be sure to book ahead.

Jericho Resort Village
Jericho Resort Village

Eating

felafel
felafel

The roads surrounding Jericho’s central square are packed with kebab and felafel stands, as well as small coffee shops. A kebab or sandwich is unlikely to cost more than 10NIS, and the park in the center of the roundabout is a lovely spot to sit, eat and watch the locals playing cards and smoking shisha.

Al Essawe (Main Sq; mains 15-45NIS; 6am-11pm daily)
On a corner overlooking Jericho’s main square, Al Essawe’s lovely 2nd-floor terrace is an excellent place to watch the world go by. The owner speaks English and the restaurant serves the usual Arabic fare, kebabs, felafel and mezze. Al Essawe’s speciality is barbecued chicken in lemon sauce. Coffee and shisha are served on the roof terrace.

Abu Omar (Ein al-Sultan St; mains 20-50NIS; 6am-midnight)
Next to the main square, this local favourite serves everything from felafel in pita (4NIS) to a half chicken dinner for two people (50NIS).

Rosanna Restaurant and Café (Jericho-Jerusalem Rd; 35-70NIS; 10am-late)
A good option for those staying either at Sami’s or the Oasis, Rosanna is walking distance from both hotels and serves Arabic and Western food in massive portions. In the evenings, films are projected onto a screen outside in the leafy garden, the centrepoint of which is a bubble fountain. Despite the signs, Rosanna no longer appears to serve alcohol, but the Oasis over the road has a good bar open 24 hours.

Getting There & Away

There are no direct service taxis from Jerusalem to Jericho. A private taxi ride from Jerusalem to Jericho (or vice versa) should cost around 400NIS. The best way to reach Jericho via public transport is from Ramallah, where buses leave regularly throughout the day. Ask around for the bus times, since they vary; they generally take around 90 minutes via a circuitous route to avoid the Qalandia checkpoint.Remember to bring a passport; you’ll need to show it on the way back  to Jerusalem.

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