The Allure of the Desert

Vibrant colours, gentle aromatic fragrance, and a comforting sense of warmth are all incorporated at the mention of the name of the most ancient city on earth, Jericho. Flanked by the Moab Mountains to the east, and the Jerusalem Mountains to the west, the expansive horizon stretching between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea creates a subtropical ecological niche wherein wild fauna and flora thrive. Known as an oasis, Jericho and its surroundings consist of a number of perennial springs running slowly through its fields, creating unique biodiversity elements. The area of the Jordan Valley is known to be one of the main migratory routes for soaring birds due to the abundance of air thermals. At Wadi Al-Qelt culture and nature come together wonderfully. The valley is a an exception place for hiking tours, especially in the winter. The valley stretches from the suburbs of Jerusalem in the west to Jericho and Jordan River in the east.

The trail
Ein Fawwar – Wadi Al-Qelt Region – The Monastery of St. George- Herod’s Winter Palace- Tell es-Sultan – Deir Quruntul and the Monastery of the Temptation- Deir Hijleh- The Baptism Site

The sites
Ein Fawwar
Named for the Arabic word that means “comes out of the ground,” Ein Fawwar originates in rainfall on the Jerusalem hills, and is one of the three springs that feed Wadi Qelt, which stretches from north of Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley and drains into the Jordan River above the Dead Sea. At Ein Fawwar, water slowly dripping through the limestone cliffs all year round fills up a Karstic cave; when full, the water ows into the pool for about 20 minutes and the process is periodically repeated. Ruins of a Byzantine church is visible through this area.

Wadi Al-Qelt Region; Nature, Ascetics, and Hermits
The importance of the wadi began with Herod’s demand for water to supply his winter palace and garden during the Roman Period. A Roman aqueduct was built along the valley to bring water from Ein Fawwar and Ein Al-Qelt. The structure of this aqueduct is still
visible in the valley. The availability of water made the valley the site of one of the known Roman roads. The dramatically picturesque canyon has been inhabited by hermits since the third century. More than 150 caves hanging on deep precipices sheltered these hermits whose only access was via ropes and flimsy ladders.
The Church still stands and provides a stop on one of the most scenic winter hikes in Palestine. Along the valley, Rocky Hyrax could be spotted along side with various bird species such as Tristram’s Grackle and Palestine Sunbird.

The Monastery of St. George:

St. George’s Monastery began in the fourth century with a few monks who sought the desert experiences of the prophets, John the Baptist and Jesus, and settled around a cave where they believed Elijah was fed by ravens throughout his way to Sinai. The monastery is one of the unique desert monasteries in Palestine, which has its uniqueness value. It consists of a cluster of caves for hermits with the church. Carved out of a rock face, the magni cent Greek Orthodox monastery lies deep in a desert canyon, surrounded by a lush garden of trees. This is one of the oldest monasteries in Palestine.

Tulul Abou Al-‘Alayeq: Herod’s Winter Palace
In the southern extension of the Jericho plain, in the mouth of Wadi Al-Qelt, several small mounds are visible and known as Tulul Abou Al-‘Alayeq (Herods winter palace) in Jericho. These palaces represent one of the best examples of Roman architectural design re ecting the talent of Roman engineers. The bath shows a complex style of design, several small pools for puri cation and a beautiful mosaic.
Tell es-Sultan

Tell es-Sultan, the ancient city of Jericho, is the lowest (258 m below sea level) and the oldest recorded urban centre on earth. It grew up around a perennial spring, Ain es-Sultan, in an area of fertile alluvial soil, which attracted hunter-gatherer groups to settle down, and to start a process of plant and animal domestication. Archaeological excavations carried out in the mid-20th century revealed 23 layers of ancient civilizations at the site. The earliest remains date back to the Natu an period, 10th-8th millennia B.C.

Deir Quruntul and the Monastery of the Temptation:
The site commands a magni cent view of the Jordan Valley. It is the site where Jesus spent forty days and nights fasting and meditating and was tempted by Satan. The original monastery was built in the sixth century enclosing the cave where Christ stayed, and was restored in the 19th century. It is cared for by the Greek Orthodox Church.

Deir Hijleh “St. Gerasimus Monastery”

Deir Hijleh is an example of a monastic life in the wilderness. The church was founded in 455 AD by St. Gerasimus, a monk from Lycia in Asia Minor. It was initially constructed in a form of a laura, a cluster of caves where hermits lead their solitary life and spent their time in prayer. Some of the caves are located one kilometre east of the current monastery. The modern-day Greek Orthodox monastery, characterized by a set of shiny golden domes, dates back to 1885. The foundation of the recent church bears inscriptions showing that it belonged to the early Christian edifice. The interior of the church contains various icons depicting St. Gerasimus with a lion accompanying him. According to the tradition, the hermit met the lion near the Jordan River, roaring in pain caused by a thorn stuck in its paw. After St. Gerasimus removed the thorn, the lion became tame and from that time lived together with the mon

The Baptism Site
To the east of Jericho city, on the Jordan River, lies a site where it is believed that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.Remains of several churches dating as far back as the 5th Century can be seen at the site, witnessing to the ancient tradition of this being the actual site where Jesus was baptized and started his ministry. This site is called Al-Maghtas in arabic, and lies in an area closed off today for mililitary purposes. However, the Jordan River today is in complete decline, with its water being diverted and polluted, thus endangering the river’s ecosystem.

The Allure of the Desert
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