Just off the Jerusalem Jericho highway is a steep ravine, Wadi Kelt, which ends at the Jordan river. Straddling┬á its lower bank, where it is no longer steep, are the remains of two magnificent palaces, one Hasmonean, the other Herodian. Traditionally this wadi is the “brook of Cherith” where Elijah hid in a cave, drank the water of the brook and was fed by the ravens. (I Kings 17 ff).

Near the summit of the wadi, seemingly isolated by the surrounding wilderness, is the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. George. During the fifth and sixth centuries monks lived in caves and built a Laura, a small monastery where they would gather on holy festivals. Destroyed and rebuilt it was abandoned until 1878 when a lone Greek monk began restoring it.

Accessible via a steep hiking path, women are not allowed to enter. The monastery can be viewed from the top of the ravine.

North of Jericho are the remains of a summer palace, built by Caliph Hisham of the Omyyad dynasty which ruled from Damascus. Completed in 743 it was destroyed by an earthquake a mere four years later and never rebuilt. The architectural remains are therefore particularly well preserved.

These include a fountain set in the courtyard of a two storey complex of buildings complete with luxurious bath house and toilets and two mosques. The beautiful and colorful mosaics are unusual as they contain depictions of animals and birds. Even more surprising are the human statues and figurines from a period in Islam before iconoclasm became the norm.

Text content copyrights: Bein Harim Ltd., Beryl Ratzer (www.ratzer.com)

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