AND 'BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN'
Jordan Valley lies at the northern end
of the East African Rift Valley. After
descending to the Dead Sea it reaches
the level of 400 metres below sea level,
which is the lowest point on the surface
of the earth. The valley is typically
Mediterranean, with mild winters and hot
summers. Because of the low elevation,
it is a natural greenhouse, rich in minerals
and in water from the sloping steep wadis
(valleys) on both its sides.
In ancient times, the Jordan Valley was
one of the most fertile places in the
Middle East, and some of the world's oldest
civilisations sprang from this soil. Today
a vast network of dams and canals irrigate
the region. Signs of life are everywhere.
Driving through, especially in spring,
you see a soft blanket of wheat, flowers
and vegetable gardens.
BEYOND THE JORDAN'
Jordan Valley also has profound meaning
for religious travellers. The area opposite
Jericho has been identified for nearly
two millennia as the area where Jesus
Christ was baptized by John the Baptist.
Stunning archaeological discoveries between
the Jordan River and Tell al-Kharrar since
1996 have identified this area as biblical
'Bethany beyond the Jordan', where John
was living when he baptized Jesus. Tell
al-Kharrar's other name, Tell Mar Elias
('St. Elijah's Hill'), is reminiscent
of the Prophet Elijah, who ascended from
here to heaven. The hillock is now the
focal point of the Baptism Site and is
covered with the remains of a Byzantine
monastery with churches, large baptism
pools and a water storage system. Findings
from the early 1st century AD confirm
the site was inhabited during the lives
of Jesus and John the Baptist.
3rd century building with a white mosaic
pavement has been called an early Christian
'prayer hall'; if this identification
is correct, this may be one of the earliest
Christian prayer facilities identified
anywhere in the world. Also identified
on Elijah's Hill is the cave where, according
to numerous Byzantine pilgrims' texts,
John the Baptist lived and baptized. The
Byzantine church built around the cave,
and a built water channel emerging from
the cave, have been excavated in the last
few years and can be now visited.
Closer to the Jordan River are four other
Byzantine churches and large pools with
an extensive water system. These facilities
were mentioned in texts by Byzantine writers,
who linked them with the tradition of
TO GET THERE
By car or taxi: The newly
opened Baptism Site, offering all the
necessary visitors facilities, is about
a 40-minutes drive from Amman. Take the
Airport Highway to the south and turn
right where the brown sign indicates the
road to the Dead Sea. The exit to Bethany
is also marked by traffic signs.