Jericho is a surprisingly small town considering how well-known it is thanks to the song of “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” It calls itself the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Who am I to argue? Archeologists have found evidence of settlements here dating back more than 10,000 years. We saw ample evidence of this at our stop at the Tel Al Sultan. Locals were aware of pottery shards and fragments on a substantial hillside, but when serious archeological digging commenced they ended up digging to the bottom, uncovering evidence of 23 different cities, each built on the ruins of the last. It can be hard to envision how much life was here looking at bits and pieces, but the museum showed an animated film took us through all the layers. Then going outside made a lot more sense. Legend has it that this is the spot where “the walls came crumbling down.” Archeologists found no corrroborating evidence here, but considering how earth quake prone this rift valley it doubtless happened in this vicinity somewhere.
We took a cable car high into the mountains where we still were 200 feet below sea level. There we visited the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Qurantul and the Mount of Temptation where Jesus resisted Satan after fasting forty days and forty nights in the desert. We crawled into a tiny little cave that would throw claustrophobics into a tizzy where he supposedly slept during this time. The monastery it staffed by two male and one female monks, who shot dirty looks at us whenever we got too noisy. Sadly, we were not allow to photograph the monastery masterpiece, a huge ornately carved wall full of framed icons that separates worshippers from the priestly action inside.
Back at 800 feet below sea level, we visited Hisham’s Palace, labeled by archeologists as the “Versailles of the East.” The 150- acre complex was built by a caliph as a sort of winter palace resort. It would fit in just fine on the Las Vegas strip. A year after it was finished in 749, the area suffered a severe earthquake and all the buildings fell down and disintegrated The locals used it as kind of a local Home Depot, digging out the building stones and carvings and repurposing them in their own homes. Finally in 1935 the Palestinian Department of Antiquities started unearthing the buried treasure in a serious manner. Some of the mosaic floors are still intact and some of the larger carved stone fragments only hint at the magnificence that it was.
This week in Palestine has been an eye-opening experience and we’re so glad that we did not let the scary media reports deter us from coming here. Our guide Mustafa tried hard to present his current living situation in a balanced way, but the Israelis have placed so many limitations on the Palestinians here that they feel as if they are incarcerated in a maximum security prison. We were surprised when he said there are few drug problems here, because people feel so frustrated He said that most of them get rid of the stress by heading to the gym. Judging by his build and the many attractive looking people we encountered here, we can believe it. Tomorrow we will say good-by and board an Israeli bus with a yellow license plate and head off the Tel Aviv to meet our next local guide and to see the other side of the story for ourselves. That’s why we travel.