Presently a well known tourist attraction and a site for a variety of cultural festivals, Hisham’s Palace once served as a winter residence for one of the Umayyad Caliphs. Originally, it was believed to have been the home of Caliph Hisham bin Abdel el-Mailik (724-743); but closer archaeological studies determined that the palace was built between the years 743 and 744 by his nephew, Walid II. Regardless of this discovery, the site kept its traditional title and is still named after Hisham.
In 749, the still unfinished palace was severely damaged by an earthquake and then never rebuilt. The imposing ruins of this two-story building can be found about two kilometers north of the center of modern Jericho.
The gate to the archaeological park is located in front of the palace’s entrance, conveniently orienting the visitor to imagine the actual arrangement of the structure’s rooms. Among the ruins lie beautifully decorated columns that once supported the entire building and smaller pieces of stone with carefully carved floral and faunal ornamentation.
In the middle of the courtyard, visitors will observe a reconstructed figure of a six-pointed star. This symbol, which has since come to represent the Jericho Municipality, was actually once located over the entrance to Hisham’s Palace.
The complex also housed two mosques: one was public and open to everyone, and the second was private and used only by the caliph. Visitors today can explore the remains of these mosques.
Finally, a large thermal bath is located at the northern end of the palace complex. The baths were once fed by the Ein Dyuk and Ein Nueima springs that ran from the foot of the Mount of Temptation. This is probably the most spectacular area of the building, featuring a perfectly preserved mosaic floor consisting of colorful geometrical designs. Unfortunately, this main section of flooring is currently covered with sand that is intended to protect it from damage until the conclusion of future reconstruction work. However, the famous “tree of life” mosaic depicting lions chasing gazelles under a fruit tree, probably the highlight of a visit to the site, is still visible to the tourist’s curious eyes.