• Hyrcania

    Hike through the alternating hills and valleys of the remote wilderness to reach the ruins of the strategically situated and mysterious fortress of Hyrcania, experiencing the solitude and quietness of the surrounding desert on your way.

Located about 5 kilometers from Qumran on an isolated hill at an altitude of 200 meters, the Hyrcania citadel offers visitors a breathtaking view of an endless lunar landscape against the contrasting backdrop of the sky’s deep blue.

The construction of Hyrcania (known today in Arabic as Khirbet al-Mird, or fortress ruins) is commonly attributed to the Hasmonean leader John Hyrcanus, who is said to have built it toward the end of the second century BCE. However, some sources contend that the fortress was actually constructed under the reign of Hyrcanus’s son, Alexander Jannaeus. Archaeologists have not yet excavated carefully enough to make a conclusive ruling on the proper attribution.

In the years following its construction, the Hyrcania served as one of the treasure houses of Salome Alexandria, the wife of Jannaeus, until it was destroyed by the Romans in 57 BC.

Immediately after taking over the throne in 37 BC, King Herod the Great rebuilt the fortress and began using it as a place to imprison and execute his rivals. Just a few days before his death, in fact, the king sent his last victim to Hyrcania: his own son Antipater, who was then buried there. Archaeologists have since discovered a structure resembling a funerary monument on the site and have begun asking whether it may have marked Antipater’s burial place.

Today, a substantial retaining wall from the Herodian times is clearly visible. Also notable are the remains of the aqueduct system by which the desert fortress channeled rainwater to its cisterns.

At the transition between the fifth and sixth centuries CE, St. Sabbas the Sanctified (also known as Mar Saba) founded a cluster for hermits near the site.  This cluster was one of several satellite clusters (also known as larvas) built  near to the primary Mar Saba monastery, located 4 kilometers to the southeast. The site was inhabited by monks until the fourteenth century. Between 1923 and 1939, the community aimed to re-establish their presence at the site, but the attempt was unsuccessful. Visitors today will find only empty monastic cells and a chapel from that period that incorporated structures from previous ages. The floor of the chapel’s sacristy is notable for its fine mosaics.

Sites in the Jericho Region:

Jericho City

The oldest city but without any of the urban pressures which one finds elsewhere. To all senses, Jericho is an oasis.

St. George’s Monastery

Hanging on the cliffs of Jericho’s most famous wadi route is an ancient monastery open to all.

Nebi Musa

The desert sanctuary of Nebi Musa is said to be the last resting place for the Prophet Moses. Its white domed roof has been witness to centuries of pilgrimage.

Mar Saba Monastery

Hidden in an uninhabitable valley, Mar Saba desert monastery has provided refuge and solitary isolation to thousands of ascetic monks who dedicate their lives to prayer, their lives and routines largely unchanged for over 1500 years.

Mount of Temptation

Trek up a steep path or take a ride on a cable car to reach the clifftop Monastery of Temptation. There, treat yourself to a breathtaking panoramic view of Jericho, the Jordan Valley, and the bluish waters of the Dead Sea.

Hisham’s Palace

When passing through Jericho, make sure to visit the impressive ruins of Hisham’s Palace, a truly beautiful example of early Islamic architecture and home to one of the most stunning mosaics in the world.