Jericho is allegedly the oldest city in the world. But its 10,000 years of history have reached a mellow stage. For ages, Palestinian families in Jerusalem have owned houses and land here to escape the winter higher up. Temperature differences up to 10°C are not uncommon. Historically, Jericho as a refuge was not much different: King Herod the Great and the Umayyad Caliph Hisham established their winter palaces there, probably as much for their personal and physical comfort as to expand their legacies as great builders of their time. In its sheer spaciousness and laid-back atmosphere, Jericho is Jerusalem’s mirror image on all counts: a flat drawn out city with wide roads, sidewalks and an abundance of green space.
Looking down from the Mount of Temptation, there is nothing really urban with small dots of built-up space spread around green and fallow lands. Jericho’s road network covers the flattest part of Palestine and is a haven for bikers and walkers, big and small. A day of leisure in Jericho can be combined with a visit to some of the most remarkable heritage sites in the West Bank. Tel al-Sultan is a mound that showcases layer upon layer of Jericho’s ancient remains starting with the neolitihic period 10,000 years ago –give or take a few years. Though the extensive excavations might not speak to everyone’s imgaination, Jericho is one of the oldest cities in the world and the tel demonstrates this layer by layer. The 8th century ruins and bathouse mosaics of the enormous Ummayad Palace of Hisham are breathtaking: only the celebrated Tree of Life figure is presently visible but there are plans afoot to uncover the entire bathhouse floor of some 850 m² of continuous classical mosaics. Further mosaics can also be admired in the Coptic Church of St. Andrew and in the remains of two decorated synagogue floors, one near Hisham’s Palace, the Shalom al-Israel Synagogue, and the other in north Jericho, the Ain Duyuk (or Na’aran) Synagogue. Located near the city’s main entrance, the Jericho Mosaic Center is the city’s main resource and activity center on Jericho’s varied heritage of classical mosaics.
Spectacular views over the city and the Jordan Valley can be obtained from the Mount of Temptation where the Monastery and Temptation Church is a highlight for both secular and religious visitors as it barely hangs on from the cliffs overlooking the city. A stroll through Jericho’s small town center is worthwhile and so is a visit to its latest tourism draw there, the somehwat grotesque and Kremlin-like Russian Museum, built on land once owned by the Tsar.