• 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.

Mar Saba is among the most ancient and wondrous desert monasteries in the Holy Land. The monastery has been continuously in service since its founding in the fifth century. The structure has survived natural disasters, pillaging armies and the currents of numerous empires and kingdoms. Though the monastery appears less ancient than it is from the outside as the monastic complex was restored to its present state in 1893, following an earthquake. The large jagged wall around it was originally built after the 7th-century Persian invasion and has kept out intruders ever since; that includes women who have been generally barred from entering Mar Saba’s gates since its beginning.

Inside, the complex holds a labyrinth of various domes, cave-cells, churches and staircases and is home to the tomb of the Cappadocian-Greek monk Saint. Sabas. Over a dozen monks presently live in Mar Saba, still practicing Byzantine time in which the day ends the moment the sun sets. In keeping with thousands of years of religious rites, monks start their first of many liturgical services not long after midnight.

The monastery offers splendid views over the Kidron Valley and over the maze of cells, stairs, hallways and churches literally wrapped around its central courtyard. The two churches are the Church of the Annunciation of Virgin Mary, where the relic of the body of St. Sabas is kept since being returned from Venice in 1965 (mischievous Crusaders had stolen it a few centuries earlier) and the St. Nicolas Church, built inside the cave from where St. Sabas founded the Monastery and now holding the skulls of monks martyred in the past 15 centuries. Between the churches is a small domed temple holding the tomb of St. Sabas, where he was originally buried.

The strenuous walk without shade from the shrine of Nabi Musa to Mar Saba makes the efforts it took to build such outlets so far out into the wild all the more incredible. Monks got by on the very little vegetation that grows here, living in a desolate landscape that knows no shade or mercy.

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.

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.

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.

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.