The rocky canyon of Wadi Qelt is often associated with the “valley of the shadow of death” from Psalm 23, and in the blistering heat of summer the moniker seems to suit just fine. In this isolated, barren and rocky spot a 4th-century monastery clings to the rockwalls.  The starkly beautiful site transports visitors to the 4th century when the earliest desert-dwelling monks sought lives of faithful seclusion. Originally built around a cave where tradition holds that Elijah lived while being fed by ravens, the monastery grew in the 5th century under Greek Orthodox control when its most famous monk and namesake Gorgias of Koziba inhabited the place.

Additions to the monastery continued until the Persian invasion in 614, when the structure was destroyed and the fourteen monks slaughtered. The ruins of this secluded refuge lay in silence for almost 500 years until restoration attempts were made by bands of Crusaders in the 12th century. They were expelled shortly after, and once again the monastery waited in disrepair until the 19th century when sincere restoration efforts were began by the Greek monk, Kalinikos.

Today, the monastery is unique in its acceptance of female pilgrims and visitors, a precedent set through the tradition of a Byzantine noblewoman on a monastic tour who claimed that the mother of God had directed her there for healing from her incurable illness. Though off the beaten path, the journey to this secluded bastion of desert monastic tradition is well worth the effort. The monastery is located along the historic road from Jericho to Jerusalem, which was located above the valley on the south side. This road is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, including in the story of the Good Samaritan.

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.

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.

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.