Ancient Jericho/Tell es-Sultan comprises the archeological remains of a prehistoric, permanent urban settlement.
The tell covers structures from the Neolithic and the Bronze Age and also includes the perennial spring that supplied the settlement with water during its long history. It shows the shift of populations in the Near East to a sedentary lifestyle and the level of social organization it required.
Map of Ancient JerichoLoad map
Jericho supposedly is the world's oldest and/or longest and/or fortified inhabited city. Or one of them. In the pre-Neolithic things get a bit fuzzy.
While Els general comment holds (oldest till they find something older), I think there can be little doubt that Jericho belongs on the list, offering ample historical and archaeological remains ranging from pre-Neolithic times to 500 BCE. Humans settled here permanently after the Ice Age had ended, somewhere between 10.000-9.000 BCE. The location had two things going for it. There is a spring, Ein as-Sultan. And the low altitude (at -250m Jericho is the lowest city in the world) meant it was a bit warmer.
The settlement lasted from Epipalaeolithic, the Neolithic to the mid Bronze Age. It was refounded in the Iron Age, but then destroyed by the Babylonians and abandoned under the Persians. The famous Walls of Jericho have both Neolithic remains as well as Bronze Age ones.
When you visit, you will find a field of ruins in the sand, with the massive walls the most notable structure. It definitely could use better efforts at management and preservation, agreeing with Paul, but the time being this won't happen.
As a Bronze Age site, this would be pretty mediocre. As a Neolithic site, this is probably as good as it gets. If it weren't for those Neolithic ruins and the political situation, Jericho would have been better served as an extension to the Biblical Tells.
With the war ongoing (end of 2023), I am not sure my comments hold true. So take them with a grain of salt.
At my time of visit (2022), I came from Jerusalem by bus and cab. I took a bus from Sultan Suleiman Station (Damascus Gate) to al-Eizariya (Arab suburb of Jerusalem). There, you can either get a shared cab to Jericho or get a cab for yourself. I opted for the latter and paid 200 NIS round trip and it was worth it. As on the previous day during my visit to Bethlehem, I had a very pleasant conversation with my Palestinian driver, he even invited me for tea as we were running early.
If you consider going by Israeli rental car like Paul did, park your car safely outside Jericho, at a hotel or a gas station. You must not pass the red sign telling you, that Israelis and their cars are not allowed to enter. Rental cars driven by tourists with Israeli number plates have been destroyed in past. Your car is not insured, and you are committing a crime according to Israeli signposts as your car may be turned into a bomb or smuggling device. I would not experiment here, even before tensions exploded in 2023.
While You Are There
Hisham's Palace (T) is just to the North of Jericho and should be included in the visit. You can also take the cable car to St George’s Monastery, a Greek-orthodox monastery tucked in a cliff side. If you are travelling by car, you can also go on to the Qumram Caves (T) and the Dead Sea.
I am one of the people who visited as a tourist before heading off somewhere else. (Dead Sea, Massada & Beersheba) on a long day trip from Tel Aviv in late 1978. I had a guidebook, pre Lonely Planet and a Guide, Israeli who gave us a short, about 15 min tour. A couple of signs, noting to show that it had been there about 8000 years. I remember it as a dilapidated version of Troy, only a whole series of foundations and only to be seen with a guide who knew what he was talking about. Thankfully he did, a quick intro about Joshua before mentioning that the tale was dubious, the layer destroyed by an earthquake was hundreds of years before him. He then described the visible layers then we were on our way again. It needed interpretation boards and restoration. It does not look as though anything has happened apart from banning Israeli tourists. As Palestine's oldest site it needed a WHS designation.
As is appropriate for what is claimed to be the World's earliest (known) walled city, Tell es-Sultan (better known as “Jericho”) has been nominated for our list of "Top 50 Missing" sites. It also of course has significant Biblical associations – Joshua and all that. I first visited it as long ago as 1964 but only remembered a sandy hill with a mishmash of excavated pits and stones which I couldn’t really understand – there were no interpretation boards in those far off days! So I had long wanted to re-visit it to gain a better appreciation - we did so in 2014.
The politics since those days have seen it pass through several changes of governance from Jordan, to Israel in 1967 and then in 1994, following the Oslo Accords, to the Palestinian Authority. At that point great things were hoped for from both Israeli and international tourism. As a result, significant investment took place to develop an infrastructure to handle the expected large numbers of tourists in the form of a cable car, hotels and a casino. The Second Intifada saw those initial hopes dashed however and today the city of Jericho sits as rather crumbling Palestinian enclave defined as a Category A area - i.e under full Palestinian control and into which no Israeli citizen is legally allowed, but totally surrounded by Area C still under full Israeli control. The main sites still receive a fair number of international tourists but these largely arrive as tour groups visiting fleetingly as part of a larger tour to the Dead Sea etc and spending little to benefit the local economy.
Strictly, I think we were not supposed to take our Israeli rent-a-car to the site but, having contemplated leaving the car at a gas station on Highway 1 a few kms south of Jericho and taking a taxi from there, I decided to take Highway 90 north round the east side of Jericho and turn off directly into the north of the city where both the Hisham’s Palace (another site which is well worth seeing whilst you are nearby) and Tell es-Sultan are situated. There was no border checkpoint (only the big notice telling Israeli citizens not to enter) and the 2 sites were only around 2-3 kms in (and well signed). Unfortunately the rather isolated frontier didn’t seem a particularly safe place to leave a car unattended whilst one walked in, either all the way or to get a taxi (there was very little passing traffic on the Friday pm we were there) so we drove in all the way! Ours wasn’t the only Israeli “international rent-a-car company” vehicle which did this but you would have to make your own decision!
As you enter, you immediately experience the change in status compared with the well ordered sites run by the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority which you will have become used to across the border. The area is imbued with incompetence, under-funding and desperation even. In the car park you will be regaled by touts and, at the entrance desk, getting the attendant to play the introductory movie is like pulling teeth. Within the site, the paths and boundary ropes are badly maintained and the buildings of Jericho crowd right up to the site boundary – how a buffer zone could ever be established I know not. And, as you climb the Tell, you see above you the cable car gondolas passing directly over the site on their way to the Mount of Temptation.
The Oriental Department of the “La Sapienza” University of Rome has been carrying out a long term project at Tell es-Sultan covering both digs and preservation/presentation work (See here) So, despite the other presentational weaknesses, there were information signs within the site. A rather fine map showing a route for a visit which was on the Sapienza web site when I first did this review has, unfortunately, been removed across the subsequent 8 years! The remains of the Neolithic tower is the real “piece de resistance” of the entire site (Photo). It of course considerably pre-dates Joshua and any walls he may or may not have been involved in getting to “tumble down”! The discovery of this tower (One of the World’s earliest stone built monuments) by Kenyon during the 1950s many stratigraphic levels down in “Trench I” was a major archaeological discovery which rewrote the archaeology of the Levant and, in so doing, of the World. And what of Joshua? He would have been from the Late Bronze Age around 1300BC – whilst this tower is thought to date back to around 8000BC. There are still many theories about the tower, as there are indeed about what Jericho would have been like at the much later time of Joshua and whether there is any evidence at all of a battle around that time. Kenyon, having proven Jericho’s great antiquity, also concluded that the site would have been deserted at the time of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. This view continues to be the subject of revisionist thinking! But for me, merely the view of that tower alone made the journey worthwhile – I thought I could “remember” it from almost 50 years earlier but was I just “remembering” photos of it? To have had the good fortune to visit my 4th great 20th century Archaeological site across just under 8 weeks (Taxila, Moenjodaro, Megiddo and Jericho) was very satisfying – though those of you less interested in Archaeology may somewhat under-whelmed by what is on show at Tell es-Sultan!
Which takes us back to its potential status as a T List entry. The site is of undoubted “world” archaeological significance but, despite the efforts of La Sapienza, its current and future condition is highly problematical. See this download for an assessment of its conservation done in 2012, 2 years before our visit - maybe things will improve?
Partly successor to "Jericho Millenary City, Archaeological and Historical Urban Development (2020)", where this was one of the locations.
Successor to Ancient Jericho: Tell es-Sultan (2012)
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