Spanning the modern countries of Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Israel, the Jordan Valley is a truly remarkable landscape. Geologically unique, it marks the northernmost extent of the Great Rift Valley that runs the full length of Africa on its eastern side. After rising in the shadow of Mount Hermon in the north, the River Jordan runs southwards through Lake Huleh and the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. It exists entirely below sea level, and as such is officially the lowest point on Earth.
This peculiar geographic situation has blessed the area with a unique set of environments which have lent themselves to highly successful industrial and agricultural exploitation over millennia. Consequently, the valley has been a crucible of human activity and civilisation from the Neolithic to the modern age.
Almost every significant phase of history is represented in standing remains and excavated sites, many of which are among the most famous of their kind in the world. Ubiquitous in the landscape are many Tel (Hebrew) or Tell Arabic) sites, mysterious mounds of earth that are actually the remnants of towns and cities from ages past. For the patient traveller, these seemingly silent hillocks tell the true story of human existence in the lowest place on earth.
Fly at c. 3.30pm (El Al) from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv, and then drive to Jerusalem, reaching the hotel c. 12.00am. First of two nights in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem. The buildings in the Old City and around comprise an incomparable mix of ages and cultures from pre-biblical times to the present, while continuing to be a thriving, living city. The day begins at the Haram al Sharif, the third most holy shrine in Islam with the resplendent Dome of the Rock at its summit. Built on the remnants of the Herodian Temple Platform, this is one of the greatest religious sites anywhere in the world. A walk along a section of the ramparts leads to further Roman-era structures in the Ecce Homo Convent and the Bethesda Pools, and to the Crusader church of St Anne. Proceed to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where numerous different Christian sects share the shrines surrounding the traditional location of Golgotha and the Tomb of Jesus. The excellent Israel Museum houses an outstanding archaeological collection. Visit the Garden of Gethsemane and climb to the top of Mount Olives to watch the Sunset. Overnight Jerusalem.
Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. An early start to Ancient Jericho. The palm-shaded oasis of Jericho is the world’s most low-lying town with remains of civilisations at the Tell as-Sultan dating back 10,000 years. Take the cable car to the top of Mount of Temptation for a panoramic view. Nearby, Hisham’s Palace is a unique and remarkably well preserved 8th century Umayyad palace and country estate. Drive to Qumran in the occupied Palestinian Territories. Qumran is the site of the settlement of the Essenes, a Jewish sect, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Overnight at the kibbutz at Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea.
Masada, Ein Gedi. Rising high above the Judaean desert, Herod’s fortified palace of Masada, last redoubt of the Jewish rebellion against Roman occupation, is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the Levant. Free time to enjoy the botanical gardens, the archaeological site at Ein Gedi or a swim in the Dead Sea. Second night at Ein Gedi.
Ein Gedi to Tiberias. Tel-Rehov provides a spectacular view over the Jordan Valley en route to Beit Shean, an imposing tel site in the Jordan Valley with remains from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, massively developed as an Egyptian stronghold by the Pharaoh Rameses the Great in the 13th century bc, and with classical period ruins from its Decapolis era heyday. In the afternoon visit Megiddo, biblical Armageddon, another tel strategically situated overlooking the Jezerel Valley, the main route from the Jordan Valley to the Mediterranean coast at Haifa. This is the site where in c. 1479 bc, the army of Thutmoses III finally defeated the Hyksos tribes, thereby establishing Egypt’s Asiatic Empire which ruled the region through the Late Bronze Age. Megiddo has been extensively excavated since the early 20th century and remains from all periods from the Neolithic onwards have been revealed. Overnight Tiberias.
Israel to Jordan, Pella, Amman. Cross the border and visit picturesque Pella with views looking west over the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys. An important ancient city dating back at least 5,000 years to the Early Bronze Age, Pella was a Hellenistic centre, and a member of the Decapolis during the Roman period. The place of refuge for Christians fleeing Jerusalem during the First Jewish Revolt, it therefore became a place of pilgrimage in the Byzantine era. It fell to Islamic invaders after a major battle nearby in 635 ad, and a mosque remains on the site. On to Tell es-Sa’idiyeh, and imposing double mound overlooking the River Jordan, again with remains dating back to the Early Bronze Age, where a substantial olive oil factory has been excavated. Like Tel Rehov, Beit Shean and Pella, the site was redeveloped during the Egyptian empire of the Late Bronze Age, and a highly unusual water system of Aegean origins attests to the cosmopolitan population during this period. Tell Deir ’Alla, the site where the Balaam inscription was found, possibly relating to the biblical prophet. First of two nights in Amman.
Amman, Jerash. The impressive new Jordan Museum presenting the history and cultural heritage of Jordan in a series of beautifully designed galleries also houses a number of Dead Sea Scrolls. Drive north through red earth hills with olive groves and Aleppo pine woods. Jerash, ancient Gerasa, a leading city of the Decapolis and very prosperous in the 2nd and 3rd centuries ad, is one of the best-preserved and most beautiful of ruined Roman cities. Among the more spectacular remains are a triumphal arch, an oval piazza, the Cardo with its flanking colonnades, a food market, hippodrome, theatres, magnificent temples of Zeus and Artemis and several early Christian churches. final night Amman.
Amman, Bethany beyond the Jordan, Mount Nebo, Madaba. Drive up from Amman to the Dead Sea, flanked by dramatic mountain scenery. Visit the Byzantine church with remarkable mosaics on Mount Nebo, the reputed burial site of Moses. At Madaba see the unique 6th century mosaic map of the Holy Land in the church of St George. Reach the hotel on the Dead Sea shore mid-afternoon to relax and swim. First of two nights in Sweimeh on the Dead Sea.
Bab ehd Dhra, Lowest point on Earth, Zoara. Travelling south along the shores of the Dead Sea, visiting Bab edh Dhra, an Early Bronze Age site which made a living trading bitumen from the Dead Sea with Egypt, which was abandoned around 2,400 bc, and never resettled, giving rise to the common association of the site with the biblical city of Sodom. Stop at the Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth featuring important archaeological finds recovered from the region, including artefacts from the church and monastery of St Lot at Zoara. Overnight Sweimeh.
Early start. Depart Sweimeh at c. 4.30am for a c. 7.30am flight from Amman (British Airways) arriving London Heathrow c. 11.15.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £4,580 or £4,210 without flights. Single occupancy: £5,390 or £5,020 without flights.
Flights (economy class) on scheduled El Al outbound and British Airways return flights (aircraft: Boeing 777, Airbus 321); travel by private air-conditioned coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 8 lunches and 6 dinners with wine, water and coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer, tour manager and local guides.
For Israel are obtained on arrival at no extra charge for most nationalities. For Jordan visas are required for most foreign nationals. A group visa is issued on arrival. Passports must be valid for six months beyond the dates of the tour.
King David, Jerusalem: 5-star hotel in West Jerusalem within walking distance of the Old City. Ein Gedi: renovated kibbutz near the Dead Sea with comfortable cottages set among beautiful botanic gardens. The Scots Hotel, Tiberias: long-established 5-star hotel by the lake in Tiberias. The Intercontinental, Amman: a modern and excellently located 5-star hotel. Mövenpick Dead Sea Hotel, Sweimeh: a 5-star hotel comprised of buildings scattered through lush tropical gardens. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole use.
This tour is quite demanding and you must be capable of walking all day over rough sites. A good level of fitness and sure-footedness is essential throughout. Many sites are exposed with little or no shelter from the sun. Average distance by coach per day: 62 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.