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The fortified mountain palace of Machaerus is infamous as the place where Salome danced for the head of John the Baptist, whom her step father Herod Antipas had imprisoned there for two years.

Located near the village of Mukawir, about 40km south of the mosaic-rich town of Madaba, Machaerus is one of three fortified desert retreats built by Herod the Great (father to Herod Antipas) and the only one in our mystery country. The other two fortresses are located across the river which gave the country its name and forms part of its western border.

 

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Yanartaş, Turkey: Fire on the Mountain

In southwestern Turkey, near the Mediterranean coast, a dozen or so ever-burning flames light up a patch of mountain slope, just as they have done for at least 2,500 years. This is Yanartaş, which means flaming rock in Turkish. The flames of Yanartaş are reached by climbing about 1km up a sometimes-steep path just outside the village of Çıralı, in the Olympos Beydağları National Park, about 80km from the city of Antalya.
The 540km Lycian Way trekking path passes through the site.

Yanartaş is thought to be the Mount Chimaera of Lycia, known to the ancients for its perpetual flames and probably the inspiration for the fire-breathing Chimera monster of Greek mythology. Ruins of the ancient city of Olympos are nearby and remnants of a temple of Hephaestus, ancient Greek god of the forge, lie below the field of flames.

The flames of Yanartaş are fueled mostly by the methane seeping through cracks in the rock. Their intensity varies depending on atmospheric and groundwater conditions. Typically, they are bigger in winter.

The park is open 24 hours a day and there is a small entrance fee. Dusk is the most popular time to visit Yanartas, but do take care. Sturdy walking shoes and a strong flashlight are essential. Bring marshmallows to toast over the flames!

 

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This is one of some 800 Bell Caves in the Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park in the central part of our mystery. The caves were chalk mines dug in the 7th-11th centuries, during the country’s Islamic period. Miners would first dig a shaft and then cut blocks out of the soft chalk walls and haul it up through the shaft with ropes. Chalk was used in construction.

 

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3 Religious Sites in Jordan: Mt Nebo, Madaba, Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Mt. Nebo

Mt. Nebo

Everyone knows about Petra in Jordan; it’s the headliner, and for good reason. But Jordan is also home to some very important religious sites. It’s just across the Jordan River from Israel and very much part of the Holy Land.

Mt.Nebo is traditionally believed to be the site where Moses died and was buried. After wandering in the desert for 40 years, he was denied entrance into the Promised Land but he was allowed to look upon it from Mt.Nebo. As the story goes, Moses and the Israelites had been wandering in the desert for many years. It was hard on everyone. There was a great deal of kvetching and little gratitude, faith or loyalty among the Israelites. When he went out to get water for this mob of moaners, Moses was on his last nerve. “Fine,” he said, “we’ll get you your gosh darn water!” He struck a stone three times and water poured out. In that moment, Moses committed at least three sins and his fate was sealed. He failed in his responsibility as leader by losing his temper. He disobeyed the Lord by striking the stone rather than speaking to it as instructed. And, probably worst of all, he failed to properly credit the Lord for the miracle. His punishment was to never set foot in the Promised Land. It seems a harsh penalty. The poor guy left a life of royal luxury and accepted a thankless mission of extreme hardship. Why not give him some latitude, for pity’s sake? On the other hand, he fell short in his assignment of obedience to the Lord and leadership of the Israelites.

view from Mt. Nebo

view from Mt. Nebo

There’s plenty to ponder while standing on Mt.Nebo looking out over the Jordan Valley. If conditions are right, you can see Jericho and beyond to Jerusalem. Remains of a Byzantine church are incorporated into the modern church on site, which houses some very nice mosaics and the soaring serpentine cross sculpture at the edge of the summit seems to hang from the sky. It’s all very moving.

6th-century Holy Land map in Madaba

6th-century Holy Land map in Madaba

Just down the road about 5 miles is Madaba, famous for mosaics. They’re still excavating Byzantine remains all over town. The Basilica of St. George is the main attraction, where you can see the famous 6th-century map of the holy land in a mosaic floor.

the Jordan River at Bethany Beyond the Jordan

the Jordan River at Bethany Beyond the Jordan

possible (likely?) site of the baptism of Jesus, with remains of a Byzantine church

possible (likely?) site of the baptism of Jesus, with remains of a Byzantine church

About a 20 minute drive from Madaba at the very southern end of the Jordan River is Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the site widely believed to be where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. There’s very strong archaeological evidence to support that belief. After the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, this border area had to be cleared of mines. Excavations began in 1996 and have uncovered Roman and Byzantine remains of baptismal pools, churches, pilgrim lodgings, hermit caves, a monastery and a prayer hall. This is also believed to be the site from which the prophet Elijah ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.

I’m not at all religious but I was affected by the serenity of this place. Just thinking about it now is calming. My secular being has been similarly moved to the core at Mt. Nebo, Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall… Is there some inherent power in these places that is deeper than their associated spiritual traditions? Or does centuries-of-pilgrim-ardor hang so thick that even casual visitors are swept up in it? Or is it just the suggestion of emotional response that makes it so?

While these are interesting questions to consider, perhaps why we respond the way we do is far less important than the response itself. Aspire to faith in experience and acceptance of the unexplained. Ultimately, no matter our system of belief, the source of the feelings inspired by these places is the same for all of us. What differs is how we explain those feelings.

Visit Mt. Nebo, Madaba and Bethany Beyond the Jordan and feel for yourself: www.yallatours.com/jordan

NAME THAT COUNTRY

Along the banks of the longest river on earth (or the 2nd longest, depending on who you ask), life proceeds much as it has for 8,000 years, at least. Until it was dammed in the early 19th century, the annual flooding of the river left rich silt in its wake and the fertile fields fed the country and exported wheat and other grains far beyond its borders. The cultural sophistication and political and economic power of the country’s ancient civilization can be directly linked to the river. Today, the river still provides almost all of the country’s water but dams control the flow and provide hydroelectric power.

 

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