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Jericho Millenary City, Archaeological and Historical Urban Development

Date of Submission: 20/10/2020
Criteria: (i)(ii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Palestine to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Governorate of Jericho and Al Aghwar, Jericho
Ref.: 6491
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Khirbat al- Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace: E 35.27.59715 N 31.52.93762    

Tell es-Sultan (Ancient Jericho): E 35.44406 N 31.871303

Monastery of Temptation (Dier Quruntul): E 35.431261 N 31.872534

Jericho (Ariha in Arabic) is one of the oldest inhabited towns in the world, dating back to more than 10,000 BP. It is located 10 kilometres northwest of the Dead Sea in the lower part of the Jordan Rift Valley at a level of 258 meters below sea level, making it the lowest city in the world. The area’s diverse geological formation and unique tropical and sub-tropical climate zones, alluvial soil, and perennial springs made it an attractive fertile oasis to hunter-gathers, whom had settled down to a sedentary way of life in the Epipaleolithic period, and subsequently their descendants, the Natufians, whom might have started the domestication process during the tenth millennium BC.  In the Neolithic periods, Jericho witnessed the development of agriculture and a complex, thriving community.

Ancient Jericho, identified with Tell es-Sultan, is located on the west side of the Jordan Valley and known by many names: the City of Palms; God’s Paradise; the City of the Moon, derived from Yarihu, the name of the Canaanite God of the moon; the City of Giants (Jabareen); and the capital of the Ghor. The Canaanite name of Jericho “Ruha” was recently discovered by the Joint Italian-Palestinian expedition on an Egyptian carved stone scarab from the second millennium BC at Tell es-Sultan.

Archeologically, Jericho is one of the key places in the ancient map of the Near East, labelled as the cradle of civilization. Its rich cultural heritage remains intact, spanning prehistoric eras until today and embracing more than ten thousand years of accumulated cultural heritage, attested by numerous archaeological sites and features. Archaeological investigations documented 23 layers of ancient civilizations from the Natufian period (10th millennium BC) until the end of Byzantine period (7th century AD), and brought to light dozens of sites relating back to various prehistoric and historic periods, comprising urban centres of the Neolithic and Bronze ages, as well as substantial occupation during Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic periods. The water from springs ‘Ain Es-Sultan, Nueima, and Ed-Deuk, has been the source of the Jericho’s life. The springs’ water, especially ‘Ain es-Sultan, has played a major role in shaping its history. It has connected together Jericho’s people, arable land, and urban centres through complicated ancient network of water channels and aqueducts, managed and distributed by distinctive traditional water rights. In addition, Jericho has functioned as a cross-point for ancient road networks running north-south and east-west, serving as intermediate place for culture and trade.

 Tell es-Sultan is recognized as one of the lowest and oldest towns on the planet, dating back to the 10th millennium BC. It represents the earliest fortified agricultural settlement in human history.  During the 9th-8th millennium BC, the city was enclosed within a stonewall and a tower and its community practiced a significant cultic feature of Neolithic life associated with ancestor worship. This is attested by a number of plastered skulls, on which the features of the human face have been demonstrated in painted plaster.

In the following Chalcolithic period, the settlement moved to the Tell el-Mafjar around 1.5
kilometres northeast of Tell es-Sultan. It was a medium size agricultural village.  During the Early Bronze Age and Middle Bronze Age, Tell es-Sultan was a fortified town and one of the most flourished Canaanite city-states in Palestine.  Although Jericho is mentioned several times in biblical sources as the first conquered place by Israelites, archaeological excavations conducted in Tell es-Sultan have demonstrated a contradiction between the biblical narrative and archaeological evidence. The excavation results indicate that Jericho was an uninhabited city when its wall fell at the sound of the drums and trumpets as narrated in the book of Joshua.

From the Persian period onward, Jericho was known as a winter resort for rulers and wealthy people in Palestine. In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the city of Jericho was no longer located on Tell es-Sultan; rather, it had been relocated to the confines of the modern town, and on both sides of the Wadi-el-Qelt (circa two kilometres south of Tell es-Sultan), through which the ancient road to Jerusalem passed.  During the early Roman period (first century BC), Jericho witnessed the birth of Christianityand is associated with historical events linked to John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.  It is associated with the stories of Jesus, who passed through Jericho curing two blind men and converting Zacchaeus the tax collector. The miraculous deeds are also linked to the Mount of Temptation and the Baptism Site on the River Jordan. Under Herod the Great (37-4 BC), Jericho became his winter capital. He built many buildings, citadels, an amphitheatre, hippodrome, royal palaces, and gardens.

In the Byzantine period (fourth century AD), Jericho played a major role in the early stages of Christianity. It was a flourished place because of its associations with Jesus Christ, who visited and/or passed through Jericho in various occasions and to whom the construction of several early settlements, churches, and monasteries are attributed. Some of them are represented on the sixth century Madaba Mosaic Map, which shows a church and a large city labelled Jericho set amidst palm trees along with the inscription “Of St. Elisha,” marking a domed church flanked by two towers. The church likely represents the place of ancient Jericho, close to the spring of ‘Ain es-Sultan, although little Byzantine remains were discovered on the eastern part of Tell es-Sultan. The Monastery of Temptation (Deir Quruntel) was built on the Mount of Temptation, which rises sharply 350 metres above sea level. According to biblical accounts, it is the site where Jesus spent forty days and nights fasting and meditating during the temptation of Satan. Monks and hermits have inhabited tens of caves on the eastern slopes of the mountain since the early days of Christianity. A monastery was built in the sixth century over the cave where Jesus is believed to have stayed, which was destroyed in the beginning of seventh century by the Persian invasion (614 AD). A large number of churches from the Byzantine period have been found near Jericho, including Tell Al-Hassan, Khirbat En-Nitla, and the Coptic Church that was built on the remains of what is believed to be the house of Zaccheus.

In the seventh century AD, Jericho came under the rule of Arab Moslems. It was an important place, and the main urban centre in the Rift Valley (Ghor) inhabited by Arab folks. In the eighth century AD, the Umayyads built a spectacular palace in Kherbit al Mafjar, with its lavish architecture (palace, bath, mosque, and elaborate fountain) and mosaic art, which was used as a winter resort for a short period until it was destroyed in a severe earthquake circa 749 AD. Later on, during the Abbasid and Ayyubid periods, the site was inhabited by a small agricultural estate.

During the medieval period (1099-1516 AD), Jericho retained its importance as an agricultural area, especially for sugarcane cultivation and processing. However, after this period Jericho became a small village. In the Late-Ottoman period, Jericho fell into decline and most of the travellers of 18th and 19th centuries AD refer to Jericho as a small poor village consisting of few huts. From the end of 19th century onward, Jericho has flourished again and regained its position as an administrative and agricultural centre in the lower Jordan Valley.  Modern Jericho has benefited from its rich cultural and natural resources, fertile land, warm climate, and its strategic location across the Jordan River as a gateway to the Arab world, making the city one of Palestine’s main tourist destinations.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Jericho is a multicultural site endowed with rich and diverse cultural heritage properties, testifying to the beginning of human civilization for more than 10,000 years as well as the birth of Christianity 2000 years ago. The site of Tell es-Sultan consists of 23 layers of ancient civilizations accumulated one above another, shaping the current morphology of the site and documenting the emergence of the first settled society on earth, based on the domestication of plants and animals. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, its cultural heritage is very diverse. It represents a mosaic and amalgam of cultures and civilizations, which left their clear marks on its cultural landscape, embracing pagan, Jewish, Christian and Islamic remains, and relics relevant to the three monotheistic religions, providing a unique and extraordinary value. The water of ‘Ain es-Sultan has played a major role in shaping Jericho’s history. The spring has connected Jericho’s people, arable land and urban centres together through complicated ancient network water channels and aqueducts, managed and distributed by a traditional water right. Its multicultural heritage sites developed on ancient crossroads through Jericho running north-south and east-west, serving as an intermediate place for cultural exchange and trade.   

Jericho is well known as the oldest and lowest town in the world, located at a green oasis within the Jordan Valley, among the River Jordan, the Dead Sea, and Jerusalem. The occupation of the site started in the Upper Palaeolithic era (Natufian period) roundly 10.500-9.000 BC. The availability of water and fertility of soil attracted hunter-gathers to settle down and begin domestication of plants and animals. By the eighth millennium BC, Jericho was an agricultural town fortified by a stonewall, tower and a moat. Its round tower has an internal staircase of twenty steps leading to its top surface, making it one of the oldest known monumental building and fortification systems in the world, as well as one of the main Neolithic centres of agriculture in human history. Jericho not only provides documented testimony for the development of the fortification system, but also provides physical testimonies to the development of domestic house layouts, from simple rounded shapes in the pre-pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) to more complex rectangular forms in later periods, which are unparalleled at any other contemporary site. The developed Neolithic architecture and technologies at ancient Jericho are decisive testimony to a rudimentary level of social communal organization companied with political, religious, mythological, construction, and handicraft developments. Furthermore, the ritual and funeral practices are especially important in the Neolithic Jericho. Burials were found under house floors and the skulls treated by plaster, paint, and shells placed into eye sockets characterizing special ritual beliefs and identities for that community for millennia. This practice is one of the oldest testimonies of the ancestral worship in the world. During the sixth and fifth millennium BC, pottery production became common in Jericho. 

In the third millennium BC, Jericho was one of the strongest and most glorious Canaanite city-states. Its fortifications lasted for more than a thousand years. In the middle Bronze Age (second millennium BC), it was surrounded by a mud-brick wall and multi successive ramparts, which lasted until 1550 BC, when it was violently destroyed by fire during the Egyptian Pharos’ campaigns in Palestine and the city was abandoned,  Tell es-Sultan no longer served as an urban centre, and subsequently Jericho grew up elsewhere  

In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, Jericho became prosperous and took special significance after Jesus’s visits and blessed miracles. Herod the Great (37-4 BC) made it his winter resort. He built many buildings, citadels, an amphitheatre, hippodrome, royal palaces, and gardens, reflecting the luxurious standard of living and political power of his regime. In the Byzantine period, Jericho and its environs witnessed the birth of Christianity and witnessed great historical events associated with Jesus Christ. According to the Bible, after being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus sojourned in the Mountain of Temptation (Jabel al- Tajrubeh) and fasted for 40 days and nights, during which time he was tempted three times by the devil in exchange for his homage. After these experiences, Jesus started his public ministry. This period of fasting became the model for the practice of Lent in Christian churches in imitation of Jesus Christ's fasting in the wilderness of Jericho. Hundreds of monks and hermits have inhabited the mountain since the early centuries of Christianity, which were turned into cells, chapels and storage rooms. The present Monastery of the Temptation (Deir Quruntul), was reconstructed at the end of the 19th century on the remains of sixth century monastery that was built over the cave where tradition states that Jesus sat on a stone and stayed during one of his temptations.

Many traditions were formed and important historic and religious events took place in Jericho. For example, the spring of 'Ain es-Sultan is biblically called Elisha's spring, in which, according to tradition, the prophet Elisha healed the water.  Jericho is also linked with the miraculous deeds of Jesus Christ. According to biblical accounts, in Jericho he cured two blind men and converted Zacchaeus the tax collector.

In the Islamic Period, Jericho flourished under the Umayyad dynasty, and Hisham’s Palace was built at Khirbat al-Mafjar. It is one of the most significant early Islamic heritage sites in Palestine and worldwide, with an exceptionally well-preserved palace comprised of spectacular secular architecture and decorative arts, including mosaic floors, stucco, sculpture, frescos, and carved stone. It shows a considerable development in architectural and artistic talent during the early Islamic era and reflects the Umayyads’ luxurious standard of living and their political and tribal power. In decorative terms, the palace gathered the most exquisite forms of architectural décor, from polychrome mosaic floors, frescos, and marble to stucco decorated walls and geometric and vegetal representation. This décor was derived from a unique style, a curious combination of Byzantine traditions with strong Sasanian influences, making it a significant, outstanding example of the development of secular early Islamic architecture and arts and its ability to synthesize native design elements with imported ones; Coptic, Roman, and Sassanid designs were integrated with native Islamic elements. Hisham’s Palace also represents a unique example of the depiction of humans and animals in Umayyad decorative art that reflects the secular art of the time.

The most exceptional feature of this property is the bathhouse complex. It is one of the largest Islamic baths ever built, housing one of the largest early Islamic mosaic floors in the world (about 900 square meters in size). The floor is decorated with 38 different mosaic carpets. Its walls were covered with stucco panels and human figures, making it the most attractive feature at the site. The diwan, however, is the most lavishly decorated room, not only among the those in the bathhouse but of all palace components; its walls were decorated with stucco and the floor was paved with a wonderful fine polychrome mosaic, known as the “tree of life”, containing the scene of a lion pouncing upon two unsuspecting gazelles grazing under a tree.

Criterion (i): The high level of artistic and technological skills applied in different sites and monuments in Jericho represent a masterpiece of human creative genius. The Neolithic town of Tell es-Sultan and its fortification system, including the tower with an internal staircase, show the creative human genius of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic people of Jericho and represent a unique example of a farming and urban development some 10,000 years ago. It is the earliest communal creative structure of its kind known in the world, indicating one of earliest communal and political systems. This creativity is demonstrated again in the eighth century AD at Khirbat al-Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace, which represents a high level of artistic and technical skill within early Islamic architecture and decorative arts, demonstrated chiefly by its mosaic floors, stucco sculpture, and carved stone. It shows considerable development in architectural and artistic talent during the early Islamic era and represents a unique example of Umayyad luxury and the dynasty’s sophisticated taste in art. The palace gained its particular reputation due to its well-preserved floor mosaics, which are considered as one of the most complete designs found to date and are masterpieces of early Islamic art. The palace is also a rare example of the presence of figurative depictions in sculpture and carving in Muslim art.

Criterion (ii): Jericho exhibits an important interchange of human values on development of architecture, technology, and monumental arts in the Early Islamic period. Khirbat al-Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace, exhibits an outstanding testimony to distinct interchange between Islamic, Byzantine, Sasanian, and Coptic traditions and influences in architecture and monumental arts, illustrating cultural interactions and the influence of precedent civilizations on the development of early Islamic architecture and art. It demonstrates the remarkable ability of early Islamic art to synthesize native design elements with imported ones. Among the most important of these elements are the six lobed (pointed) rosettes and octagons that appear in different features throughout the complex, which inspired Crusades in the Medieval age to develop the famous Gothic rose window. Hisham’s Palace also represents a unique example of the depiction of humans and animals in Umayyad decorative art. 

Criterion (iii): Jericho bears an outstanding testimony to cultural traditions and ancient civilizations. As the oldest city in the world, it is a pioneering place in the history of humanity with the emergence of the first Neolithic settled society based on the domestication of plants and animals.. It is an exceptional testimony to a disappeared civilization. By the ninth millennium BC, ancient Jericho was a fortified town surrounded by a stone wall and supported by a round tower with an interior staircase, making it by far the oldest known fortified town in the world. These early Neolithic remains are extraordinary features and unparalleled at any other contemporary site and are considered as a decisive testimony to a fundamental level of social communal organization companied with political, religious, mythological, construction, and handicrafts development.

The Jericho’s PPNB plastered skulls featuring the human face have been modelled in painted plaster with inlaid shell eyes, suggesting special ritual beliefs and identity of that community. It represents an outstanding cultic feature of Neolithic life and testifies to the earliest instances of ancestor worship in the world. Such ritual practise also exists at contemporary Neolithic sites in the Levant and Anatolia, demonstrating a close social network in this region. 

Criterion (vi): Jericho is the birthplace of Christianity, deeds and miracles of Jesus Christ. It has been associated with outstanding historical events, living traditions, ideas, and beliefs linked with Jesus Christ. According to tradition, after being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus was tempted by the devil three times during the 40 days and nights of his stay and fasting at the Mountain of Temptation (Jabel al- Tajrubeh), where Satan tempted him three times in exchange for his homage before he began his public ministry. This period of fasting became the doctrine for the practice of Lent in Christian churches in imitation of Jesus Christ's fasting at the Jabel al-Tajrubeh. Jericho also associated with the miracles of Elisha, the biblical prophet who, according to biblical accounts, blessed and miraculously made the water of 'Ain es-Sultan spring healthy and productive by casting a handful of salt into it, bringing to end the infertility of its land and women.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

As per the Palestinian law on Tangible Cultural Heritage (No. 11, 2018), the property is managed by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in close cooperation with the Municipality of Jericho and the local community. Following the transfer of Jericho to the Palestinian Authority in 1994, large restoration and rehabilitation programs were carried out by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in various cultural heritage sites in Jericho in cooperation with UNESCO, Italian Cooperation, ANERA, and USAID. The main sites that represent “Jericho Millenary City, Archaeological and Historical Urban Development” are well protected and preserved. They include modern interpretation centres and interpretation routes and panels. Most of the physical attributions of the property that represent the diversity and richness of Jericho’s cultural heritage for over 10,000 years have been retained. The authenticity of monuments and main features have also remained intact. Nevertheless, the cultural heritage sites have been affected by complex varieties of anthropic and atmospheric deterioration agents, including degradation caused by rainfall, drainage problems, vegetation, use of incompatible restoration material, wind, temperature variations, wildlife activities, negative visitor attitudes, etc. These agents mainly affect the mud-brick works and stratigraphic sections in Tell es-Sultan and the sandstone and mosaic works in Hisham’s palace as well as the monastery of the Mountain of Temptation and hermits’ caves.

Several conservation programs have been carried out to preserve these assets. In 1997, a joint Italian-Palestinian Expedition was established to cooperate in the field of archaeology. This partnership led to the complete scientific re-appraisal of Tell es-Sultan, and to a full preservation of the site after it had been neglected for more than 50 years, since Kathleen M. Kenyon’s last season there in 1958. The expedition succeeded to preserve, study, and promote this world-renowned site. Nonetheless, the site might be slightly affected by tourist development projects established in its surrounding area. At the end of the 1990s, some tourist projects were established in the environs of Tell es-Sultan, including a hotel, souvenir shops, restaurants and a cable car connecting Tell es-Sultan with the Mountain of Temptation, which passes through the skyline of Tell es-Sultan. Likewise, the Temptation Tourist Centre was built south of Tell es-Sultan, partially affecting the south horizontal view of Tell es-Sultan. In 1990s, the Municipality of Jericho rehabilitated the water system of the ‘Ain es-Sultan spring. The traditional irrigation system had been partially replaced by the dripping system, resulted in abandoning the ancient water channels in favour of metal and plastic pipes. Currently, the Ministry of Tourism and the Municipality of Jericho are looking for practical corrective measures to mitigate their impact on the site.

In the same context, Khirbat al-Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace is an outstanding example of authentic early Islamic architecture and art. It demonstrates Umayyad luxury and the dynasty’s highly sophisticated artistic taste. The site is located in a seismic area. It was destroyed in a severe earthquake in 749 AD. However, it gained particular significance due to its exceptionally well-preserved remains. Its mosaics, considered as some of the most intact found to date, have been well maintained since their discovery in the 1930s. The property has been the object of many conservation and reconstruction interventions since its discovery in the 1930s. During the Jordanian time—especially during the 1950s—most of its main features were reconstructed using the same building materials found during excavations or with similar material to the originals, making it difficult to recognize any differences between reconstructed and authentic, in situ structures. However, some monuments were reconstructed from new modern materials (concrete), such as the pillars of the bathhouse. As the site was built from sandstone walls and its floors paved with mosaic works and flagstones, its features are generally fragile and vulnerable to both anthropic and atmospheric deterioration agents, such as winds, high temperatures, and adverse tourist behaviors, especially by school students.  

Since 1994, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has conducted a set of conservation and valorization projects at Khirbat al-Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace in cooperation with the Franciscan School in Jerusalem, the Italian Cooperation, UNESCO, and USAID, with an aim of preserving and valorizing the site to be an archaeological park. However, the extensive, highly significant mosaic floor of the bathhouse is not presented to visitors and is still covered with a layer of soil as a protection measure. From 2002 to 2010, several failed attempts were undertaken to establish a protection shelter above the mosaic. A new protection shelter project, funded by the government of Japan through JICA, began in 2015 and is currently being implemented. It is based on lessons learnt from previous attempts and international conservation standards and through engagement of a multidisciplinary team and community participation. This project aims to achieve both protection and exhibition of the mosaics through the creation of a shelter above the mosaics and the surrounding remains (covering circa 2500 metres squared), and also by constructing a visitor trail around the mosaic floor.

The archaeological remains of Jericho, which cover a time span of more than ten thousand years, are well preserved, remain intact and are protected by buffer zones indicated on the regulation plan of the Jericho Municipality. Archaeological excavations carried out at Tell es-Sultan in the mid-twentieth century discovered 23 layers of ancient civilizations from the Natufian period (tenth millennium BC) to the Byzantine period. All layers and material culture are still intact and well preserved at the site and its environs, including the oldest fortification system in the world, development of houses layouts, physical attributions for handicrafts, invention of pottery, Bronze Age fortification systems, etc.

Similarly, the ruins of Khirbat al-Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace remain intact, including the palace, mosque, bath, audience hall, residential (service) quarter, water system, and their setting. Few Umayyad qusur, or fortified desert palace complexes, exhibit such a level of integrity for this type of architecture and decoration as does Khirbat al-Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace. The environs of the property are protected by a buffer zone indicated on the regulation plan of the Jericho Municipality. In addition, the Mountain of Temptation with its monastery and caves are well preserved alongside its traditional narrative as being the temptation place of Jesus Christ. In spite of intrusive tourist development project in the environs of Tell es-Sultan and the Mountain of Temptation through the overhead cable car system, the site preserves its integrity. 

Comparison with other similar properties

The long and diverse history of Jericho narrates the undisputed story of 10,000 years of human civilization. It witnessed some of the most significant cultural milestones of human history, made it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on Earth and is unparalleled in all human history. Jericho is one example of well-documented settlements for different development stages of human civilization, making it also quite different from other Neolithic sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. In the PPNA (98th millennium), Jericho was a flourishing agricultural town with round houses built of mud brick and surrounded by a wall, preserved to a height of 5.75 metres in one section, and supported by a round stone tower with internal staircase, preserved to a height of 7.75 metres, with 8.5 metres in diameter. This creative invention brands it as the oldest preserved example of a fortification system from the eighth millennium BC and distinguishes Jericho from other sites; such structures cannot be found at any other site neither in the Middle East nor in Anatolia.

Jericho was also one of the largest Neolithic farming villages in the Near East, reflecting the transformation from a mobile society based on hunting and gathering to the first settled society based on the domestication of plants and animals coupled with architectural, technological and social and spiritual developments.

In the pre-pottery Neolithic B (ninth to seventh millennium BC), similar to other Neolithic sites in the Near East and Anatolia, farming communities were more socially complex and better coordinated than their predecessors. They lived in rectangular shaped buildings with larger sizes made of mud bricks resting on stone foundations and their internal spaces have coloured plasters—mainly white, red, and pink—the concentration of which attests to strong cultural and artistic traditions. This is unique to this period in the development of art and craft traditions, religious or spiritual beliefs, and daily practices.

PPNA and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PNB) Jericho was one example of a specialized technological centre for lithic industries, handicrafts, pottery, dried mud-brick, etc. This might have led to initiating long-distance trade, which suggests commerce, social and interaction communications with other Neolithic sites in the Near East and Anatolia. For example, the obsidian lithic tools were found within the PPNA stratigraphy of Jericho, which came from the central Turkey.

Notably, Neolithic Jericho shares similar elements with many sites of the Near East and Anatolia. For instance, plastered skulls that featured the human face have been modelled in painted plaster and most burials in Jericho were in domestic structures buried beneath the floors of domestic houses, in the living area. These practices have parallels in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Middle East and Anatolia, such as at Eynan, Ain Ghazal Hacılar, Höyüçek, Suberde, Mureybet, Abu Hureyra, Jerf el-Ahmar, Göbekli Tepe, and Çatalhöyük, suggesting common and shared customs and religious beliefs.

During the Bronze Ages, Jericho was a distinguished urban centre. It was one of the largest and most flourished Canaanite city-states in Palestine. Archaeological evidences indicate the strong relations between the site and Egypt as well as other sites in the region.

During the Roman and Byzantine periods, Jericho witnessed outstanding historical incidents associated with the birth of Christianity and the miracles of Jesus Christ, which are unparalleled. According to the synoptic Gospels, the Holy Spirit led Jesus Christ into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Following the baptismal experience, Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness, fasting, where he was tested by the devil. Although the eastern part of the Baptism Place was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2015 under the title “Baptism Site Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas) by the Kingdom of Jordan, the place of Jesus’s Temptation is well preserved in the Mountain of the Temptation in the Wilderness of Jericho from which Jesus started his ministry. Its cultural and spiritual significance are as sacred as the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, which are both inscribed on the World Heritage List.

During the Early Islamic Period, Jericho flourished along with other sites in the great Syria region (Bilad al-Sham). During the Umayyad dynasty (661–750 AD) several palaces (desert castles) were built in this region, including the Quseir Amra (Jordan c. 715 AD), Qasr al Hayr West (Syria 724 and 727 AD), Qasr al-Kharanah (Jordan 711 AD), Khirbet al-Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace (Palestine 743-744 AD), and Meshatta (Jordan 743-744 AD). In these palaces, the Umayyads demonstrated considerable architectural and decorative talent. In terms of design, the builders developed a complex layout containing audience halls, baths, domestic apartments for both males and females, mosques, courtyards, stables, and garden enclosures, reflecting their luxurious standard of living and their political and tribal power.

Despite similarities in materials and techniques used, as well as in the composition and style of the details in Umayyad desert palaces (castles), Khirbat al-Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace is the richest among all Umayyad palaces. The lavish decorations, including mosaics, sculpture, frescos, and stucco decorations, are not confined to the palace, as is the case with other Umayyad palaces, but also appear in equal quality and quantity in the bathhouse and the pavilion. The dizzying array of colours and patterns in the audience hall’s mosaic floor features 38 different scenes in 21 colours with figural art unique to the Umayyad period; at 825 square meters, this is one of the largest mosaic floors in the world. 

In most Umayyad palaces, great attention was devoted to the decoration of the entrance’s façade. At Mshatta, the decoration of the palace’s façade is notably superior to those of the interior units. At Khirbat al-Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace and Qasr al-Hyr West, for example, the balustrades of the galleries that surround the structure at the top of the second floor and the grills of the windows were also richly ornamented. The entrance and reception rooms in the two complexes were also important foci of decoration, but the general composition of these units at Qasr al Hayr West is not as ambitious as that of Khirbat al-Mafjar.

Qusier Amra (Jordan) was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1985 according to criteria (i, ii, and iii). Although the two properties are associated with the same era, Khirbat al-Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace has several distinctive peculiarities in terms of size, architecture and artistic richness. The Outstanding Universal Value of Quseir Amra is primarily based on its paintings and frescos, which were unique artistic achievements during the Umayyad period. However, the Outstanding Universal Value of Khirbat al-Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace is more diverse and based more on the quality and quantity of the spectacular Umayyad architecture and decorative arts, including its mosaic floors, stucco, sculpture, frescos, and carved stones.

The Umayyad palace at Khirbat Al-Mafjar is one of the most highly sophisticated Umayyad palaces in the region for its elaborate mosaics, stucco carvings, and overall sculptural magnificence, making it an exceptional example of the development of secular early Islamic architecture and arts and its ability to synthesize native design elements with imported ones. Its mosaic floors present an outstanding example of early Islamic art. Despite the discovery of many mosaic works at similar Umayyad sites, none may duplicate the embellishment of Khirbat al-Mafjar/Hisham’s Palace. The intricate pavements that covered in the vast audience hall, the diwan, and sirdab, each carpeted with bright coloured patterns, are considered an outstanding example of this unique form of art.