Seven hundred metres above the Jordan Valley, on a mountain now called Mount Nebo, Moses is said to have sighted the promised land of Canaan before dying. Thanks to Google Maps, we didn’t spend forty years wandering in the desert before arriving. Instead, we drove up the winding road from Sowaya and were there in about 30 minutes. Modernity does have its perks.
An important place of Christian pilgrimage, excavations at Mount Nebo began in the 1930’s by the Franciscans, who have now uncovered significant remains of an early church and some superb Byzantine mosaics.
The entrance fee is 2 JD, after which there is a short walk to see unparalleled views of the Holy Land. We didn’t have a sufficiently clear day to see either Jericho or Jerusalem, but what we saw was still interesting.
Nearing the summit (a walk of only 300 metres or so), is the Great Stone, which has baffled everyone for 2,000 years as to why it is located on site. Most likely it was the door to the original monastery, but I also read some theory that says that it is the door to Garden Tomb in Jerusalem- not sure how much credence can be attached to that, though.
Outside the Moses Memorial Church is the bronze Brazen Serpentine Monument, which entwines the life-saving serpent created by Moses in the wilderness and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.
Today, a modern chapel presbytery has been built to protect the remains of a Byzantine church and monastery first built in the second half of the 4th century.
The Moses Memorial Church houses a number of Byzantine mosaics and was closed for extensive renovation from 2007 to 2016. Whilst not as famous as those to be found in Madaba, the main mosaic (measuring about 9 metres by 3 metres) shows a fascinating range of hunting and wine making activities that would’ve occurred at the time.
It took us an hour to take in all that was on offer up on Mount Nebo. With plenty to see and short walking distances, this was a family friending excursion we all enjoyed, which is more than can be said for our next stop.
As part of our day trip, I’d booked in a trip to see the hilltop fortress of King Herod the Great at Mukawir. The site of the ruins of Machaerus, this is where John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded by Herod the Great’s successor Herod Antipas. As such, the Arabic name of Qala’at Al Meshneq, meaning Castle of the Gallows seems so much more fitting!
The drive is along some narrow roads with numerous switchbacks and not particularly well signposted. On arrival I thought the guy trying to charge us for entry wasn’t legit, so I blustered our way in without paying the JD 1.50 fee - oops. In the end, as it was still very hazy, I was the only one who made the trek up the steep pathway. By that I mean, in order to avoid my own beheading, I ran up in my jandals, snapped off a few unsatisfactory pictures and ran back down again to everyone else who was waiting in the carpark.
On a good day, there is supposed to be amazing views but that wasn’t happening when we visited.
Returning sheepishly to the others waiting, Veronica avoided giving me her best “I told you so” look and we all bundled back in the car for the journey back to our accommodation beside the Dead Sea.
Given what else is on offer in Jordan, in our opinion, this definitely isn’t a must do sight and definitely not losing your head if you don’t visit.