Holy land – So close yet so far   

My trip today took me to two very important Biblical sites; the fortress of Machaerus which was the place where John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod Antipas and Mount Nebo, the place where Moses gazed at the Promised Land but never entered.

Machaerus which means “black fortress” was one of a series of hilltop strongholds established by Herod the great, the father of Herod Antipas. Built along the edge of the Jordan Valley and  the Dead Sea it is perched on top of the mountain, more than 1100 metres above the Dead Sea , The fortress is protected on three sides by deep ravines. In addition to its natural defensible position on a rocky hilltop, Machaerus served as the first line of defence and warning against any eastern invaders.

The road leading to the fortress

Herod the great erected a fortress wall with high corner towers. In the centre he built a palace that was “breath-taking in size and beauty”, according to Josephus. Numerous cisterns were dug to collect rainwater one of which is visible even today.

An artists impression of what the fort and palace would have looked like

But this fortress also served as a lavish palace for Herod and his guests. It is here that John the Baptist was beheaded because he opposed Herod Antipas who had divorced his wife Phasaelis, daughter of King Aretas of Nabatea in favour of Herodias, his brother’s wife.

The fortress today
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