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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Al-Maghtas: Where Jesus was Baptized

Baptism of Jesus is an integral part of Christianity and to stand at the location of baptism and to imagine this event taking place some 2000 plus years ago is quite a surreal experience. Such is the religious importance of this place that people from all over the world come on a religious holiday to get baptized here. Al-Maghtas or Bethany beyond the Jordan is the place where Jesus was baptized. This UNESCO World Heritage site is located on the east bank of the Jordan river and exists in what we know as Jordan today. In spite of the warm weather, this is one of Jordan’s most fertile belts. Any archaeological or history lover will love the religious edifices seen here from the Roman and Byzantine period.

Greek Orthodox Church of John the Baptist at Bethany, Jordan

As you enter into this region either from the natural wonder called the Dead Sea or the biblical site of Madaba, you cannot fail to notice how the bleak dry landscape changes into a beautiful green valley. For someone who has been spending their holiday in Jordan, this green setting will come as a welcome surprise. As you head deeper into the heritage zone, you will see the tiny meandering Jordan river that splits Jordan with Israel and that ends into the Dead Sea. For people visiting Jordan, this allows them to see the people, buildings and life of Israel just across the river and vice versa.

Pilgrims getting baptized at Bethany on the Israel side of the Jordan river

This walk towards the river takes you to a beautiful newly built Greek orthodox church that houses colourful murals inside and where you can light a candle and/or make a donation by buying some souvenirs. Past the church, as you walk under the shaded canopy, you will notice some stunning view points that offer a wide shot of the Jordan river and the entire heritage area. Next, comes the archaeological site that houses the baptism pools, the churches, hermitages and tombs. While most of these are in ruins today, you can see remains of stone work from that era, marble steps that led into the baptism pool, the baptism pool itself and the resurrected pillars that supported the Chapel of the Mantle. It is best to go with a good local guide who can help you understand the history behind these ruins.

Meandering Jordan river from Jordan side

Once you pass the baptism site and the churches, you reach the Jordan river where you can sit on the steps of the river bank and watch the rituals and chants take place as people clad in white robes get baptized in these holy waters. Al-Maghtas or Bethany may not hold  a lot of importance to the typical holidaymaker exploring rich sights such as the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba, but I would recommend that you squeeze this place into your itinerary and get a feel of the rich past of one of the most popular religions in the world today.



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