Benjamin Regional Council on Tuesday morning, fifth candle of Chanukah, launched day tours of the Hasmonean royal winter palaces near Jericho. Motorists can reach the site with their private vehicles via Mitzpe Jericho and Wadi Kelt.
The Hasmonean royal winter palaces are a complex of Hasmonean and Herodian buildings from the Second Temple period, which were discovered in the western plain of Jericho valley, at Tulul Abu al-‘Alayiq, near the place where the Roman road connecting Jericho with Jerusalem enters Wadi Qelt. Two tells are located on either side of Wadi Qelt.
The Binyamin Regional Council works to preserve the site and maintain the Israeli sovereignty there. According to Regavim, while the archaeological site is in Area C, which is completely under Israel’s domain according to the Oslo agreements (in case anyone over in the PA still observes it), the access road goes through Area B, which is under the PA’s administrative domain but under IDF security rule. This year, due to the Corona restrictions, the Council could not provide a tour bus for the visitors, who are arriving in droves in their own cars. Still, they must follow the council’s instructions and obey the IDF forces in the area.
The site covers an area of 30 acres and only a portion of the Second Temple period’s Jericho. The excavations, which began in the 19th century and continued after the 1973 war, revealed a series of winter palaces from the days of the Hasmonean kings to the days of Herod.
South of one of the palaces, in the area where today lies the Aqaba Jaber refugee camp, were found the remains of wealthy suburban homes, scattered over many acres. A royal farm was discovered north of the palaces, encompassing on an area of 110 acres, which was connected to, and probably served the inhabitants of the winter palaces.
Two aqueducts which were built in the days of the Hasmoneans enabled the construction of the palatial complex. They carried water from a large number of fresh, year-round water springs running down from the Judaean hills to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.
The Chanukah tours are being led by instructors from the Sde Ofra School of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, in collaboration with the Binyamin Regional Council and the Binyamin Region Tourism. The tours of the Hasmonean palaces will continue on Wednesday and Thursday. To register go to the Council’s Facebook page.
Israel Gantz, Head of the Binyamin Regional Council, said in a statement: “On the Holiday of the Maccabees, we touch physically the history of the Jewish people that took place here. Touching the past and connecting to our heritage and the land give us the strength to build the present and strive for the future. We were delighted to see that the list of visitors filled up quickly. Travelers from all over the country are coming. It is gratifying to see the excitement on the faces of everyone who comes to visit.”