Jericho Named UNESCO World Heritage Site

Tell es-Sultan designated the West Bank’s fourth World Heritage Site


Aeriel view of Jericho, Tell es-Sultan. Courtesy Photo Companion to the Bible, Joshua.

The prehistoric and famed biblical site of Jericho—Tell es-Sultan—was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site during a conference held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Described by UNESCO as the “oldest fortified city in the world,” Jericho became just the fourth World Heritage Site in the West Bank, alongside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, Hebron’s old town, and parts of southern Jerusalem.

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From Pre-Historic to Biblical to World Heritage

Jericho was first inhabited during the Early Neolithic period (c. ninth–eighth millennia BCE), and today is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. The earliest (deepest) layers of the site were excavated by famed British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s, who uncovered a large wall and tower. While some believe the wall was a defensive system, making the site the first known fortified city in the world, others argue that the wall served as a retaining wall. Nevertheless, the walls serve as clear evidence of the social complexity of Jericho at this early date.

Later, in the Bronze Age (c. 3300–1200 BCE), Jericho became an important Canaanite city, reaching its height in the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1550). During the Iron Age (c. 1200–586), Jericho was taken over by the kingdom of Judah, although much debate surrounds the biblical account of the city’s conquest in Joshua 6. The city would continue to be an important part of biblical history, being abandoned and resettled following the Babylonian conquest of Judah (c. 586). Jericho would grow in prominence once again during the Hasmonean period (c. 332–37) and was even home to one of the many palaces of Herod the Great (r. 37 BCE–4 CE). Jericho is also the site where Jesus met Zacchaeus the tax collector, according to the Gospel of Matthew (20:29).


Jericho’s Hasmonean palace. Courtesy Photo Companion to the Bible, Matthew.

Following the destruction of Jerusalem (c. 70 CE), Jericho rapidly declined until the Byzantine period (c. 324–634) when it once again became a large city. Later, the famed Hisham’s Palace—attributed to Caliph Hisham Ibn Abd al-Malik (r. 724–743)—was built in the area following the Islamic conquest of the region. Jericho continues to be inhabited up to the present day.

The roughly 14-acre park, now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, includes the ancient tell, whose traditional name is Tell es-Sultan, as well as a 55-acre “buffer zone.” In addition to the added prestige that comes from being included on the list, many such sites also receive additional financial and expert assistance to preserve the site properly for future generations.

Read more in Bible History Daily:

Jesus’ Birthplace Nominated for UNESCO World Heritage List

Baptismal Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” Added to UNESCO World Heritage List

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Jericho Was Destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age, Not the Late Bronze Age

Dating Jericho’s Destruction: Bienkowski Is Wrong on All Counts

Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence

The Winter Palaces of Jericho

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