free_israel_photos_beit_shan_valley_1920The Jordan Valley has been very prominent in the news lately as details “leak” out from the evolving “peace plan.” For those living in or near the Jordan Valley, the very idea of some change in status is frightening. So where exactly is this Jordan Valley and what’s there?

The Jordan Valley is a visually stunning and culturally rich stretch of land, approximately 100 km long, with its northern point at the place where the Kineret (Sea of Galilee) spills into the Jordan River, extending south to where the Jordan River spills into the Dead Sea. The Valley is filled with orchards, date groves, vineyards, vegetable farms and natural springs. At points along the way, the Jordan Valley serves as the border between Israel and Jordan. You can cross into Jordan from two bridges: the Sheikh Hussein Bridge, which faces the city of Beit She’an, and the Allenby Bridge, near to Jericho.

The Jordan Valley holds some of Israel’s and the world’s most ancient cities and archaeological sites. Here you will find Jericho, Beit She’an, Kibbutz Degania, Kibbutz Sha’ar, Belvoir, and Old Gesher, to name just a few.

A good place to start is at the Hagolan Museum on Kibbutz Sha’ar where you can learn about the vast and rich history of the Jordan Valley. Old Gesher is listed among the world’s 100 endangered and world heritage sites by the American World Monuments Fund. Here you can tour an ancient bridge from the Roman Byzantine era, as well as a roadside inn, known as Mamluks Han, built during the 14th century. If “birding” is your pleasure, a stop at the Kfar Ruppin Birdwatching Center will give you an appreciation for the magnitude of the Syrian-African Rift bird migration route.

The largest city in the Jordan Valley is Beit She’an, among the oldest cities in the world. Today it is an eclectic mix of modern and ancient, with new shopping centers and residential projects dotting the city landscape alongside archaeological sites and imposing ruins. The city was first conquered by the Egyptians, then the Philistines, became part of the Kingdom of David and Solomon and was pretty much destroyed by the Assyrians. It was rebuilt by the Greeks around 2300 years ago, and then fell into the hands of the Romans, whose ruins and architecture can be seen today, most prominently at the National Park of Beit She’an. The outline of the original city, which spanned roughly 1,214 dunam, and the old wall which surrounded it are visible today. Among the ruins in the Park are a theater, public bathhouse, and Roman temple. The city of Beit She’an diminished considerably during the time of Arab rule, and all of its splendor evaporated until the modern State of Israel was established and new residents arrived to settle and rebuild. Today, approximately 18,000 people make their home in Beit She’an.

After a full day of exploring the history of Beit She’an, you can enjoy a splash in one of the many famous and beautiful natural springs that abound in the area.