June 13th 2013
A biblical landmark, Qasr al Yahud is located on the banks of the Jordan River, just north of the Dead Sea. Not far from the ancient city of Jericho, Qasr al Yahud is said to be the site where the Israelites, freed from Egyptian slavery some 40 years earlier, crossed into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, as described in the book of Joshua, Chapter 3. The Arabic name Qasr al Yahud means “Fortress of the Jews.”
According to tradition, this is also the location where the prophet Elijah passed on the prophetic tradition to his student Elisha and then ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot, as described in the book Kings II, Chapter 11. According to mystical Jewish tradition, the prophet Elijah never died, reappearing in various guises throughout history to assist people in need.
Qasr al Yahud is also the place where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth was baptized, it is therefore an extremely popular baptism site for Christian pilgrims from all over the world. Qasr al Yahud is widely considered to be the third most important Christian site in Israel – ranking only behind the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity. There are many contemporary and ancient Christian monasteries and churches surrounding the site, including ruins of Byzantine and Crusader-era churches. Their presence testifies to the long-standing significance of the location.
After having been closed to the public for 44 years, the site was refurbished by Israeli authorities and reopened in 2010. Under the care of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and open daily, Qasr al Yahud now includes a stone-lined pavilion, a wooden deck, marble steps that provide easy access to the Jordan River, railings leading into the water, bleachers for seating and changing rooms where pilgrims can shower following baptisms. The site can accommodate private cars and is wheelchair accessible. Water quality in the Jordan River is regularly monitored for safety.
Two precautions are important to mention. Visitors are urged to drink plenty of water at the site. There are shady spots built into the newly renovated location, but given its proximity to the Dead Sea, Qasr al Yahud is one of the lowest points on earth, and the heat can be intense. Visitors are also cautioned to take extra care when walking on the wooden deck, as it can become slippery when wet.