The People of Israel, John the Baptist and Jesus came to the Jordan River. The People of Israel crossed it and John the Baptist baptized Jesus in its water. Both the Jews and the Christians give the event that took place at this location an important place in their religion and consider it as a defining and formative moment in their historic past, after which things have changed, never to be the same again.
Qasr el Yahud, which is on the Jordan River, just before it meets with the Dead Sea, is an important place for both the Jewish and the Christian faiths. Here, the Jews believe, the People of Israel crossed the Jordan River after they have left Egypt and wandered in the desert for forty years. Their entrance into the Promised Land was of course, as said before, a defining and formative event, because this physical action was the result of a strong spiritual belief. About 1,200 years later Jesus wandered in the desert and came to John the Baptist who saw Jesus as his heir and baptized him in the Jordan River and in the Holy Spirit – a physical action with a strong spiritual meaning.
For many years this place was a pilgrimage site and many Christians came to the spot in the river where Jesus’ baptism took place. Here they repeated that act of baptism, being baptized in the water of the Jordan River themselves, while chanting, praying and singing. In the beginning of the 1970s, due to security reasons, the site closed and the Christians have moved their activity to an alternative spot in the southern part of the Sea of Galilee that is known as "Yardenit”. When things got better again, it became possible for believers to visit Qasr el Yahud again, but this became a military zone and prearrangements for a visit had to be made. A few years ago the site was given to The Israel Nature and Parks Authority to manage, but it still remained necessary to coordinate a visit in advance and visitors were allowed in twice a week.
The major change happened in 2010, when the Israel Nature and Parks Authority decided to open the site throughout the week to all visitors and without the need for prearrangement and any other complicated procedures. This naturally brought to an increased flow of visitors to the site. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority on its part started developing and upgrading the site in order to make it suitable for their and the visitors’ needs. First of all they organized the access road to the site, cleared landmines which were located on the sides of the road and paved a new road which replaced the old dirt road. In the area were found old Jordanian structures and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority made them usable again. One of these structures turned into a small store that also serves as an information center for the visitors. The most important change to take place, at least as far as the Christian visitors are concerned, was the matter of accessing the water. In order to allow for a convenient and safe access to the water of the Jordan River, a wooden deck was built with stairs and a platform that is submerged in the water. All of these were immediate solutions where in the future it is planned to build a new entrance to the site with a souvenirs shop, as well as a new structure which will include bathrooms and changing rooms and the parking lot will be made larger in order to fit the many vehicles that arrive here.
On the 18th of January, when the Christians celebrate the Epiphany, thousands of Orthodox Christian pilgrims come here from all around the world for the traditional Baptism ceremony, which is a fascinating event.
The entrance road to Qasr el Yahud leaves from road number 90 in the southern part of the Jordan Rift Valley. The site is also accessible now to spontaneous travelers who pass through the area and are interested in a visit. On hot summer days you can have a refreshing dip in the water here on your way to the north or to the south.
The site is open daily from 8 am to 4 pm and the entrance is free of charge. Telephone: 972-57-7766648.
Photo: Uzi Ofir