These ruins by the Dead Sea is where John the Baptist met his untimely end.

Going for antiquity in Jordan means going Biblical. The Fortress of Machaerus is located on the northeastern shore of the Dead Sea, at the mouth of the Jordan River. There is evidence that this is where John the Baptist was kept captive and eventually beheaded in 32 AD on Salome’s request.

Alexander Jannaeus (104-78 BC) had the Fortress of Machaerus built on top of a hill in 90 BC for geopolitical reasons. If today, the fortress offers breathtaking views of the Dead Sea and the surrounding area, at its inception, it offered a great vantage point to observe military movements on and around the Dead Sea.

The 1st century AD Roman-Jewish historian Josephus identified the awe-inspiring site of Machaerus (modern-day Mukawir) as the palace-fortress of Herod Antipas, the Roman-appointed regional ruler during the life of Jesus Christ. It was here, at this hilltop fortified palace overlooking the Dead Sea region and the distant hills of Palestine and Israel that Herod imprisoned and beheaded John the Baptist. He was beheaded after Salome’s fateful dance. (Matthew 14:3-11)

Among the string of historical figures that presided over the Fortress of Machaerus is Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, and Herod Agrippa I, after whose death (44 AD), the fortress was conquered by the Romans. Jewish insurgents took over in 66 AD but Romans took the fortress back in 72 AD. It was around this time that Romans tore down the fortress leaving nothing but the foundations.

Archaeological studies began in 1968 and underwent different phases through the years. Sections of the royal palace survived, including fragments of mosaics. Excavations unearthed pottery whose style and age coincides with the different peoples that occupied the fortress.

Now, in addition to the original foundations of the fortress are also five full columns (Doric and Ionic) and some partial ones. These are damaged columns found lying on site that an archaeological team reassembled, reinforced, and re-erected in the spot where they used to stand. This restoration work was carried out using a technique called anastylosis, which means that the original materials, techniques, and styles were used as much as possible in the restoration process.

On a clear night you can easily make out the lights of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and Ariha (Jericho). Far removed from the tourist circuit, the quiet of this area transports you back into Biblical times. Indeed, shepherds and their flocks still find shelter in the myriad caves and grottoes around Machaerus. Hike down towards the Dead Sea from Machaerus and you will truly feel that you are on top of the world.