The Watch

Jordan River Cultural Landscape

Jordan River, Jordan

2008 World Monuments Watch

The Jordan River lay at the heart of millennia of history, religion, and culture. Three of the world's major religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—consider the river a holy place: Joshua is said to have parted the river's waters and then destroyed nearby Jericho; Jesus was baptized in the river according to the Gospels; and Mohammad and his closest companions are thought to have been buried along its banks. Evidence of the many empires that occupied the region can still be seen alongside its waters and in the surrounding valley, including the Three Bridges site in the lower river valley, where Roman, Ottoman, and British-built bridges all cross the Jordan River at the same point. In the Beit She'an/Irbid area in the north, a bridge from the Roman era and a caravanserai from the Mamluk age still survive, the reason for their geographic proximity most likely explained by the importance of this location in providing transport across the water. In modern times, the river continues to be an important border location. Modern dams in the region have reduced the flow of the lower Jordan River some 90 percent. The small amount of fresh water that remains is barely enough to maintain the region's flora and fauna. Exacerbating the problem is untreated sewage, fishpond effluent, and agricultural run-off being dumped into the river. The isolation of the region due to political instability has kept tourists and pilgrims away from the water's edge, leaving the public generally unaware of its poor condition. The Roman bridge and Mamluk caravanserai were opened as a tourist attraction in 1991, yet the monuments remain structurally unstable and require immediate attention. The bridge was hit by a bomb in 1948 and never properly repaired. The area is seismically active and natural conditions are eroding stone structures. The Jordan River Cultural Landscape is one of several 2008 Watch listings that highlight how mismanagement of the natural environment can negatively impact historic sites and cultural heritage. Last update: 2008

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