The mountaintop fortress, now called Mukawer (Machaerus), commands panoramic views over much of the Dead Sea and the hills of Palestine and the Holy Land. It was here that Herod Antipas imprisoned John the Baptist and later had him beheaded after Salome’s fateful dance.
The History of Machareus
The strategic position of the Castle looking at Jerusalem from the opposite side of the Jordan River made the fortress a perfect outpost in case of an attack. Built originally by a Hasmonean king around 90 BC, it was destroyed and rebuilt by the Roman client king Herod the Great in 30 BC and used as a garrison to protect his territories east of the Jordan. The Castle was inherited by the son of Herold the Great, Herold Antipas, who reigned for around 40 years from 4 BC until 39 AD, and later by Herold Agrippa. At the death of Agrippa, the Romans took again direct control of the site. The Jewish occupied the castle during the first Jewish revolt in 66 AD but were defeated by the Romans in 77 AD. After a siege, the Romans tore the castle down to the current ruins.
The remains of the fortress show the ruins of the palace, in some parts still with its original mosaics. There are also remains of city walls and towers, and the aqueduct. The Mikvech, a bath of the Jewish tradition dedicated to ritual immersion, was found under the main courtyard, at a depth of three meters, covered by the sands of the desert. This bath is the greatest of its kind in Jordan and is assumed that Herod did the purifying rituals exclusively with family members.
The dance of the seven veils and beheading of John the Baptist
It is in the rooms of Machareus that one of the most dramatic and famous stories of the Old Testament took place: the beheading of John the Baptist.
Herod Antipas had imprisoned John the Baptist for disapproving his marriage with Herodias, the wife of his brother. Herodias, enraged at John the Baptist, urged her daughter Salome to dance for the king the famous dance of the seven veils. Enchanted by the dance, Herod promised to satisfy any of her wishes. Stirred up by her mother, the girl requested the head of John the Baptist. It is said that the head of John the Baptist was served to Salome on a tray and then was rolled from the fortress. The followers of the John the Baptist later collected his head and brought it to Damascus.
· The caves of the beheading of John the Baptist
· The palace triclinium
· The Eastern baths and walls
· The Roman siege ramp