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Take a 2-or-3 days expedition to visit the hidden Judean Desert Monasteries from the Byzantine period. Follow the old tracks which were left for us by Monks who lived in the desert caves when they first began to settle the Judean desert during the 4th century. Get to know one of the most forgotten part of early Christian history in an area which was one of the most important centers of monasticism in the Byzantine Empire.


The Lost Desert Monks

During the Byzantine period, many Christian monks have settled themselves in the Judean Desert. Around 60 monasteries were built during this time in the North area of the Judean Desert and around 20,000 monks were living there in caves, isolated from the rest of civilization with the purpose of meditating and practicing spiritual work under religious vows.

This religious way of life is called Christian Monasticism, where the person denounces worldly pursuits and fully devotes one's self to spiritual life. The word "Monasticism" originates from the Greek word 'Monos' which means 'Alone', based on the act of 'Dwelling Alone'. The word 'Monks' derives from the same meaning of 'Living Alone'. The Monks lived in seclusion from the rest of the world in places called 'Monasteries', meaning: 'Places to live alone'. They withdrew from society and devoted themselves to the purpose of spiritual renewal and return to God.

Many such Monks found the Judean desert as the suitable place of seclusion. They followed the footsteps and life-style of Jesus, who, according to the New Testament, secluded to the desert for forty days in order to prove his obedience to God (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13), as well as Elijah the prophet and John the Baptist. The desert Monks are often called 'Hermits', based on the Latin and Greek words 'Eremita' and 'Eremites' (meaning: "Of the desert"). During the Byzantine period (4th-7th C. AD) the Hermits found the Judean Desert a place of choice for seclusion in the Holy Land. Although this desert is close to the Holy city of Jerusalem, it is also remote and hardly uninhabited. 
  • Travel to hidden locations and secret caves located deep in the Judean desert and hear their unique story told by the National Speleological Society caver and explorer: Itai Schkolnik
  • Gaze with your own eyes at the architectural wonders of magical Monasteries built from desert rocks on canyon walls
  • Visit forgotten archeological locations in the Judean Desert and spend a night camping under the stars
  • Learn to rappel and descend into a hidden ancient monastery with colorful frescos built in a natural cave
  • Explore the beautiful desert mountains and amazing canyons North of the Dead Sea


We will start the first day with a journey in the beautiful Ein Prat Nature Reserve, hiking along the Prat Canyon ('Wadi Qelt' in Arabic), which originates near Jerusalem and runs into the Jordan River near Jericho and the Dead Sea. Wadi Qelt is home to a unique variety of flora and fauna. The trail itself is full of natural pools where you can stop and take a swim almost at any point during the hike. On this magical hike you’ll find serene desert silence, disturbed only by the sound of water rushing through a gorge. At the beginning of the journey you will spot the ruins of the ancient aqueducts that once delivered precious water to Jericho, and Monasteries hanging from the cliffs of the canyon, creating an overwhelming sight. From there we will hike along the Canyon, enjoying the beautiful desert vistas and continuing the trail to its end at the other side of the reserve. Then we'll visit the St. George's Monastery and the royal winter palace complex built by the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great are located in the Wadi, which has been identified with the biblical Perath mentioned in Jeremiah 13:5.
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After spending the night camping under the stars we'll wake up in the early morning and start a long hike through the Og Canyon towards the ancient Monastery of Theoctistus, which was left forgotten by both tourists and archaeologists. The Monastery's chapel was established in a cave by the Monk Theoctistus circa 400 AD and is decorated by beautiful color frecoes all around the cave's walls. In ancient times there was a path which led to the cave, but during the time it collapsed and the only way to reach the cave today is by rappelling. After getting a rappelling lesson you will descend down the cliff towards the entrance of the cave located just in the middle of the wall. Inside the cave you will enjoy the beautiful Christian scenes drawn on the chapel's walls with colorful frescos depicting Maria, Christ, Stars, Angels and early Byzantine symbols. The exit from the cave will be done also by rappeling back to the main trail which will lead us back through Og Canyon.

If you do not wish to do rappeling, there is an option to do the following optional tour instead, OR you can add this as a third day of the expedition:
The optional tour will take you for a full-day Jeep ride through the Northern part of the Judean Desert to the largest Monastery in the Judean desert: Mar Saba. A 5th C. AD monastery, the complex is built on the southern cliffs of the Kidron creek, and is protected inside a walled area with dozens of structures. It was established by Saint Sabas ('Mar Saba' in Arabic), and named after him. The Monastery started as a place of seclusion of few monks in the caves, led by Sabas. Over the years, it was built, expanded, and fortified. During the peak times it housed about 500 monks. On the way to the Mar Saba Monastery we will visit the Bedouins and enjoy a tasty meal of goat cheese, salads, pitas and the famous Bedouin coffee and tea.




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Exteriorate, Israel
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