Jericho is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Now the UN cultural organization Unesco has designated the archaeological site of Tell es-Sultan as a World Heritage Site at a meeting in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh. The prehistoric ruins are located outside the current city limits, their history dates back more than 11,000 years. They are located in the Palestinian West Bank.

In Israel, the decision was met with criticism. Unesco does not do justice to the biblical significance of the city, said Israeli MP Dan Illouz, according to a report on Deutschlandfunk. It is an insult to millions of Jews and Christians around the world. Illouz had already called on Unesco in advance not to count Jericho as part of Palestine. He spoke of a "blatant interference in a conflict in which Unesco is not allowed to interfere".

The city of Jericho is a popular tourist spot in the Palestinian territories because of its historical sites and proximity to the Dead Sea. In 2021, the Palestinian Authority unveiled one of the largest mosaics in the Middle East in an 8th-century palace of Jericho (read more here).

Tell es-Sultan is home to evidence of one of the first known villages of mankind and an important city dating back to the Bronze Age, dating back to 2600 BC. The prehistoric archaeological site is located about two kilometers from the remains of the first city of Jericho, which contains ruins of importance to Jewish history, including a synagogue dating back to the first century BC.

"Later historical developments, spanning thousands of years and evidenced by material remains beyond the boundaries of Tell es-Sultan, form a rich cultural context that is of historical interest and worth preserving, including Jewish and Christian heritage," said Unesco Deputy Director-General Ernesto Ottone at the meeting to discuss the site.

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Image background:»Lion-Gazelle Mosaic«Khirbat al-Mafjar from the 8th centuryBy Kathrin Maas

Israel withdrew from Unesco in 2019, accusing it of being biased and diminishing Israel's ties to the Holy Land. The state also rejected the admission of Palestine as an observer state without Unesco membership in 2011, but remains a member of the World Heritage Convention and sent a delegation to the meeting in Riyadh. Israel regards the West Bank as the biblical and cultural home of the Jewish people.

Application from Erfurt

Erfurt is also hoping for a place on the World Heritage List. This could be a tribute to the city's Jewish-medieval heritage. It is about three historical sites from former Jewish ownership in the old town, including a medieval ritual bath (mikveh) discovered by chance about 16 years ago and Erfurt's Old Synagogue.

After a pogrom in the city in 1349, in which the entire Jewish community was almost wiped out, the synagogue was first converted into a warehouse and later used as a restaurant and dance hall. The city suspects that the building was saved from destruction by the Nazis for this reason.

Today there is a museum in the Old Synagogue, the oldest traces of construction of which date back to around 1094. On display are testimonies of Jewish life in medieval Erfurt, including several thousand silver coins and bars as well as gold and silversmith's work from the 13th and 14th centuries. Researchers suspect that this so-called Erfurt treasure was buried in the course of the pogrom of 1349. The meeting of the Unesco Committee will be broadcast live on two monitors in the ballroom of Erfurt City Hall.

The 1157 cultural and natural sites in 167 countries include the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. There are 51 World Heritage Sites in Germany to date, including Aachen Cathedral (since 1978) and Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt (2021).

The 45th session of the World Heritage Committee was supposed to take place in Russia in June 2022. However, due to the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine, it was postponed and will now be made up for in Riyadh.