Most famous as the place where Salome is said to have danced for the head of John the Baptist, Mukawir – or Machaerus as it was names in ancient times – is the fortified hilltop palace of Herod the Great. Built 700m above the village of Mukawir, the fortified hill has deep historical significance, as a hot spot during the conflicts between the Roman Byzantine controlled lands of the north, and the Nabatean lands of the south.
The fortress is thought to have been first built around 100 BC, and expanded into a garrison worthy for war under the rule of Herod who was given the palace by the Byzantine emperor. The destination’s religious significance came later under the rule of Herod the Great’s son and successor Herod Antipas, who was holding John the Baptist as a prisoner in the fort. Salome – the new wife of Antipas – ordered the Baptist’s head on a silver platter – and that is exactly what she got.
Machaerus was reclaimed by the Romans after the death of Antipas, however the fortress underwent several further invasions and today there is very little left of the original structure. However, while the ruins themselves are somewhat unimpressive, the setting of the fortified hill, with its ghostly columns and breath taking panoramic views of the valleys out to the Dead Sea beyond is well worth a visit on its own.