December 29, 2010

210,000 Pilgrims Visited Jordan River in 2010

Taylor Luck
December 27, 2010
Jordan Times

The Baptism Site witnessed a record number of visitors in 2010, with plans in place to attract pilgrims from across the world to the Christian holy site next year and beyond, according to site officials.

Baptism Site Commission (BSC) Director Dia Madani said 210,000 visitors came to the site at the east bank of the River Jordan in the first 11 months of the year, a 20 per cent surge from 2009.

Madani attributed the increase in visitors to the promotional efforts of the Jordan Tourism Board as well as a growth in visitors from East Asia and South America, both emerging markets for the Kingdom’s tourism industry.

Looking into 2011, the commission said it has secured organised pilgrimages to the Baptism Site and other biblical sites in Jordan.

As a result of BSC’s ongoing meetings with Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP), the Vatican travel agency, the latter will start operating seven-day pilgrimages to biblical sites in the Kingdom next year.

The Russian Orthodox church is also expected to start sending pilgrim groups to Jordan, while officials are working to attract organised pilgrimages from other target markets including East Asia and eastern Europe, Madani told The Jordan Times over the phone yesterday.

The ORP currently organises pilgrimages to Rome, France, Portugal, Turkey, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This fall, the Vatican pilgrimage agency introduced four-day pilgrimages to the Kingdom.

The Vatican sponsored tour includes Mount Nebo, where it is believed Moses looked over the Promised Land and marks his burial spot, the Hellenistic site of Pella, another famous biblical site, and Um Qais, formerly the Decapolis League city of Gadara, believed to be the site of the Miracle of the Gadarean Swine.

Outside of the ORP tour, the vast majority of visitors currently come to the Baptism Site as individuals or in small groups.

Meanwhile, Madani said construction has recently been completed on a JD2 million convention centre at the Baptism Site. According to the BSC, officials will unveil the new centre, which features a main auditorium with a 350 person capacity as well as 100-person lecture halls, in early January.

The Russian Orthodox pilgrimage guesthouse as well as Coptic and Armenian churches are close to completion while construction is under way on an Armenian guesthouse. Once construction on all planned churches is complete, 11 denominations will be represented at Bethany Beyond the Jordan, he said.

The Baptism Site, on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, is believed to be where John the Baptist lived and is considered one of the most significant religious discoveries.

Excavations in the area have uncovered more than 20 churches, caves and baptismal pools dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods.