Jesus' baptism site to get tourist boost after becoming world heritage site

The baptism site recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.Reuters

The site in Jordan believed to be where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist has been designated a world heritage site by the UN's education, science and culture arm, UNESCO.

"Bethany Beyond the Jordan" or Al-Maghtas, a name which means baptism or immersion in Arabic, on the eastern bank of the River Jordan nine kilometres north of the Dead Sea, has become a modern pilgrimage site since UNESCO sponsored excavations. Pope John Paul II visited the site in 2000 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

The site consists of two areas, Elijah's Hill and the area of the churches of St John the Baptist near the river. The Roman and Byzantine remains include churches and chapels, a monastery, hermit caves and baptism pools.

The gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke describe the baptism where Jesus is addressed as "my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased".

The director of EcoPeace Friends of the Earth Middle East, Gidon Bromberg, told the Ynet site that recognition of the heritage site points to the Jordan's astuteness in advancing the issue. There is huge tourism potential in the millions of Christians who could be interested in being baptised in the Jordan River at the same place as Jesus. Currently about 100,000 pilgrims visit the site but the UNESCO recognition could increase that dramatically.

Some scholars believe however that another site, in Israel, is where Jesus was baptised. Many tourists also visit that site.

The baptism site is one of three new cultural sites placed on the World Heritage List. The other two are Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale in Sicily and rock art in the Hail region of Saudi Arabia.

Orthodox Christians wait in line to immerse themselves in the Jordan River.Reuters