Tourist Tip #261 Inn of the Good Samaritan, a Museum of Mosaics

On a biblical road, among an unusual patch of reddish limestone, an ancient inn has been reborn as a mosaics museum.

Mike Rogoff
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Mike Rogoff

The traditional Inn of the Good Samaritan, located on Route 1 heading to the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, has been reborn as a remarkable museum of mosaics, administered by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The inn is situated in biblical Ma'aleh Adummim – "the Red Ascent" – in the heart of the Judean Desert, some 8 km east of the modern town of the same name. The unusual patch of reddish limestone in the otherwise bleached landscape made it a distinctive landmark on the ancient tribal border of Judah and Benjamin: "and so northward, turning toward Gilgal, which is opposite the ascent of Adummim" (Joshua 15).

Distinctive too was its strategic location, half-way down the road that linked Jerusalem and Jericho, and the natural overnight spot on an arduous two-day journey. Archaeological excavations exposed remains from the Second-Temple period (1st century BCE/1st century CE): a small palace (perhaps King Herod's), cave dwellings and cisterns, and a rich assemblage of coins, pottery and other artifacts.

The complex, it is speculated, may have served as a roadside caravanserai in the later part of the period, making it a good candidate for the "inn" in Jesus' parable of the traveler who "fell among thieves" and was rescued by a compassionate passerby, the now-legendary "Good Samaritan" (Luke 10). The dangers of the road are underlined by the small ruined Crusader castle that still caps the hill north of the modern highway. Tala'at ed-Damm, the "Blood Ascent," the Muslims called the place – apparently with good reason.

Remains of a 6th-century pilgrims' inn and a Byzantine church, which had once been carpeted with stone mosaics, inspired the idea of creating a museum. Mosaics were characteristic decorations of the period, adorning Christian churches, Jewish synagogues – and, yes, Samaritansynagogues – alike. Descendants of those same Samaritans, historically related to the Jews, still live in the West Bank city of Nablus (Shechem) and near Tel Aviv.

Stunning geometric patterns, inscriptions in Hebrew and Greek, an image of King David, and a variety of classic Jewish symbols (menorah, shofar, incense pan, lulav, and so on) are among the motifs that populate the mosaics on display. Some of the exhibits are outdoors, others in the (air-conditioned) restored Turkish inn.

For the visitor who has seen it all, the modern Inn of the Good Samaritan offers something new and different.

Route 1, east of Jerusalem, accessible for both eastbound and westbound traffic

Summer hours (through September) 8 A.M. – 4 P.M., closes one hour earlier on Fridays, open on Saturdays 10 A.M. – 6 P.M. (last entrance at 4 P.M.)

Entrance: Adults - NIS 25, Students - NIS 19, Children - NIS 10

One of the mosaics at the Good Samaritan Mosaic Museum that reads 'Peace be on Israel.'Credit: Moshe Gilad
One of the mosaics at the Good Samaritan Mosaic Museum.
Fruit basket at the Inn of the Good Samaritan.
Geometric pattern at Inn of the Good Samaritan.
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One of the mosaics at the Good Samaritan Mosaic Museum.Credit: Moshe Gilad
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Fruit basket at the Inn of the Good Samaritan.Credit: Miriam Feinberg Vamosh
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Geometric pattern at Inn of the Good Samaritan.Credit: Miriam Feinberg Vamosh
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