Known today as Mukawir, this dramatic hilltop is the traditional site of the execution of John the Baptist (pbuh). It lies less than 20 km southwest of Madaba at the King's Highway on a stark promontory (720 m), overlooking the Dead Sea and protected on three sides by deep ravines.
A fortress was first built here by the Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC) to defend Perea against the expansionist Nabataeans. His widow Alexandra, confident of the site's inviolability, stored her treasure here - to no avail, as the Romans destroyed it in 63 BC.
It was restored then by Herod the Great (37-4 BC) who, according to the contemporary historian Josephus, "built a wall round the very summit and erected towers at the corners, each 27.4 m high. In the middle of this enclosure he built a palace, breath-taking in size and beauty".
When Herod's son, Herod Antipas, divorced his Nabataean wife to marry Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, John the Baptist (pbuh) outspokenly condemned his behavior. It was at Machaerus, it is said, that John was imprisoned, and Herodias' daughter Salome danced and demanded the Baptist's head on a platter. During the Judaean war many refugees fled from Jerusalem to Machaerus for safety. It was finally destroyed, again by the Romans, in 72 AD.