For centuries rival sites on the eastern and western side of the Jordan River have claimed to be the site where Jesus was baptised. But earlier this month the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, the UN cultural body, weighed in on the issue and listed the eastern site on the World Heritage List.

Located nine kilometres north of the Dead Sea, the listing for "Bethany Beyond the Jordan", also known as al-Maghtas, mentions two distant areas - Tell Al-Kharrar, also known as Jabal Mar-Elias or Elijah's Hill, and "the area of the churches of Saint John the Baptist near the river".

Noting that the site is a place of Christian heritage, it says the site is "believed to be" the location where Jesus was baptised and features Roman and Byzantine ruins including churches and chapels, a monastery, caves that have been used by hermits and pools where baptisms were carried out.

The site was opened to tourists in 2002. The rival western site known as Qasr al-Yahud, is located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank - an area where Palestinians hope to establish an independent state.

It was opened to tourists for daily visits in 2011 following the removal of landmines and has typically attracted larger crowds than the eastern site because of its accessibility from Israel.

While welcomed in Jordan, the decision has sparked criticism from some quarters with at least one US-based archaeologist saying it has "nothing to do with archaeological reality" and a Palestinian official reportedly saying the eastern bank site should also have been included in the listing. A number of church denominations - including the Roman Catholic church - have reportedly written letters in support of the Jordanian site. Biblical accounts do not specify on which side of the river the baptism occurred.