Amman, Rabbath Ammon, Ptolemy Philadelphus, Philadelphia |
Jerash, Petra, Gilead Hills, Ramtha, Syria, Ulrich Seetzen, Triumphal Arch, Hippodrome, Temple of Zeus, Temple of Artemis |
Bedouin, Omayyad, TE Lawrence, Qasr Azraq, Qasr Amra, Qasr al-Kharaneh |
Desert Highway, Kings Highway, Mt Nebo, Madaba, Dead See |
Wadi al-Mujib, Kerak, Arnon, Moabites, Amorites, Crusaders |
Petra, Nabataeans, Wadi Araba, Khazheh |
Wadi Rum, Aqaba |
** Click images to enlarge **
Situated 51 km north of Amman, Jerash is one of Jordan's major attractions, second only to Petra. Lying in the Gilead Hills right on the road that leads to Ramtha and on to Syria, it is the best example in the Middle East of a Roman provincial city and is remarkably well preserved. Although there have been finds to indicate that the city was inhabitated in the Neolithic times, it was from the time of Alexander the Great 332 BC that the city really rose to prominence. The main ruins of Jerash are on the west side of the city and were discovered in 1806 by a German traveller, Ulrich Seetzen. Restoration began in 1925, and 3 years later the first excavations are carried out, Prior to that most of the city had been buried under sand, which accounts for good condition of many of the buildings. In its heyday it is estimated Jerash had a population of around 15,000, although it wasn't on any of the main trade routes, its citizens prospered from the good corngrowing land that surrounds it. Excavations have revealed two theatres, an unusual oval-shaped forum, temples, churches, a marketplace, baths and much more. When you enter the site, the Triumphal Arch is the first to come in view, behind the arch the Hippodrome, the Temple of Zeus and the cardo or Colonnaded street. The street is still paved with the original drainage and stones and the ruts whom by thousand of chariots over the years can be clearly seen. The most imposing building on the site, is the Temple of Artemis, dedicated to the patron goddess of the city. The whole site takes half a day to wander around and absorb and one can only imagine what it would be like if the other 90% were excavated.
To the east of Amman, the black stony desert plain rolls on to Iraq and Saudia Arabia. It is cut by an oil pipeline and the highway to Iraq, and if not for these, east Jordan would be left alone to the Bedouin. At some places the highway changed into a perfect landing-strip for aeroplanes. There are no towns to speak of and no point of interest except for the desert castles. A string of what have become known as "castles" lies in the desert east of Amman. Most of them were build or taken over and adapted by the Damascus-based Omayyad rulers in the late 7th and early 8th centuries. There are various theories about their use. The early Arab rulers were still Bedouin at heart and it thought their love of the desert led them to build or take over pleasure palaces, which appear to have been surrounded by oases. Qasr Azraq is build out of black basalt and it present from dates from the beginning of the 13th century. It was originally three storeys high, but much of it crumbled in an earthquake in 1927. TE Lawrence used it on his journeys between Aqaba and the headquarters he established for a time in the castle here. Qasr Amra is a beautiful bathhouse with nice fresco paintings.
Qasr al-Kharaneh, no one is really sure what its use was, a popular explanation is that it was one of the first Islamic khans, or caravanserais, for travelling traders. The date of construction is uncertain but a painted inscription above one of the doors on the upper floor puts it at 710 AD. From the roof of this well preserved castle you will have a wide view over the desolate desert.
There are three routes south of Amman: the Desert Highway, the Kings Highway and the Wadi Araba road via the Dead See. Ideally, travel the very old picturesque King's Highway, which is far the most interesting route taking you past ancient towns, castles and through some spectacular country. Many, many centuries ago Moses used this way to travel to Mount Nebo. Set on the precipice of a spectacular plateau about 10 km west of Madaba, the Mt Nebo area is celebrated as a memorial to Moses. On a clear day you can see the Dead See and even the spires of the churches in Jerusalem. On the hill you will find souvenirs for sale a monastery, churches and a copy of the bronze snake erected by Moses. The easy-going little town Madaba is perhaps best known for its Byzantine-era mosaics, including the famous 6th century map of Palestine located in the Greek Orthodox St George's Church. It is a clear map of Palestine and lower Egypt. Although now far from complete, many features can still be made out. The Dead See is 75 km long, from 6 to 16 km wide and has no outlet. The name becomes obvious when you realise that the high salt content 33% makes any plant or animal life impossible. At the southern end of the sea the Jordanians are exploiting the high potash content of the mineral water. Whatever the reason for the Dead See salt, it certainly makes for an unusual swimming experience. The higher density of the water makes your body more buoyant, so drowning or sinking is a tricky feat. Swimming is also just about impossible as you're to high in the water to stroke properly. After a dip in the Dead See you are left with a mighty uncomfortable, itchy coating of salt on your skin that you can't get off quickly enough- don't swim where there are no showers or freshwater springs.
The town of Kerak can be reached from the Desert Highway, but if you go this way you'll miss one of the most spectacular natural sights in Jordan, the canyon of Wadi al-Mujib, about 50 km north of Kerak on the Kings Highway. The canyon is over a km deep and the road winds precariously down one side and up to the other. At the bottom, there is only a bridge over the wadi and a rather forlorn-looking post office. This canyon is the Arnon of the Bible and formed a natural boundary between the Moabites in the south and the Amorites in the north. This canyon is part of the Great Rift which continued far into Africa. It is a must to stop and enjoy the great view and the flying buzzards. The greater part of Kerak, lies within the walls of the old Crusader town and is dominated by the fortified citadel- one in a long line built by the Crusaders stretching from Aqaba in the south right up into Turkey in the north. The citadel itself has been partially restored and is a jumble of rooms and vaulted passages. A flashlight would be useful for poking around some of the darker places, but watch your step as there are collapsed ceilings all over the place.
Hewn from the towering rock wall, the imposing façades of the great buildings and tombs of Petra are a testament to the one-time wealth of the ancient capital of the Nabataeans. So many words have been written about Petra, nowhere have nature and human invention co-operated so perfect as in Petra, but none of these words can hardly do the place justice. You have to see it by yourself and spend at least one day walking around and getting the feel of the place. Much of Petra's fascination comes from its setting on the edge of the Wadi Araba. The sheer and rugged sandstone hills from a deep canyon easily protected from all directions, to which the easiest access is through the Siq, a narrow winding cleft in the rock anything from five to 200 metres deep. Although the sandstone could hardly be called rose-red, it takes on deep rusty hues interlaced with bands of grey, yellow and every colour in between. Once inside the 1.5 km long colourful Siq, the path narrows to about five metres and the walls tower up to 200 metres overhead. The walls close in still further and at the times almost meet overhead, shutting out the light. Just as you start to think that there is no end to the Siq, you catch glimpses ahead of the most impressive monument- the Khazheh (Treasury).
Like all the rock-hewn monuments in Petra, it is the façade that captivates, the interior is just an unadorned square hall. The Khazneh's age is from 100 BC, The Amphitheatre with 8000 seats build by the Nabataeans, the Temple of the Winged Lions, the Royal tombs, Qasr al-Bint Firaun and the Monastery are only a few of the colourful monuments to observe. To protect this extraordinary complex the entrance is limited to 1500 visitors per day
On the way to Aqaba we will make a stop at Wadi Rum, because it offers some of the most extraordinary desert scenery you'll ever see. Wadi Rum is not of the sand-dune variety. What makes this place unique are the often bizarre rock formations soaring out of the desert floor. For that reason they used this area to take the desert shots in the film TE Lawrence of Arabia. There are a few things of interest in the immediate vicinity of the village. Lawrence's Well is a spring with many old Nabataean inscriptions. A more beautiful spring only 50 metres from the rest house. But the main attraction of a visit to Wadi Rum, however, is the desert, the rusty jebels of Wadi Rum rise sheer from the two-km-wide valley floor and are copped with smooth, pale sandstone. The hole settlement consist of about 20 Bedouin families in their black goat-hair tents a school and a shop. When they invite you for a cup of tea, don't say no, because it is a remarkable experience to drink your tea in Bedouin tent.
In Aqaba you can have some relax before travelling back to Amman, but it is recommended to make a trip with one of the glass-bottom boats, to have a look at the coral banks. Back to Amman you can use the Desert Highway, which is much faster but less interested. Most of the tour operators will offer you, at the end of the trip, a dinner in one of the old castles near the airport.
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