21 January - 28 January 2011
Amman, the modern and ancient capital of Jordan, is one of the
oldest continuously inhabited cities in the World.
The city's modern buildings blend with the remnants of ancient civilizations.
The profusion of gleaming white houses, kebab stalls with roasting meat, and
tiny cafes where rich Arabian coffee is sipped in the afternoon sunshine,
conjure a mood straight from a thousand and one nights.
Recent excavations have uncovered homes and towers believed to have been
built during the Stone Age with many references to
it in the Bible.
Amman was known in the Old Testament as Rabbath-Ammon,
the capital of the Ammonites around 1200 BC, it was also referred to as "the
City of Waters".
In Greco-Roman times in the 3rd century BC, the City was renamed
Philadelphia (Greek for "The Brotherhood Love")
after the Ptolemaic ruler Philadelphus (283-246 BC). The City later came under
Seleucid as well as Nabataean rule until the Roman General Pompey annexed Syria
and made Philadelphia part of the
Decapolis League -
a loose alliance of ten free city-states, bound by powerful commercial,
political, and cultural interests under overall allegiance to Rome.
Under the influence of the Roman culture, Philadelphia was reconstructed in
typically grand Roman style with colonnaded streets, baths, an Amphitheater, and
impressive public buildings.
During the Byzantine period, Philadelphia was the seat of a
Christian Bishop, and therefore several churches
were built. The city declined somewhat until the year 635 AD. As Islam spread
northwards from the Arabian Peninsula, the land became part of its domain. Its
original Semitic name Ammon or Amman was returned to it.
Amman's modern history began in the late 19th Century, when the Ottomans
resettled a colony of Circassian emigrants in 1878. As the
Great Arab Revolt progressed and the State of Transjordan was
established, Emir Abdullah ibn Al-Hussein founder of the Hashemite Kingdom of
Jordan made Amman his capital in 1921. Since then, Amman has grown rapidly into
a modern, thriving metropolis of well over two million people.
One of Jordan’s
undiscovered gems is Herod the Great’s ancient fortress of
Machaerus, located by the village of Mkawer. There, it is said,
the beautiful Salomé danced for Herod Antipas, who presented her
with the head of the Prophet Yahya or John the Baptist
to honor her wishes. According to Matthew 14: 9-12, "The king was
sad, but because of the promise he had made in front of all his
guests, he gave orders that her wish be granted. So he had John
beheaded in prison. The head was brought in on a plate to the girl,
who took it to her mother." The fort was perched on a 700-meter-high
hill which was first fortified about 100 BCE, and expanded by Herod
the Great seventy years later.
The greatest attraction
of Machaerus, however, is the stunning panoramic view it presents of
the surrounding countryside, the Dead Sea, and the West Bank. On a
clear night you can easily make out the lights of al-Quds
(Jerusalem) and Ariha (Jericho). Far removed from the tourist
circuit, the quiet of this area transports you back into Biblical
times. Indeed, shepherds and their flocks still find shelter in the
myriad caves and grottoes around Machaerus. Hike down towards the
Dead Sea from Machaerus and you will truly feel that you are on top
of the world.
Mkawer is about 40
kilometers southwest of Madaba. To get there, go from Madaba south
to Libb, then take a right and continue on the road until it ends in
front of Machaerus. Food is available in Mkawer at Herod’s Rest
The hot springs and
baths of Hammamat Ma’een have been enjoyed for therapeutic and
leisure pursuits for thousands of years. The public springs and
commercial resort area are located 35 kilometers southwest of
Madaba, along a winding road which crosses some of the most
spectacular territory around the Dead Sea. It is, however,
impossible to drive directly from Hammamat Ma’een to the Dead Sea.
Hammamat Ma’een should not be confused with the actual town of
Ma’een, which is 15 kilometers before the springs.
Therapeutic hot springs at Hammamat Ma’een.
© Michelle Woodward
The main public attraction
is a large spring-fed waterfall, while a number of smaller ones
spurt forth within the private resort area (08-545-500). Shower
facilities and a swimming pool are also available for public use.
Within the spa complex, one of the most popular attractions is the
body mud pack treatment, followed by showering and a hot bath. Other
spa and health facilities are also available in Hammamat Ma’een, as
are accommodations. The hot springs are open from 08:00 until
throughout history as Qir Heres, Qir Moab, and Hareseth, Karak has
been a prized possession of a number of civilizations. It lies on
the ancient caravan routes that used to connect Egypt to Syria, and
its commanding position almost 1000 meters above the Dead Sea Valley
made it a strategic asset of great importance. The city was the
ancient capital of Moab, and was also used by the Greeks and
Romans. During Roman times it was known as Characmoba.
Karak Castle. ©
But it was not until the
arrival of the Crusaders in the 12th century that Karak
reached its full splendor. It is recorded that the Crusader King
Baldwin I of Jerusalem had the castle built in 1132 CE. With its
location midway between Shobak and Jerusalem, Karak formed part of a
great line of Crusader castles stretching from Aqaba to Turkey.
Karak became the capital of the Crusader district of Oultrejourdain,
and, with the taxes levied on passing caravans and food grown in the
district, it helped Jerusalem prosper.
Even with its impressive
defensive fortifications, Karak could not hold out against the
forces of Salah Eddin. After the governor of Karak, the infamous
Reynaud De Chatillon, broke several truces with Salah Eddin, the
Muslim leader responded with a massive bombardment of Karak. De
Chatillon, who was captured and executed by Salah Eddin in 1187 CE,
was known for throwing his captives off the top of Karak’s
battlements with wooden boxes over their heads to ensure that they
remained conscious until they hit the ground. Salah Eddin’s armies
besieged and conquered the fortress in 1188, marking the beginning
of the Crusaders’ loss of power throughout the area.
The Mamluk Sultan Baibars
refortified the castle in the late 13th century, and it was also
later used by the Ottomans. The fort itself has been partially
restored, and is a maze of vaulted passages and rooms. To the west
across the moat is the tower from which De Chatillon cast his
prisoners to their deaths. The tower in the northwest corner was
added by the Mamluks in the 13th century. The multi-storied building
at the southern end was the dungeon. To the right of the castle
entrance, a stone staircase descends to the museum, which holds one
of the many copies of the Mesha Stele, along with Mamluk pottery,
and Nabatean and Roman coins. The castle is open free of charge
during daylight hours, while the museum is open daily 09:00-17:00
with a 1 JD admission.
The town of Karak lies
129 kilometers south of Amman, or 88 kilometers south of Madaba.
Within Karak, numerous small hotels are available. Karak can be
reached via the Desert Highway by turning right at Qatrana. However,
the King’s Highway is the recommended route, as it will take you
over one of Jordan’s most spectacular sights, Wadi Mujib.
About 50 kilometers north of Karak, this canyon is over 1000 meters
deep. Wadi Mujib was the "Arnon Gorge" or "Arnon River" of the Bible
(Numbers 21: 24; Judges 11: 18), a natural boundary which separated
the Moabites in the south from the Amorites in the north.
Salah Eddin al-Ayyubi, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, began
his career as a lieutenant in the army of Noor Eddin, the Sultan
of Mosul. During the campaign against the Fatimids of Egypt,
Salah Eddin rose prominently as a warrior of great dexterity and
tactical awareness, and accordingly was promoted to commander
and later minister. In 1171 CE, he removed the last of the
Fatimid caliphs, and from Egypt, he began the conquest of Syria
and attacked the Crusaders. This period of warfare against the
Crusaders earned him considerable respect and some notoriety in
the West. Indeed, he was seen as the arch enemy of Richard the
1187, Salah Eddin (known as "Saladin" in western literature)
crossed the Jordanian highlands near ‘Ajloun. He inflicted a
decisive defeat on the Crusaders at the Battle of Hittin,
opening the way for the liberation of al-Quds (Jerusalem) while
placing Jordan and Egypt under his rule. The Ayyubid dynasty
would rule much of these lands for the next eighty years.
Salah Eddin was also famous for his sense of justice and
generosity to the poor and the weak. After he conquered
Jerusalem, he guaranteed the 100,000 Christian inhabitants
security of life and property. Furthermore, Salah Eddin did not
confiscate the amassed wealth of the Christian patriarch, but
instead provided guards for the patriarch’s safe transit to
other Christian habitations. This benevolent treatment of the
Christians was exemplified yet another time, when Richard the
Lionhearted became ill and Salah Eddin sent his personal
physician to treat the general.
Following the death of Salah Eddin in 1193, the Ayyubid dynasty
divided. In 1200 CE his brother Sultan al-Adel Saif Eddin Abu
Bakr appointed Sharif Qatada ibn Idris of Yanbu to be the new
emir of Mecca. The Emirate of Mecca remained within Sharif
Qatada’s ancestry for over 700 years, the last emir of Mecca
being Sharif Hussein bin Ali, King of the Arabs and great
grandfather of His Majesty King Hussein I.
About 45 km. south of
Karak on the King's Highway is Wadi Hasa, a deep gorge known in the
Bible as the Zered Valley. There Moses and the Israelites ended
their wanderings in the desert and camped on their journey north
(Numbers 21: 12; Deuteronomy 2: 13-14).
Just west of Wadi Hasa,
the deep gorge that bisects the King’s Highway about 45 kilometers
south of Karak, you will find the ruins of a great Nabatean temple.
Known as Khirbet al-Tannur, the site was built on the edge of a
steep bluff, and access is possible only from the southern flank.
The temple dates back
to the first century CE, and was probably dedicated to the deities
Atargatis (goddess of foliage and fruit) and Hadad (god of the
thunderbolt), although relics associated with a variety of gods and
goddesses have been found at the site. Many of these can now be seen
at Amman’s Archeological Museum.
Tafileh, a busy market
town 32 kilometers south of Wadi Hasa, was part of the Crusaders’
line of defenses. A ruined Crusader fortress forms part of
the landscape of this ancient town. During the Great Arab Revolt,
Tafileh gained importance as the site of the only set battle
Lawrence of Arabia fought during his campaign.
The land running
westward between Tafileh and Shobak was of great importance during
Biblical days. Copper mining and metal smelting developed early
there, and the inhabitants of the region—most notably the
Edomites—gained extreme wealth from the rich deposits of metals.
This is yet another
castle in the great chain of Crusader fortresses which stretches
across Jordan. The stronghold, known as Mont Realis (Montreal), was
constructed in 1115 CE by Baldwin I. At its height Shobak was
home to about 6000 Christians. It suffered numerous assaults by
Salah Eddin (Saladin) before it finally fell to him in 1189. Shobak
Castle was then restored by the Mamluks in the 14th century.
© Michelle Woodward
The castle is perched on top of a small hill northeast of the
town of Shobak. Inside the fortress there are two churches, the
first of which is to the left of the entrance and up the stairs.
There are ruins of baths, cisterns and rainwater pipes, in addition
to millstones for pressing olives, a few archways and other works
which have stood the test of time. The caretaker can point out a
shaft from which a set of stairs cut into the rock leads down to a
spring below the castle. The shaft has 375 steps and is one of the
deepest wells ever cut by Crusader forces.
A side road leads to the
castle from the King’s Highway about two kilometers north of Shobak
village. From there it is another four kilometers to the castle.
Dana Nature Reserve
The rugged beauty and
natural diversity of Dana make this nature reserve a worthwhile stop
for visitors to Jordan. The reserve encompasses some of Jordan’s
most breathtaking scenery, stretching from the 1800-meter-high
Sharaa mountains in the east down to the dunes of Wadi Araba at sea
Dana became the Kingdom’s sixth wildlife reserve in 1990,
thereby protecting all animals—including endangered species such as
the ibex—from the ravages of hunting. Next to the nature reserve is
the small village of Dana. Artifacts uncovered there indicate that
man has inhabited this area for six thousand years, drawn by the
region’s fertile land and natural springs.
inscriptions and drawings of hunters and sheperds on basalt stones,
south of Dana.
© Ammar Khammash
Olive trees in
Dana Nature Reserve hosts a wide
variety of fauna, including ibex, mountain gazelle, fox, badger,
porcupine, wolf, hyrax, striped hyena, jackal and many others.
Numerous species of birdlife roam the skies of Dana as well.
Visitors to Dana are welcome to take advantage of the designated
campground area and the hiking trails which crisscross the reserve.
The rather luxurious campground offers meals, showers, guided walks
around the reserve, and tents with mattresses and pillows.
The reserve also operates a guest house with private terraces
overlooking the spectacular scenery. It is a good idea to call ahead
to make reservations (tel. 03-368-497).
Dana is located near
Qadisiyya, about 25 kilometers south of Tafileh and just north of
Shobak on the King’s Highway.
Undoubtedly the most
famous attraction in Jordan is the Nabatean city of Petra, nestled
away in the mountains south of the Dead Sea. Petra, which means
"stone" in Greek, is perhaps the most spectacular ancient city
remaining in the modern world, and certainly a must-see for visitors
to Jordan and the Middle East.
The city was the capital
of the Nabateans -Arabs who dominated the lands of Jordan during
pre-Roman times- and they carved this wonderland of temples, tombs
and elaborate buildings out of solid rock. The Victorian traveler
and poet Dean Burgon gave Petra a description which holds to this
day -"Match me such a marvel save in Eastern clime, a rose-red city
half as old as time." Yet words can hardly do justice to the
magnificence that is Petra. In order to best savor the atmosphere of
this ancient wonder, visit in the quiet of the early morning or late
afternoon when the sandstone rock glows red with quiet grandeur.
Petra in snow.
© Jad Al Younis, Discovery Eco-Tourism
For seven centuries, Petra
fell into the mists of legend, its existence a guarded secret known
only to the local Bedouins and Arab tradesmen. Finally, in 1812, a
young Swiss explorer and convert to Islam named Johann Ludwig
Burckhardt heard locals speaking of a "lost city" hidden in the
mountains of Wadi Mousa. In order to find the site without arousing
local suspicions, Burckhardt disguised himself as a pilgrim seeking
to make a sacrifice at the tomb of Aaron, a mission which would
provide him a glimpse of the legendary city. He managed to bluff his
way through successfully, and the secret of Petra was revealed to
the modern Western world.
Much of Petra’s
fascination comes from its setting on the edge of Wadi Araba. The
rugged sandstone hills form a deep canyon easily protected from all
directions. The easiest access to Petra is through the Siq, a
winding cleft in the rock that varies from between five to 200
meters wide. Petra’s excellent state of preservation can be
attributed to the fact that almost all of its hundreds of
"buildings" have been hewn out of solid rock: there are only a few
free-standing buildings in the city. Until 1984, many of these caves
were home to the local Bedouins. Out of concern for the monuments,
however, the government outlawed this and relocated the Bedouins to
housing near the adjacent town of Wadi Mousa.
Petra is located just outside the
town of Wadi Mousa in southern Jordan. It is 260 kilometers from
Amman via the Desert Highway and 280 kilometers via the King’s
Highway. There are numerous and varied accommodations available in
Wadi Mousa, as well as a few hotels on the panoramic drive between
Wadi Mousa and the nearby (15 kilometers) village of Taybet. Camping
is now illegal inside Petra.
that Petra has been inhabited from prehistoric times. Just north of
the city at Beidha, the remains of a 9000-year-old city have been
discovered, putting it in the same league as Jericho as one of the
earliest known settlements in the Middle East. Between that time and
the Iron Age (circa 1200 BCE), when it was the home of the Edomites,
virtually nothing is known. The Bible tells of how King David
subdued the Edomites, probably around 1000 BCE. According to this
story, the Edomites were enslaved, but eventually won their freedom.
A series of great battles were then fought between the Judeans and
the people of Edom. In one of these, the Judean King Amaziah, who
ruled from 796 to 781 BCE, "defeated ten thousand Edomites in the
Valley of Salt, and captured Sela in battle" (2 Kings 14: 25). The
summit of Umm al-Biyara mountain, in central Petra, is often
identified as the Sela of the Bible. However, Sela is also sometimes
identified as the mountaintop stronghold of Sele', near Buseirah,
one of the Edomite capitals north of Petra.
The area’s principle
water source, Ain Mousa (Spring of Moses), is thought by some to be
one of the many places where the Prophet Musa (Moses) struck a rock
with his staff to extract water (Numbers 20: 10-13). Prophet Aaron,
brother of Moses and Miriam, died in the Petra area and was buried
atop Mount Hor, now known as Jabal Haroun (Mount Aaron).
Sometime during the sixth
century BCE, a nomadic tribe known as the Nabateans migrated from
western Arabia and settled in the area. It appears as though the
Nabatean migration was gradual and there were few hostilities
between them and the Edomites. As the Nabateans forsook their
nomadic lifestyle and settled in Petra, they grew rich by levying
taxes on travelers to ensure safe passage through their lands. The
easily defensible valley city of Petra allowed the Nabateans to grow
Petra. © Zohrab
From its origins as a
fortress city, Petra became a wealthy commercial crossroads between
the Arabian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures. Control
of this crucial trade route between the upland areas of Jordan, the
Red Sea, Damascus and southern Arabia was the lifeblood of the
Nabatean Empire and brought Petra its fortune. The riches the
Nabateans accrued allowed them to carve monumental temples, tombs
and administrative centers out of their valley stronghold.
The Seleucid King
Antigonus, who had come to power in Babylonia when Alexander the
Great’s empire was divided, rode against the Nabateans in 312 BCE.
The Nabateans eventually repelled the invaders, and records indicate
that they were eager to remain on good terms with the Seleucids in
order to perpetuate their trading ambitions. While the Seleucids
could not conquer the Nabateans militarily, their Hellenistic
culture made a lasting impact upon the Nabateans. New ideas in art
and architecture influenced the Nabateans at the same time that
their flourishing empire was expanding northward into Syria, around
150 BCE. The term "empire" is used loosely here, for it was more a
zone of influence. As the Nabateans expanded northward, more caravan
routes and, consequently, trading riches, came under their control.
It was primarily this, rather than territorial acquisition or
cultural domination, that motivated them.
The growing economic
and political power of the Nabateans began to worry the Romans, and
in 63 BCE Pompey dispatched a force to cripple Petra. Nabatean King
Aretas III either defeated the Roman Legions or paid a tribute to
keep peace with them. Later, the Nabateans made a mistake by siding
with the Parthians in their war with the Romans. After the
Parthians’ defeat, Petra had to pay tribute to Rome. When they fell
behind in paying this tribute, they were invaded twice by the Roman
vassal King Herod the Great. The second attack, in 31 BCE, saw him
take control of a large swath of Nabatean territory, including the
lucrative northern trading routes into Syria. With their trading
empire reduced to a shell of its former glory, the Nabatean Empire
staggered on for almost another century and a half. The last
Nabatean monarch, Rabbel II, struck a deal with the Romans that as
long as they did not attack during his lifetime, they would be
allowed to move in after he died. Upon his death in 106 CE, the
Romans claimed the Nabatean Kingdom and set about transforming it
with the usual plan of a colonnaded street, baths, and the common
trappings of modern Roman life.
Much of what is known
about Nabatean culture comes from the writings of the Roman scholar
Strabo. He recorded that their community was governed by a royal
family, although a spirit of democracy prevailed. Strabo also notes
the materialism of the Nabateans.
With its incorporation
into the Roman Empire, Petra began to thrive once again. The city
may have housed 20,000-30,000 people during its heyday. The fortunes
of Petra began to decline with the shift in trade routes to Palmyra
in Syria and the expansion of seaborne trade around Arabia. The city
was struck another blow in 363 CE, when the free-standing structures
of Petra were thrown to the ground in a violent earthquake.
Fortunately, Petra’s greatest constructions were preserved, carved
as they are into the rock faces.
It is not known whether
the inhabitants of Petra left the city before or after the fourth
century earthquake. The fact that very few silver coins or valuable
possessions have been unearthed at Petra indicates, however, that
the withdrawal was an unhurried and organized process. One theory
holds that the city of Petra was primarily a religious and
administrative center, used occasionally as a fortress during times
of war. The preponderance of temples and tombs supports this theory,
which holds that as the dead began to consume more and more of
Petra’s space, the living relocated to other caves or tents outside
the inner confines of the "holy" city.
It seems clear that by
the time of the Muslim conquest in the seventh century CE, Petra had
slipped into obscurity. The city was damaged again by the earthquake
of 747 CE, and housed a small Crusader community during the 12th or
13th century. It then passed into obscurity and was forgotten until
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered it for the outside world in
Sights of Interest
The entrance to Petra
is just past the town of Wadi Mousa. Petra is open from roughly
06:00 until 18:00, and 20 dinars is the cost of a one-day adult
ticket for non-Jordanians. From the Government Rest House, where you
can stock up with film, a map of the ancient city, food and
souvenirs, the path leads down to the Siq (the narrow winding
valley that leads in to Petra). There you will see dozens of local
Bedouins with horses that you can hire to transport you the 1.5
kilometers or so down to the actual Siq.
Even before you reach
the Siq, you will notice three square free-standing tombs on your
right. No evidence of bones has been found, but it may be that these
are a type of tombstone. Further along on the left, built high into
the cliff, stands the Obelisk Tomb, which once stood seven
meters high. Five graves were found inside the tomb, four
represented by pyramid-shaped pillars and the last by a statue
between the middle pillars. Closer to the Siq, rock-cut channels
once brought the waters of Ein Mousa through ceramic pipes to the
inner city as well as to the surrounding farm country. When
designing a new dam, excavators uncovered the Nabateans’ ancient dam
and used it as a model for the modern one.
As you enter the Siq,
the path narrows to about five meters and the walls tower over 200
meters overhead, casting enormous shadows on the niches that once
held icons of the gods Dushara and al-Uzza. The icons were meant to
protect the entrance and hex unwelcome visitors. The entrance to the
Siq was once topped by a ceremonial arch built by the Nabateans. It
survived until the late ninth century, and you can still see remains
of it as you enter the gorge. The original channels cut in the walls
to bring water into Petra can also be seen, and in some places the
original terracotta pipes are still in place.
After winding around for
1.5 kilometers, the Siq suddenly opens upon the most impressive of
all Petra’s monuments -al-Khazneh (Arabic for "the
Treasury"). One of the most elegant remains of antiquity, it is
carved out of solid rock from the side of a mountain, and stands
over 40 meters high. Although it served as a royal tomb, the
Treasury gets its name from the legend that pirates hid their
treasure there, in a giant stone urn which stands in the center of
the second level. Believing the urn to be filled with ancient
pharoanic treasures, the Bedouins periodically fired guns at it:
proof of this can be seen in the bullet holes which are clearly
visible on the urn. Much speculation has gone into the barely
distinguishable reliefs which can be seen on the exterior of the
Khazneh, although consensus is that they represent various gods. The
Khazneh’s age has also been debated, with estimates ranging from 100
BCE to 200 CE.
Treasury, Petra. © Michelle Woodward
As the Siq turns right and
leads down toward the city, the number of niches and tombs
increases, becoming a virtual graveyard in rock arching around
behind the 8000-seat Amphitheater. Originally thought to have
been built by the Romans after their defeat of the Nabateans in 106
CE, it is now believed that the Nabateans cut the Amphitheater out
of the rock around the time of Christ, slicing through many caves
and tombs in the process. Under the stage floor were store rooms and
a slot through which a curtain could be lowered at the beginning of
a performance. Through this slot a marble Hercules was discovered
several years ago.
After the Amphitheater,
the wadi widens out and you soon come to the main city area,
which covers about three square kilometers. Up on the right, carved
into the rock of Jabal Khubtha, are the Royal Tombs. The
first is the Urn Tomb, with its open terrace built over a double
layer of vaults. The room inside measures 20 by 18 meters, and the
patterns in the rock are striking. The Urn Tomb commands an
impressive view and was once used as a church in Byzantine times.
Next along is the Corinthian Tomb, allegedly a replica of Nero’s
Golden Palace in Rome. Finally, the Palace Tomb is a three-story
imitation of a Roman palace and one of the largest monuments in
Petra. The tomb had to be completed by attaching preassembled stones
to its upper left-hand corner. Around the corner to the right is the
Mausoleum of Sextus Florentinius, a Roman administrator under
Continuing down the
Siq, several restored columns mark the sides of the paved Roman
colonnaded street. During the Roman era, columns lined the full
length of the street, with markets and residences branching off on
the sides. The slopes of the hills on either side are littered with
the remains of the ancient city.
Along the colonnaded
street you will see the ruins of the public fountain, or
Nymphaeum. At the northwestern end of the colonnaded street is
the triple-arched Temenos Gateway, which was originally
fitted with wooden doors and marked the entrance into the courtyard,
or "temenos", of the Qasr al-Bint. To the right of the Temenos
Gateway, or Triumphal Arch, is the Temple of the Winged Lions. This
was named after the carved lions that adorn the capitals of the
columns. The temple was dedicated to the fertility goddess
Atargatis, who was the partner to the main male god, Dushara.
Several hundred meters
to the right of the street, near the Temple of the Winged Lions, is
an immense Byzantine Church rich with mosaics. Each of the side
aisles of Petra Church is paved with 70 square meters of
remarkably preserved mosaics, depicting native as well as exotic or
mythological animals, as well as personifications of the Seasons,
Ocean, Earth and Wisdom. The church is thought to have been a major
fifth- and sixth-century cathedral, throwing into question theories
of Petra’s decline during this era. In December 1993, a cache of 152
papyrus scrolls in Byzantine Greek and possibly late Arabic were
uncovered at the site. The scrolls, which constitute the largest
group of written material from antiquity found in Jordan, are
currently being deciphered and are yielding a wealth of information
concerning the Byzantine period in the area. The Petra Church and
its mosaics are currently being excavated and preserved.
Passing through the
Temenos Gateway, one enters the piazza of the Qasr bint al-Faroun
(in Arabic, "Palace of the Pharoah’s Daughter"). This Nabatean
construction dates from around 30 BCE, and is also known as the
Temple of Dushara, after the god who was worshipped there. It was
probably the main place of worship in Nabatean Petra, and it is the
only freestanding structure in Petra. The Qasr was in use up until
the Roman annexation, when it was burned. Earthquakes in the fourth
and eighth centuries destroyed the remainder of the building.
Just beyond the Qasr
al-Bint is the small massif of al-Habis. Steps lead up to the small,
free museum which has a collection of artifacts found in Petra over
The High Places
There are a number of
places in Petra that require a bit of effort to reach, but the
effort is well worth the spectacular views that await. As well as
the following climbs, you can make the longer hikes to Umm
al-Biyara—which may be the biblical precipice of Sela (2 Kings 14:
7; Isaiah 16: 1)—, al-Beidha, or the six-hour hike to the top of Mt.
Hor and Aaron’s Tomb (in Arabic, Jabal Haroun). For these climbs
either a detailed guidebook with maps or an actual guide is
recommended. As always, bring plenty of water.
The easiest of these
climbs is up to the Crusader castle, or Citadel, on top of al-Habis.
The steps leading to the top start from the base of the hill on the
rise behind the Qasr Bint al-Faroun. The path goes all the way
around al-Habis, revealing more caves on its western side. The
entire round trip hike takes less than an hour.
From the Qasr, it takes around an
hour to reach one of Petra’s most spectacular constructions,
al-Deir ("The Monastery"). To truly experience Petra’s immensity
and power, a visit here is essential. The climb leads up the
hillside, but the ancient path is easy to follow and not steep. Not
far along the track, a sign points left to the Lion Tomb, set in a
small gully. The two lions that give it its name can be seen facing
each other at the base of the tomb.
The Monastery itself is
similar in appearance to the Khazneh, but, at 50 meters wide and 45
meters tall, it is far bigger. Undertaken between the third century
BCE and the first century CE, but never completed, it is less ornate
than the Khazneh. The Monastery receives its name from crosses on
the inside walls that suggest it was later used as a church. Al-Deir’s
primary distinguishing feature is its crowning urn, which, unlike
the Khazneh, is not backed against the rock. The urn can be reached
via a series of ancient steps which connect the left of the facade
with the rim of the urn. The views from on top are simply stunning.
One of the more popular
hikes is the High Place of Sacrifice. This one-and-a-half
hour trip is best done in the early morning with the sun behind you.
Coming from the Khazneh, steps head up to the left just as the
Amphitheater comes into view. Follow the right prong when the trail
levels and forks at the top of the stairs. The top of the ridge has
been flattened into a platform, and two large depressions with
drains show where the blood of sacrificial animals flowed out. There
are also altars cut into the rock, along with obelisks and the
remains of buildings used to house the priests. The path then leads
down to the Lion Fountain. A stone altar opposite the fountain
suggests that it originally had a religious function. The first
complex beyond this is the Garden Tomb, which archaeologists believe
was more likely a temple. Below this is the Tomb of the Roman
Soldier and the Triclinium (Feast Hall), which has the only
decorated interior in Petra. The track then flattens out and leads
by the site of ancient rubbish dumps, ending up at the Pharaon
Column, the only surviving column of another temple.
Siq al-Bared, north
of the popular Siq of Petra. © Ammar Khammash
With its balmy winter
climate and idyllic setting, Aqaba is Jordan’s year-round aquatic
playground. In winter, while Amman shivers around 5ºC (41ºF), the
temperature hovers steadily at about 25ºC (77ºF) in Aqaba. The
thriving underwater marine life and the crystal clear waters of the
Gulf of Aqaba make diving conditions there among the acknowledged
best in the world. Snorkeling, water skiing, windsurfing, fishing
and other water sports are also popular.
The port city of Aqaba. © Michelle Woodward
For the history
enthusiast, Aqaba contains sites reflecting human habitation back to
4000 BCE, resulting from the city’s strategic location at the
junction of trading routes between Asia, Africa and Europe.
According to the Bible, "King Solomon also built ships in
Ezion-Geber, which is near Elath in Edom, on the shores of the Red
Sea." This verse from the Old Testament (1 Kings 9: 26) probably
refers to an Iron Age port city on the same ground as modern Aqaba.
The name Elath refers to the Israeli town of Eilat. The Queen of
Sheba (ancient Yemen) traveled from Jerusalem to the port city
of Ezion Geber to visit the splendorous court of King Solomon in the
tenth century BCE (1 Kings 10: 1-13).
The remains of what is
believed to be the oldest church in the world, Aqaba. © Michelle
In one of the most exciting
discoveries in recent times, archeologists working in Aqaba have
unearthed what they believe to be the world’s oldest church.
Dating from the late third century CE, the 26 x 16 meters structure
is thought to be the oldest building built specifically as a church.
It is slightly older than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in
Jerusalem, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, both of
which date from the fourth century. The church is found on a plot of
land east of Istiqlal Street, near the parking lot of the JETT bus
Trading routes developed
connecting Aqaba with southern Arabia and Yemen, and the town grew
into a thriving city. The Nabateans populated the region
extensively, drawn by the strategic trading location of Aqaba. In
Roman times, the great Via Nova Triana came down from Damascus
through Amman to Aqaba, where it connected with a west road leading
to Palestine and Egypt.
The early days of the
Islamic era saw the construction of the city of Ayla, which
was described by the geographer Shams Eddin Muqaddasi as situated
next to the true settlement, which was lying in ruins closeby. The
ruins of Ayla, unearthed in the mid-1980s by a American-Jordanian
archeological team, are a few minutes walk north along the main
The Crusaders occupied
the area in the 12th century and built their fortress of Helim,
which remains relatively well-preserved today. The Aqaba fort
was rebuilt in the 14th century under one of the last Mamluk
sultans, Qansah al-Ghouri, and has been substantially altered
several times since then. The Hashemite Coat of Arms was placed
above the main doorway during the Great Arab Revolt of World War I,
after the Turks were driven out of the city. The fort is open daily
and entrance is free.
In addition to building
a stronghold within Aqaba, the Crusaders fortified the small island
of Ile de Graye, now known as Pharoah’s Island, about seven
kilometers offshore. The island, which is now in Egyptian
territorial waters, can be reached via tour excursions which leave
from the Aquamarina Hotel.
By 1170, both Aqaba and
the island had been conquered by Salah Eddin. The Mamluks took over
in 1250, but by the beginning of the sixth century they had been
overtaken by the Ottoman Empire. The city then declined in status,
and for 400 years or so it remained a simple fishing village of
little significance. During World War I, however, Ottoman forces
were forced to withdraw from the town after a raid by Lawrence of
Arabia and the Arab forces of Sharif Hussein. The capture of Aqaba
helped open supply lines from Egypt up to Arab and British forces
afield further north in Transjordan and Palestine.
In 1965, King Hussein
traded 6000 square kilometers of Jordanian desert to Saudi Arabia
for another 12 kilometers of prime coastline to the south of Aqaba.
This gave Jordan’s only port room to expand and added the
magnificent Yamanieh coral reef to the Kingdom’s list of treasures.
With its tranquil,
clear waters and thriving marine populations, Aqaba is ideal for
divers as well as casual water sports enthusiasts. As the Gulf of
Aqaba is an inland sea with few strong currents, its waters remain
warm and clear throughout most of the year. Conditions are ideal for
underwater photography, and a lavish array of exotic fish and plant
life makes for excellent snorkeling and diving. Over 140 species of
coral have been identified in Aqaba’s waters.
There are several
diving centers in Aqaba, the most prominent of which are the
Aquamarina I Hotel (tel. 03-201-6275), the government-run Royal
Diving Center (tel. 03-201-7035), and the Seastar Watersports Center
in the Al-Cazar Hotel (tel. 03-201-4131). The Aquamarina I also
offers a number of other aquatic activities, including windsurfing,
waterskiing, and, for the less adventurous, paddle-boats. A new
diving area is being developed near the Saudi border near the
world-famous Yamanieh coral reef. This complex, known as the South
Coast, will have an assortment of hotels, parks, restaurants and
information on where to go to enjoy your favorite aquatic activities
in Aqaba, the Aqaba Visitors Center (tel. 03-201-3731) is
located behind the Aqaba fort by the waterfront. The office is open
daily from 08:00 to 16:00, and closed on Tuesday. Located in back of
the Visitors Center, the Aqaba Museum displays a number of
exhibits and plenty of information on the old city. The museum was
once home to Sharif Hussein bin Ali, great-grandfather of
Stunning in its natural
beauty, Wadi Rum epitomizes the romance of the desert. With its
"moonscape" of ancient valleys and towering sandstone mountains
rising out of the sand, Wadi Rum is also home to several Bedouin
tribes who live in scattered camps throughout the area. Climbers are
especially attracted to Wadi Rum because of its sheer granite and
sandstone cliffs, while hikers enjoy its vast empty spaces. Wadi Rum
is probably best known because of its connection with the enigmatic
British officer T.E. Lawrence, who was based here during the
Great Arab Revolt of 1917-18. Much of David Lean’s Lawrence of
Arabia was filmed in Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum. ©
The main route to Wadi
Rum, and the small village of Rum, branches east off the Desert
Highway about five kilometers south of Quweira and 25 kilometers
north of Aqaba. From there the road extends about 35 kilometers
through the desert to end at Rum. It is best to take your own
vehicle to Rum, as public transportation to the village is very
difficult. The village consists mainly of several hundred Bedouin
inhabitants with their goat-hair tents and concrete houses, a
school, a few shops and the headquarters of the famous Desert
There are several options available for exploring Wadi Rum. At the
Government Rest House, located just inside the village, you can rent
out a four-wheel-drive jeep with a Bedouin driver for short or
longer day tours of the area. Also available are camels, which you
can hire for short excursions or for the desert trip to Aqaba. The
only accommodations in Rum are in the Government Rest House, where
tents are available.
For those with a bit
more time and/or sense of adventure, the best way to see Wadi Rum is
by hiking and camping in it. Indeed, the vast silence and grandeur
of the landscape is best experienced on foot. All you need for
hiking in Wadi Rum is plenty of water (at least 2-3 liters per day),
some food, good shoes and a sleeping bag. Those with a four-wheel
drive, a map and plenty of fuel can see more of the landscape, while
saving their energy for spectacular hikes such as the Rock Bridge of
Burdah, one of Wadi Rum’s most popular attractions.
True adventurers can
test their skills and endurance by climbing Jordan's highest
mountain, Jabal Rum. The climb is a grueling and treacherous
challenge which should only be attempted by those of stout heart and
indomitable will. A guide is recommended for the ten-hour round trip
to the summit, and arrangements should be made the previous day at
the Government Rest House.
exercise care in staying on the tracks to avoid plowing over desert
vegetation. Don’t venture too far away from Rum, and remember to
bring plenty of water. Highly recommended for adventure-seekers are
Tony Howard's detailed Treks and Climbs in the Mountains of Wadi
Rum & Petra or the less extensive Walks & Scrambles in Rum.
Bedouin tent at Wadi Rum. © Zohrab
Jordan has been blessed
with a rich religious history. Located between Mecca al-Mukarrama,
the holiest place on earth for Muslims, and al-Quds (Jerusalem),
which is sacred to each of the three great monotheistic religions,
Jordan has played a central role in the history of the ahl al-Kitab
(People of the Book).
The land around the Jordan
River Valley and the Dead Sea plain is revered by Muslims,
Christians and Jews as blessed. The Bible calls it "the Garden of
the Lord" (Genesis 13: 10), and the Holy Qur’an says that God
blessed the land "for all beings." Indeed, half of humanity views
the land and the river of Jordan as the geographic and spiritual
heartland of their faith.
Shrine of the Prophet Haroun (Aaron) overlooking Petra
the Nabatean capital. © Ammar Khammash
The southern Jordan River
Valley, the Dead Sea plains, and the surrounding hills and mountains
are the home for some of the most momentous events in the history of
man’s relationship with God. Here Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) arrived
in the Holy Land, Jacob and Esau made their pact, God protected Lot
while destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses saw the promised land
which he would never enter, Joshua crossed the Jordan River into
Canaan, Elijah crossed the Jordan River and rode a "chariot of fire"
into heaven, Elisha cured the leper in the waters of the river, John
the Baptist preached, baptized Jesus, and was killed by King Herod,
Jesus received the Holy Spirit and resisted the temptations of
Satan, and the Prophet Muhammad made his nighttime journey from
Mecca to al-Quds (Jerusalem).
The Millenium 2000
celebrations in Jordan are an excellent opportunity for religious
pilgrims from throughout the world to rekindle their faith and
commitment to God by visiting the land and river that have inspired
prophets and formed the geographic and spiritual backdrop for God’s
covenants with mankind. Many of the sites of biblical events and
miracles have been identified, protected and made easily accessible
to visitors. Jordan looks forward to hosting more religious tourists
returning to the roots of their faith in the Holy Land of Jordan.
Sites in Jordan
Jordan is also host to
the tombs of many of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions, who were
martyred and buried there. In fact, Jordan has a special place in
the history of Islam, as it was the first territory to which Islam
spread outside of the Arabian peninsula. It was also the site of the
first contact between Islam and the non-Arab world.
Abu Al-Darda'a Tomb, near Irbid.
© Fakhry Malkawi
The most important
companions of the Prophet (PBUH) buried in Jordan include: Zeid ibn
al-Haritha (the Prophet’s adopted son and the only companion
mentioned by name in the Qur’an); Ja’far bin Abi Talib (cousin of
the Prophet and elder brother of Ali, who was the husband of the
Prophet’s daughter Fatima and the father of al-Hassan and
al-Hussein); Abu ‘Ubaydah ‘Amer Ibn al-Jarrah (one of the "Blessed
Ten" companions promised Paradise); Mu’ath bin Jabal (the Prophet’s
governor in Yemen); Shurhabil bin Husna (the Scribe of the Qur’anic
Revelation), and Dirar bin al-Azwar (a great general). In fact, many
more companions of the Prophet are buried in Jordan.
Furthermore, the sites of
several of the most important battles in Islamic history are also in
Jordan. After two unsuccessful attacks against the Byzantine
garrison town of Mu’tah in 629 CE, the Muslim Arab tribes regrouped
for a much wider military operation. After battles at Yarmouk (634
CE) and Fahl (635 CE), the Muslim armies won a decisive battle
against the Byzantines at the second Battle of Yarmouk (636 CE).
This victory opened the way to the conquest of Syria and the rapid
expansion of the Islamic world.