"For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through Him." John 3:17




21 January - 28 January 2011




Amman, Jordan

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.


Getting Around in Amman Exploring Amman
The Citadel Roman Ruins
Grand Husseini Mosque King Abdullah Mosque
Iraq El-Amir Museums in Amman

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.


South of Amman



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 House.




Hammamat Ma’een

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 midnight daily.




Variously known 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. © Zohrab
  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

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 Lionhearted.

In 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.


South of Amman


Khirbet al-Tannur

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.

Shobak Castle. © 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 level.

  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.  
Safayatic rock inscriptions and drawings of hunters and sheperds on basalt stones, south of Dana. © Ammar Khammash
Olive trees in Dana. © Zohrab
  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.

South of Amman



  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.


Archaeologists believe 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 strong.  
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 1812.


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.  
"Al-Khazneh", the 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 Emperor Hadrian.

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 years.


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.

"Al-Deir", the Monastery, Petra.
© Mouasher
  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

South of Amman





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 Woodward
  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 station.
  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 waterfront road.

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.


Recreational Facilities

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 watersport facilities.

For up-to-date 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 King Hussein.




Wadi Rum

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. © Michelle Woodward
  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 Patrol.

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.

Offroaders should 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

The Ancient Holy Land 


  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.




Islamic Holy 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.















R. Stewart Braswell, Webmaster
Last Updated: 04 March 2015