Amman is the modern and ancient capital of Jordan, formerly the Ammonite capital city of Rabbath-Roman city called Philadelphia. Originally spread over seven hills like Rome, Amman now covers at least nineteen hills. It is a city of contrasts, a mixture of ancient and modern.
Often referred to as ‘the white city’ Amman’s houses are built in many hillsides, and form a great canvas of overlapping beiges, ochres and whites. The outstanding whiteness is the result of the white stones of the country used in construction-rough hewn, smooth or lightly veined, and even polished white marble. The city, with its population of over one million, is crowned by the Citadel, a hill with the ruins of the Temple of Hercules, and a museum with artifacts dating back to the earliest settlement in the region some 7,000 years ago. At the foot of the Citadel is the 5,000 seat Roman theatre.
Still rapidly growing, Amman is a busy commercial and administrative center with many fine hotels, night clubs and discos as well as modern facilities for sporting events, conventions and conferences. There is a wide range of restaurants to meet every taste, offering choices of food ranging from Arabic through a variety of international specialties and fast food.
Only a short hour’s drive north of Amman is the Graeco-Roman city of Jerash (Gerasa in ancient times,) known as the Pompeii of the east for its extraordinary state of preservation. As they approach the city, visitors are greeted by the imposing triple-arched gateway built to honour the Emperor Hardpan’s arrival to Jerash in A.D 129.
Jerash is considered the best preserved and most complete city of the Decapolis, a confederation of ten Roman cities dating from the 1st Century B.C.
Nestled in a green and ell-watered valley in the remains of the ancient city have long attracted tourists, scholars and students from all over the world.
Today’s visitors may wander among the original temples, theatres, plazas, baths and colonnaded streets, all enclosed within the remaining city walls. Within these walls have been found the remains of settlements dating from the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad & Abbasid periods, indicating human occupation at this location for more than 2,500 years. Nightly sound and light show through the summer months, and the annual Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts held each July, bring the ancient community to life for today’s visitors.
A short journey west from Jerash, through pine forest and olive roves, brings you to the town of Ajloun. Here is Qala'at Ar-Rabad, the Castle of Ajloun, which was built in 1184 by Usama Ibn Munqich, a nephew of Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders in 1189.
A fine example of Islamic architecture, the fortress dominated a wide stretch of the north Jordan Valley and passages to it. From its hill-top position, Castle of Ajloun protected the communication routes between south Jordan and Syria, and was one of a chain of forts which lit beacons at night to pass signals from the Euphrates as far as Cairo.
When fantasy, sun and sea meet the charms and atmosphere of antiquity, the visitor can find himself, at any time of year, at the Red Sea resort of Aqaba. For water sports and winter warmth, Aqaba is warm, sunny and inviting, fringed with palm trees, lapped by the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Aqaba, cooled by a steady northerly breeze, and ringed by mountains. That change in color with the change of the hours.
A dazzling undersea world of coral, fish and other marine life is just meters off the sandy beaches. Snorkeling, water skiing, wind surfing, fishing and a variety of other water spots, including unsurpassed scuba diving are popular.
For the history enthusiast are sites reflecting human habitation for at least 5,500 years resulting from Aqab’s strategic location at the junction of land and sea routes from Asia, Africa and Europe. Of special interest among the ancient and medieval archaeological sites are the early Islamic city called Ayla, Aqaba Fort, built by the Mamluk Sultan Qansaqh el Ghawri at the beginning of the 16th Century, and a very fine museum at the house of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, great grandfather of late King Hussein.
Whatever the visitor’s interest, a wide range of hotels provide excellent accommodations, facilities for all water sport, and restaurants that cater to the most selective tastes.
The most famous attraction in Jordan is the Nabataean City of Petra, some 262 kilometers or 160 miles south of Amman. The Victorian traveler and poet, Dean Burgeon, 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”.
More than 2,000 years ago Petra was used as a temporary refuge by nomadic Nabataean Arabs, Bedouins who came north out of Arabia. From a few caves in a rocky outcrop, easy to defend, the Nabataeans created Petra as a fortress city.
Petra still forms part of the domain of the Bedouin. The visitor finds them waiting with their horses and camels for the unforgettable trip into the rose-red city.
To reach the city the visitor travels on foot or by horse-drawn carriage, for elderly and handicapped people, through the awesome “Siq“; an immense crack in the Nubian sandstone. It is a winding, one-kilometer-long fissure between overhanging cliffs that seem to meet more than 300 feet overhead.
Near the end of the passage, the Siq, with great style, makes one last turn and out of the gloom in the towering brightness appears Petra’s most impressive monument, el Khazneh -The Treasury. This, one of the most elegant remains of antiquity, carved out of the solid rock from the side of the mountain, is nearly 140 feet high and 90 feet wide.
Beyond el Khazneh the visitor is surrounded on both sides by hundreds of Petra’s carved and built structures, soaring temples, elaborate royal tombs, a carved Roman theatre (seating 3,000), large and small houses, burial chambers, banquet halls, water channels and reservoirs, bathes, monumental staircases, cultic installations, markets, arched gates, public buildings and paved streets.
But Petra is not only about the Nabtaeans. Within a fifteen-minute drive of Petra the visitor can walk through 8,000-year-old excavated Stone Age villages at Beidha and Basta, wander among the ruins of settlements of the biblical Edomites, or explore the sprawling remains of the Roman legionary fortress at Udruh.
Madaba & Mount Nebo
The Medaba of the Bible is today the small town of Madaba, only 30 kilometres south of Amman. Remains of the Roman road and road and civic architecture can still be seen in the midst of the modern town, but it is the Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics for which Madaba is best known. At the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George visitors may view the earliest surviving original map of the Holy Land, which was made around AD 560. In addition, there are other mosaic floors preserved throughout the town, as well as a fine local museum.
Mount Nebo lies on the western edge of the plateau with a spectacular view across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. On a clear day, the spires of the churches of Jerusalem are visible, and at night the lights of the city.
Mount Nebo is believed to be the tomb of Moses. It is a lonely, windswept hill. Protecting the ruins of a 4th and 6th Century church whose floor is still covered with marvelous mosaics, is a building constructed by the Franciscans who started excavating the site in 1933.
Feel the romance of the Arabian Desert in the spring-time … or anytime; at Wadi Rum in Jordan. Let the fabled T.E. Lawrence come alive, whether through memories stirred from the screen version or from the pages of history and the actual exploits of the legendary British officer.
Wadi Rum is like a moonscape of ancient valleys and towering weathered Sandstone Mountains rising out of the white and pink collared sands. Much of David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” was filmed there and it was also the location where T.E. Lawrence himself was based during the Arab Revolt.
A desert police fort is located at the entrance to Wadi Rum, where the police are not mounted on horse or jeep, but on camels-ship of the desert.
Today Wadi Rum challenges climbers to scale its sheer granite and sandstone cliffs, to hike along mountain trails and valleys, to trek deep into the enchanting landscape in four-wheel-drive vehicles, or to join two or three day desert safaris on camel-back or 4x4 vehicles.
Stunning in its natural beauty, Wadi Rum epitomizes the romance of the desert. Now the home of several Bedouin tribes, Wadi Rum has been inhabited for generations.
These hospitable and friendly desert people are settled around the Beau Geste’ camel Corps Fort in Wadi Rum, and in scattered nomadic camps throughout the area. You may be invited to share mint tea or cardamom coffee in their black tents, perhaps sitting by the fire under a starry desert sky –it is an experience you will never forget.
The Dead Sea
The sunset touching distant hills with ribbons of fire across the waters of the Dead Sea brings a sense of unreality to culminate a day’s visit to the lowest point on the earth, some 400 meters below sea level.
To reach this unique spot the visitor enjoys a short, 55-kilometre drive from Amman surrounded by a landscape, which could be from another planet. En route a stone marker indicates ‘Sea Level “, but the Dead Sea itself is not reached before descending another 400 meters below this sign.
As the name suggests, the sea is devoid of life due to an extremely high content of salts and minerals. But it is these natural elements which give the waters their curative powers, recognized since the days of Herod the Great, more than 2,000 years ago. They also provide the raw materials for the renowned Jordanian Dead Sea Bath Salts and cosmetic products, which are marketed worldwide.
The Dead Sea is normally as calm as a millpond, with barely a ripple disturbing its surface, but it can become turbulent. During most days, however, the water shimmers under a beating sun. Where rocks meet its lapping edges, they become snow-like, covered with a thick, gleaming white deposit that gives the area a strange, surreal sense like that of another world.
The Tourist facilities provide accommodations for changing into swimming attire so the visitor can wade into the warm, soothing water. Try as one may, it is impossible to sink in the thick brine which is four times as salty as regular seawater. One can, however, recline on the water to read a newspaper.
Seaside facilities include a modern hotel with a therapeutic clinic and a restaurant/bathing sports complex, meeting the needs of day visitors or parties wishing to spend the night amidst one of the most dramatic and moving landscapes in the world. Not far away, over the hills to the east, is another special water adventure: the zarqa Ma’n hot springs, now developed as a comprehensive spa, with a four-star hotel, leisure, bathing and therapeutic facilities.
Dotted throughout the semi-arid, steppe-like terrain of eastern Jordan and the central hills are numerous historic ruins including castles, forts, towers, baths, farming estates, caravan inns and fortified palaces which have traditionally been known as desert castles.
The medieval castles at Kerak and Shobak, along the King’s high way, are authentic 12th Century Crusader hilltop fortresses whose galleries, towers, chapels and ramparts recall the gallantry of the Crusaders themselves. The ruins of two other Crusader castles, Habees and Wu’eira, are located at the Nabataean city of Petra.
Desert castles offer the fresco art and zodiac dome of Qasr Amra baths; fortress-like enigmatic Qasr Kharanah; the Roman fort turned Umayyad residential palace at Qasr el Hallabat; sprawling, brick vaulted Qasr Mushatta (so large it was never completed); the black basalt Roman/Medieval Islamic fort at Azraq; and the massive, unfinished, fire-baked brick Qasr Taba.
Umm Qais, the ancient Roman Gadara, lies some fifty kilometers north of Jerash. From its location on a fertile hillside, the ancient city overlooks Lake Tiberias, the Yarmouk River and the hot springs of Hammeh. Umm Qais, site of the famous Gadarene swine, was renowned in its time as a cultural center and home to several classical poets and philosophers and was often called "a new Athens." The Umm Qais of today offers the visitor a stroll through history while walking along its colonnaded street and enjoying a rest at the West Theatre which is constructed entirely of black basalt and commands a great view over the Jordan Valley. The North Mausoleum is almost entirely intact and contains a stone inscription by the great crypt which reads: "To you 1 say passer: As you are, 1 was, as I am, you will be. Use life as a mortal."