28th Mar 2016
For its size, Jordan has an overwhelming array of historical sites. At the crossroads of history for more than 2,000 years the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has welcomed high volumes of visitors ever since the camel caravans crossed the King’s Highway.
Though tourism has shown a decline in the recent years, Jordan is still considered to be one of the safest countries in the Middle Eastern Region offering a treasure trove of world class heritage sites and spectacular desert scenery.
Dubbed the "Pompeii of the East," and hosting layer upon layer of civilisations Jerash is a stunningly well-preserved Roman city, complete with colonnaded streets, grand temples, intimate marketplaces and mosaic-floored churches. Whether echoes from the sound of thundering hooves and the cheering crowds, approximately 15,000 could be accommodated at the Hippodrome, or the throngs of people bustling about in the marketplaces, once you enter through Hadrian’s Gate, the city’s relatively unspoilt state can easily transport you back in time to visualise life at the time.
The function of the Oval Plaza is debatable – some say it was believed to be the city’s marketplace, but some historians believe that the Oval Plaza was an extension of the Temple of Zeus. Stretching north from the Oval Plaza is the Cardo Maximus, the main Roman road in Jerash, which is still paved with its original stones and bears the ruts of chariot wheels. The Roman Amphitheatre was built to offer amazing acoustics and is still used for performances to this very date.
A timeless journey into history, rising abruptly from the desert plains, the red-ochre sandstone tors of Wadi Rum provide one of the world's most majestic and imposing landscapes carved by the weather and winds’ destructive forces.
Tucked away in the southern desert of Jordan, Wadi Rum is also referred to as the Valley of the Moon and has been inhabited since prehistoric times , casting a spell on the multitude of travellers that journeyed throughout the ages.
Wadi Rum is also the place where Prince Faisal Bin Hussein and T.E. Lawrence, based their headquarters during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in World War I, their exploits intrinsically woven into the history of this amazing area.
As the last of the light, made up of different hues of orange and pinks, hit the valley and disappeared behind the dunes, our bumpy, dusty yet laughter filled jeep ride through the desert came to an end.
Giving up the creature comforts we are generally used to might take some arm twisting, yet spending a night in a Bedouin encampment was an experience surely not to be missed. The evening centred around a mouth watering dish of lamb and vegetables, slow cooked in a traditional underground oven covered by sand, interestingly known as a ‘zarb’. To complete the atmosphere, dinner was accompanied by the sounds of plaintive Bedouin melodies. As other guests in the camp settled in for the night some of us ventured out of the camp for some star gazing and attempts at capturing the constellations with our cameras, experimenting with long exposures and a lot of patience.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and one of the new seven wonders of the world Petra, was lost to the Western world when it sat empty and in near ruin for centuries, until one determined European traveller, disguised as a Bedouin infiltrated this mysterious locale in the early 1800s.
The city of Petra, carved directly into vibrant red, white, pink, and sandstone cliff faces was built in the 3rd century BC by the Nabateans who sculpted palaces, temples and tombs, from the sandstone cliffs and who commanded the trade routes from Damascus to Arabia. From then on it became a melting pot of a myriad of Egyptian, Assyrian, Hellenistic, Mesopotamian and Roman influences. The fact that the majority of Petra’s buildings were hewn out of solid rock contributed to the good state of their preservation.
The approach to Petra is done through a 1.2km long and 200m high-sided canyon, which offers a sudden partial glimpse of one of the most breath taking and dramatic sights to be found in Petra – the Al-Khazneh or Treasury suddenly hits you unawares. Considered to be Petra’s defining monument, it was built to serve as a tomb, misguided locals believe it to be the place where an Egyptian pharaoh hid his treasure. The Greek-style pillars, alcoves and plinths are truly masterpieces of masonry work.
The Treasury is not the only breath taking sight in Petra. The Street of Facades is riddled by over forty tombs, a weather worn 7,000 seat theatre and what remains of a colonnaded street, which was once lined with shops. At the end of the colonnaded street, on the left, is the imposing Nabataean temple known locally as Qasr al-Bint – one of the few free-standing structures in Petra.
One of the most beloved monuments in Petra is the Al-Deir, also known as the Monastery which can be reached by foot through a rock-cut staircase by foot or by a hair raising mule ride up to the top – one has to hand it to the mules – they know the routes off by heart and need little guidance as they make way through the narrow winding paths. Some close shaves with some of the stalls that dot the paths, make it for a more adrenaline filled ride to the top. The monastery is best seen in the late afternoon, when the sun draws out the sandstone colours.
If Petra gains full points for dramatic effect during the day, this effect doubles at night, when the canyon and square in front of the Treasury are lit up by approximately 1,800 candles throwing flickering shadows onto the great façade. Whilst the Night Tour is considered by many a tacky tourist trap, it is the only way to experience an entirely different dimension to Petra.
Not the highlight of my trip, but well worth a visit, is the Dead Sea, where at 400m below sea level makes it the lowest point on earth. Bordering Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, the Dead Sea, with 33.7% salinity makes it is one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water, meaning that people can easily float in due to natural buoyancy. Resorts that sprouted in the area exploit its mineral-rich black mud for therapeutic and cosmetic treatments.
Perched on top of a 1,000m mountain, Mount Nebo is one of the holiest sites in Jordan, with a unique significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Having led the Israelites for forty years through the wilderness, Moses finally saw, from this dizzy vantage point, the Promised Land. The view from the summit provides a panorama of Israel, the River Jordan and on a clear day Jerusalem and Jericho.
Although situated in a region dotted with conflict, wars and strife Jordan comes with a long tradition of hospitable welcomes to visitors and it still retains its reputation of being a safe haven in the region. Visitors are welcomed with friendly open arms, world heritage sights and inspiring landscapes.
Jordan should definitely be on one’s bucket list!