In early April 2010, we travelled to Jordan for a little fun and relaxation. Quite honestly we would have never really thought of visiting Jordan until we met our friend Abdullah, who is a native son of Petra and a wonderful person. He puts together a tour once or twice a year from Vienna. We arrived in Amman and started working our way south towards Aqaba over the course of 11 days, taking in a lot of of the sights along the way.
We arrived on a Friday, and it was dark by the time we got our luggage and transferred into our bus, with the bus driver and tour guide we would have the entire time.
We are here!
On the drive into Amman from the airport, we saw a lot of families out, on the side of the road, having a campfire and picnic. They just like to be outside, and take advantage of whatever space they find. It was nice.
The next day was a tour of Amman sites. We went first to the Roman Theatre, which is enormous, it can seat about 6000 people. This was built from 169-177 AD. We walked down an old avenue to get there, which still had columns alongside.
Part of column, with greek letters inscribed
Our friend and trip organizer, Abdullah, at the Theatre
This is a part of the sound system. All of the roman theatres were quite ingenious, the sound system was very advanced, for having no wiring. You could hear a person on the stage, speaking in a normal voice, very clearly at the top. They built a series of spaces, like pipes, into the seating that carried the sound. Made them look nice too.
part of the sound system
View of Amman, from the top of the theatre
Jesse going down, it is as steep as it looks!
At the theatre, there was also the Jordanian Museum of Popular Tradition. These are a couple of the mosaics that were housed there, which came from Madaba and Jerash, both of which we will visit later.
There was a guy selling money at the entrance, look closely and you can see Saddam.
Money for sale
We left the theatre and went up the hill to the Citadel. This place has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Age, about 18,000 years. There were a series of signs inside, that named and dated the successive cities here. Rabbath-Ammon was here from 1800 BC-63 BC, and included the Pottery Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Persion and Hellenistic civilizations. Overlapping that it was called Philadelphia, from 312 BC-635 AD. This included the Nabatean, Roman and Byzantines. Then it was Amman, from 661 AD to 1917, the Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mamaluk period and the Ottomon period. Finally it is the Citadel, starting in 1919 with the British Mandate,through the Emirate of Transjordan, until 1946 when Jordan became, and still is, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
View of Amman and the Roman Theatre, from Citadel Hill
The Citadel is full of ruins, and has a wonderful museum on site.
Temple of Hercules
Temple with Melanie, for scale
Column tops in a pile
The following photos are from inside the on-site museum.
Hard to believe these survived all this time
Pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls
This is the largest complex in the Citadel, this palace was built over a Byzantine building. Here is a view of the inside of the (reconstructed) dome.
Next day we went north of Amman. We passed an immense Palestinean refugee camp along the way. Jordan has had to absorb much of the populace that has fled the on-going problems between Palestine and Israel. Meaning that they have to feed, clothe, educate children, let adults work, etc. The camp looked more like a town, it has been here that long.
We went to the castle Ajloun, built in 1184, probably on the former site of a christian monastary. This was built during the Crusades, however was Muslim built and only Muslim occupied. It looked over the three main routes into Amman, and was built to guard over the nearby iron mines, and partly to show tribal feuding parties who was in charge. They used carrier pigeons to send messages out and in.
On the road to Ajloun, minaret and white van
Courtyard of the castle Ajloun
It was really really crowded, there were a bunch of school trips there too. As the buses would pass ours, the kids, girls especially, would wave and yell, they sang songs all the way up the hill. Jesse stood out of the crowd pretty well, a lot of girls wanted their photos with her.
Olive groves, in the valley below Ajloun
I have spent my life picking olives out of everything they came in. I had no idea. Real olives, freshly grown, are one of the best things there are to eat. The food was fantastic here. I’ve always liked humus, but had no idea it was this good. Fresh humus, fresh pita bread, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and olives was breakfast every morning, and part of lunch and dinner too. All of it was fantastic. Also, there were several really good Jordanian wines, although the only label I can recall was Mt. Nebo. Look for it. Back to the castle.
Cannon balls, circa 1100s. Better than cows?
Rock work in the ceiling
Off to another fabulous lunch, starring fresh humus.
Cynthia, Anne, me, Melanie, Sue, the ladies who lunch
And for afterwards:
Next was the both ancient and modern city of Jerash. This city was founded in about 170 BC, in the hills of Gilead. There is evidence of settlement here going back to the Bronze Age, about 1600 BC. This is a huge complex of ruins. Roman Emperer Hadrian stayed here one winter, in 129-130 and in celebration they built a new gate into the southern end of the city.
The outside wall of the chariot ring, the Hippodrome.
Chariot course, inside
The Oval Plaza, or the Forum, was probably the main market plaza. It is still beautiful. There is ancient graffiti, people carved their names into the columns along side.
the Oval Plaza
We walked along the main street, the Cardo Maximus, for a long time. Many of the sights were off of this main street.
Lizard and Column, a still life
You can still see the wheel ruts in the stones paving the street, from the chariots and wagon wheels.
We went into what was probably the butcher shop part of the market.
Mahdi, Melanie, Rob and Jesse in the butcher shop
Here is a shout out to our guide, Mahdi. He was the best. A Petra native, school chum of Abdullah, he talked us through 11 days of ancient and less ancient history of Jordan. He knew a ton, was very entertaining as well as interesting, and a lot of fun to be around. Plus, he liked to pick up cool rocks and things as much as I did. He is working on an eco-friendly camp in the Wadi Rum, and I would love to go back and stay there when he is finished with it. On to the Nymphaeum.
Detail of the Nymphaeum walls
The Nymphaeum was dedicated to the water nymphs. It had a lot of water cascading here, the pink granite basin was added by the Byzantines. Many shells were carved into the walls.
the hollyhocks remind me of home
Next is the Temple of Artemis. There was a cataclysmic earthquake here in 749. Much of the city was destroyed, but some did survive. The columns were balanced to try to keep them up, even in the event the earth was shaking. When we arrived, a youngster had a fork stuck in the crack of one of the towers. The handle was vibrating. Mahdi said to stick our fingers into the same crack, so I did. It was the strangest feeling, this enormous pile of rock on my finger, and it was vibrating like the fork handle – it felt almost electric. I have no idea if it was really related to the 749 earthquake or not, but it was pretty wild.
columns of the Temple of Artermis
And then, at the South Theatre, Bagpipers! I love bagpipers!
And a final view of old and new Jerash.
Next day we headed south. Onward to the Dead Sea!
Cross Section of Jordan
On the road, with teenager
Next stop was the Jordan River. We went to the spot that is thought to be the place that John the Baptist baptised Jesus. The river used to be bigger (Israel is siphoning off about 70% before it gets here), plus it (the river) has changed paths, so it probably isn’t the exact spot. However, many religious pilgrims do come here to be baptised, on both sides of the river.
Jesse and Russel at the Jordan River
Both sides of the Jordan River, Jordan left, Israel right.
Russel and Peter
Then, the Dead Sea! Russel and I had a bet. He floats like a rock but I bet he would float here. And he did. I am quite buoyant anyway and I couldn’t force myself below the water here. It was amazing and strange at the same time. You couldn’t stay in for long, because the minerals in the water started to bother your nose and eyes. It was really wonderful, the lowest spot on the surface of the planet, and I feel very lucky that we were able to see it for ourselves.
the Dead Sea
I’m sure they are trying to dive, it’s impossible.
There was a guy on the beach, who had a bucket of black mud, that you could coat yourself with for 3 dinar. I coated. In the sun, it got really hot, and when it dried I went in the water to wash off. Unfortunately, it was really hard to get under the water to wash off, but eventually I did and my skin felt great for a week. Smelled a bit like hot topping a street, like asphalt, but after I washed the smell off, it was wonderful. There are Dead Sea products for acne, anti-aging, excema, it really is a special place.
I am beautifying, really
The next spot we visited was Mt. Nebo. This is the place they say where Moses died and was buried (here he is called Musa). He never did make it to the Promised Land, even though you could see it from here.
Mt. Nebo (and Madaba, among others) are celebrated for their mosaics. Unfortunately, through the years, many were destroyed or vandalised. Some were destroyed when excavation was going on, others when certain movements gained power and decided images of faces, including animal faces, could not be shown.
We left Mt. Nebo and drove to Madaba, starting down the King’s Highway, which we would take to Petra eventually.
Mahdi at work
Mahdi reminded me of my ecology professor, Dr. James. They could both talk for a week, from one end of the country to the other, never repeat themselves and make it interesting. It’s a skill.
Madaba is also famous for it’s mosaics, some of which date back to the 500’s. The most famous here is in the 19th century St. George’s Church, the St. George that slew the dragon. An ancient mosaic map was uncovered here, that was of the entire Holy Land, all the way around the Mediterranean. The map was partially destroyed when they were excavating the old church, for the new, not knowing it was there.
Here are a few shots of the streets in Madaba.
coffee pots and rugs
old wagon wheel, no wonder we still the ruts in the roman roads!
minarets and a golden dome
We stopped at a shop between Mt. Nebo and Madaba, where they are making mosaics. By hand, they cut stones into tiny pieces and glue them into place. The work was beautiful, from small coasters to huge table tops. We bought a mosaic of the Tree of Life.
We left again via the King’s Highway, heading south towards Petra. We drove though the green Jordan Valley until we hit the desert. The Jordan Valley has a lot of farms and is quite fertile. We passed truck after truck of produce, heading for Amman.
the green Jordan Valley
Some of the produce
eggplants for sale
We finally left the green part of the country and headed into the desert. It felt a little like Utah, steep barren mountain sides, heading down towards water and then back up and out again, I think we went through three or four of the big basin and range systems.
the King's Highway
cliffs and prayer blankets
Mahdi, Fathi, Nayim and Abdullah
These are our guides and tour leader, and Fathi drove the big bus. Our bus driver, Abdulkhaleq, hid from this photo but we got him later. I think Jordanian bus drivers have to be some of the best drivers in the world. Traffic was, basically, constant chaos with no apparent rules, and our drivers got us through everytime.
We came through the desert and headed for the city of Karak, which was the capital city for the Moabites and home to a huge crusader castle built in the 1100s. On the way there, Mahdi spotted some black iris in a field along the road.
Black Iris, the Jordanian national flower
We passed lots and lots of goat herds, too.
goat for sale
Jordanian fast food
The castle at Karak is enormous. Started in 1115, it lasted through several sieges through about 1183, when the Muslim armies started winning and running the Christian crusaders out of TransJordan. It was built hastily, so to protect themselves, and you can see that they used whatever they could get their hands on for building materials – there are pieces of old roman columns and Nabatean blocks in the walls.
entrance to Karak castle and fortress
This place was huge and a lot of it was underground. Dark kitchens, dark and dismal barracks, really dark and dank dungeons. I’m glad I wasn’t posted or captured here. We left Karak for a dash to beat the sunset, which we spent at the Dana Nature Preserve. It was beautiful. There is a restored village there, which you can now stay at. It looked almost Anasazi.
Dana Village, below the lookout
Sunset at Dana
We drove that night to our hotel in Petra. The next day was pretty unbelievable. I took a shot of the sign in the parking lot for the Petra site, which was seen all over the country. It is a double photo of King Hussein of Jordan, who ruled for 46 years and was well loved, and the son that he appointed to take his place, King Abdullah II who was crowned in July 1999. His wife is Queen Rania, who is beautiful and stylish and comes from a notable Palestinian background. He seems to also be very respected by the population, and seems to be doing his best to continue his father’s progressive agendas.
King Hussein and his successor, King Abdullah II
Then, we hopped on arabian horses to ride our way to the entrance to the slot canyon, that takes you to the ancient Nabatean city of Petra.
Jesse on the best dressed horse
Tombs on the road to the city
This guy offered me 17 camels for her, maybe I should have taken his offer…..
smooth operator, and nice eye liner too
Then, into the slot canyon.
Into the canyon
This is again like Utah, you walk through the slot canyon for a mile or two before you come to the city itself. Dams have been built inside, but they do have flash floods.
Most is gone here, but you can still see the feet if you look closely.
camel feet, human feet
Jesse and Russel, almost out of the canyon
and then we were there. Petra is truely one of the wonders of the world. It was spectacular.
Close up of the top of the Treasury
Petra was in force as it’s own city in the first centuries BC and AD. One thing they did was incorporate other cultures into their city. There are Roman, Greek, Byzantine, and other cultures’ symbols that you can see built in here. They did not build this city, they carved it into the cliffs. It was lost at some point, but re-“discovered” by Mr. Burckhardt, a Swiss adventurer, in 1812. Seeing how hard it is to get to and to see from the outside, it is not surprising it was “lost”.
it's hard to believe we are here
Around the Treasury, and down the main street.
view from one of the tombs
The current thinking is that these are all burial sites. Even though Petra was an actual city when it was built, it ended up as a kind of a graveyard. Families with more money, more ornate and large caverns; less money, still buried here but not so ornate.
Main Street Petra, camels, cliffs, sand art
We passed the Coliseum here. The Romans didn’t really like it that the Nabeteans were so good at what they did, so they decided the Coliseum wasn’t big enough for them and that they would add on. You can tell their part at the top, the part that looks like it was melting. The Romans were good builders, but maybe not such good cliff carvers.
camels and coliseum
They had kind of the same problem with the Palace Tomb. It was going to be bigger and better than anything else, but they ran out of cliff before it was done. The Romans didn’t win this challenge.
the Palace Tomb
On this steet we came to the Petra Church, a Byzantine church built in the 400s. It ha the most fantastic Tree of Life and Noah’s Ark mosaics.
Hunters, fishers, life
Noah's Ark, two by two
keyhole arch, on the main road
We were lucky enough to send Jesse back with Sue and Cynthia, (thanks!) because Russel and I and others wanted to hike up to the Monastary. Plus Jesse was lucky enough to take her first camel ride back out, so everyone was happy! Up the 400 million or so carved steps we go…The colors are amazing. Petra is called the “Rose Red City”, it is much much more than that.
Petra sandstone colors
So Russel, Fabien, Jerry and I started hiking up. And up. And up. And up. We were headed for the Monastery.
a very patient burro
Walking up the trail to the Monastery
Russel and Fabien, why do they always have to look over the edge?
Then we came around a corner, we had made it.
I think it is even bigger than the Treasury.
top of the Monastery
Russel, Jerry and Fabien continued up the path, to the closest highest point. I was content to sit in the shade, sip a lemonade and watch the scenery.
Coffee pots and Monastery
View from further up the trail
Then, it was time to head back to the bus.
archaeologic pieces stacked along the road
We were running late and many people had already left the city. The Marketplace was empty, and really showed all the rooms. It was like the Jemez ruins, but bigger.
Another view of the Marketplace, with the remarkable stripes in the rock
No Coke, Pepsi!
Jesse on the way out via Camel Express
Two last views of the Treasury. We were pretty late at this point, and the sun was starting to go down. The colors were completely changed from earlier in the day. What a remarkable place Petra is.
one last glimpse
Petra mountain and slot canyon
On to the Wadi Rum! As Lawrence of Arabia said, it is “vast, echoing and god-like”. It too was a very special place. We passed a lot of bedouin tents in this part of the country, traditionally they are black and large enough for the entire family to live in.
traditional Bedouin tent
When we got to Wadi Rum, we loaded up into 4 wheel drive pickups, for some dune 4 wheeling.
The stone formations scattered around were huge, with sand dunes in between. It was very red sand, very large and quiet, and very beautiful.
in the Wadi Rum
Russel and Karen in the Wadi Rum
It was pretty windy at the top!
plant, sand, mountains
We stopped at the base of an enormous sand dune, and a bunch of us set off. Russel set the pace and was the first to the top.
Jesse is about 1/2 way there
Come on Jerry!
We made it!
And Ulli did the climb in cowboy boots, she’s my new hero. We drove next to a place that actually had petroglyphs. Same style as home, very different subject material.
like Newspaper Rock, but with camels
ships of the desert
Bedouin tents in a narrow canyon
We made our way to the camp we would stay in for the night. The hosts were kind, the food was, as usual, great, the scenery was too. Later in the evening we were treated to traditional music, beneath the stars. We hiked up more dunes, to an overlook point to wait for the sunset.
Yalla! Russel's at the top already!
this rock looks like a beached tugboat
sunset in the Wadi Rum
This is the night we were treated to traditional music. Here is Abdulkhaleq (our bus driver) playing the drum that night.
Our host, making sure we had enough tea and shisha
The next morning was the mass exodus, we all got camels and rode off into the Wadi Rum. It was the best!
the camel parking lot
ready to brave the burning sands
Russel and Jesse, heading into the desert of Wadi Rum
the Edge's and Amy, in the Wadi Rum
Abbey Road, with camels
the Wadi Rum
Jerry of Arabia
a pack of camels
leaving Wadi Rum
We (sadly) left the Wadi Rum, but did stop to get fresh dates for the ride out. Onward, to the Red Sea resort of Aqaba. We took a party barge boat one day, supposedly for fishing, but not really. We were able to snorkel off the boat, but the best snorkeling was off our beach, more later. We did hit total relaxation mode, no buses to catch, no more early mornings. It was a great way to finish off a fantastic trip.
getting ready to go in
even Russel went in!
one of my favorite things!
Jesse just likes the breeze
We spent two days at this Red Sea resort. It was wonderful. They had a reef along-side their beach, but you had to access it from the outside. The pier took you outside the reef boundary, and they did a magnificent job of protecting it. We have snorkeled many beautiful places in the world, but had never seen giant clams. GIANT CLAMS. Enormous sea slugs. Sea anemones, with foot long spikes. Coral and fish in unbelievable colors. It was incredible. I should have gotten an underwater camera, but you’ll have to take my word for it, it was the best ever.
the dock that took you outside of the reef, to protect it
Cynthia's new dress
we only asked for an extra towel!
the Red Sea, and Israel and Egypt
Standing in Aqaba, we could see Israel, Egypt and the mountains of Saudi Arabia. It is small here, and there has to be a way for everyone to get along. This was one of the best trips we have ever been on, it is a beautiful, historic and wonderfully hospitable country. The Jordanians, the food, the guides, the bus drivers, the sights, the entire trip itself, is something that will stay with all of us.