Postcard from the Edge of History

Jordan is not a huge country, less than half the size of the UK, but it is huge on history. Name any historical period, Neolithic, Byzantine, Roman, even prehistoric and you will stumble on a team of archeologists digging up bits relating to this period, which have been marinating for centuries in the hot red sands that covers most of the country. During most of the stops on this trip we were investigating a particular period.

Our journey began in Madaba (weather: hot, sunny, clear sky), just southwest of the capital Amman – this is the central point for Biblical history. In the area around Madaba, we visited:

  • Mount Nebo, from where Moses is said to have seen the promised land
  • Bethany-Beyond-The-Water, a point on the Jordan river where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (and literally stones throw from Israel, gun toting guards are visible on both sides of the river)
  • Several mosaics in Madaba depicting biblical scenes and, of course
  • The Dead Sea (not particularly accurate because although fish can not survive in the 30% salt content (7 times saltier than the sea), 11 types of bacteria have recently been show to thrive).

Obviously Sodom and Gomorrah were also on the itinerary, but we could not find them. It is interesting that the whole area lies on a fault line, so it is quite feasible that such a zone could simply disappear in a massive implosion. Evidence of earthquakes abound.

From Madaba it was down the King’s Highway (weather: hot, sunny, clear sky) via the gorgeous canyons of Wadi Mujib (the Grand Canyon of Jordan), Shobak and Karak castles (where the French crusaders delighted in throwing prisoners off the 450 meter high walls with a wooden box round their heads so they would not lose consciousness before hitting the ground) and the Dana Nature reserve.

Our destination was Petra (weather: hot, sunny, clear sky), to see the incredible facades of great buildings and tombs hewn out of solid rock by the Nabataean architects. The Nabataeans were Arab traders who controlled the trade routes in this area and chose this area to conceal their city. The city reached it heyday in about 200 B.C. and the most famous building, the treasury, is reached at the end of winding cleft in the rock which is 200 meters deep and about 2 meters wide. Pictures can not do it justice.

From Petra we moved on, via the magnificent desert landscape of Wadi Rum (weather: hot, sunny, clear sky), to Aqaba, a huge trade and tourist resort on the red sea – but at about 45°c was so hot you could do nothing between about 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. (after which the town really wakes up). We arrived about 2 p.m., and being desperate to get out of the heat, I decided to have a Turkish bath. Mistake. Here was even hotter, but after the sauna, being rubbed down with sandpaper and then lathered up with piece of old rope (literally), the final massage did some good.

We fled the heat and flew up to Amman (weather: hot, sunny, clear sky) for the final stage of the trip. Amman has some interesting sites, including an old Roman amphitheater in the middle of town and some beautiful mosques. But the highlight was about 20 miles away in the city of Jerash (weather: hot, sunny, clear sky). Here lies an amazingly well preserved Roman city – walking though it, the majesty and scale of what the Roman achieved became really palpable and sent shivers up my spine.

Jordan is a fascinating place to get a feel for our history, but not the place for thrill rides or shopping (unless you like “mud-covered crap” as one of my traveling companions so succinctly put it). The people are friendly and we never felt threatened in any way, contrary to popular belief. Food such as falafels and hummus were delicious and in plentiful supply. So, if you are looking for history, like chick-peas, enjoy hot, sunny, weather and are not a single woman traveling on your own, Jordan is certainly high on the list.

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