Jordan – Past and Present

Jordan – Past and Present

Jordan has it all:  the extraordinary carved city of Petra, Roman ruins, stark desert landscapes and a thriving capital in the friendliest country in the Near East.

The capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan gained independence in 1946 and has much to offer.  Vibrant with its arts scene and business community, rich with shopping, fine cuisine, hotels and entertainment facilities that cater to every taste.  Proud of its historical and ancient treasures, Amman is ideal for every kind of traveler. Here you will experience both ancient and modern, while the Jordanian people are both hospitable and friendly. Stroll through suqs (markets) and acquire unique treasures to take home. Towering above Amman is the ancient Citadel, remnants of Amman’s many lives: the regal columns of a Roman temple, the elegant capitals of a Byzantine church, the unique carvings in the Umayyad Palace, and fascinating displays in the Archaeological Museum.  At the foot of the Citadel proudly lies the Roman Theater, a deep-sided bowl carved into the hill and still used today for cultural events.

Biblical references are constant in Jordan. At Mt Nebo, barely half an hour away from Amman, a cross and a rod mark the supposed spot where Moses overlooked the Promised Land and commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul II to the site.  Many centuries later, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho shine in the night like little candles the distance.  The views over the Jordan valley and the Dead Sea are like a real-life version of the map proudly displayed inside St George’s Church in nearby Madaba, which shows the Holy Land as it was in the 6th century.  The lowest point on Earth’s surface was not then encircled by magnificent luxury resorts, nor were foreigners to be seen lying in the sun, covered in Dead Sea mud in a quest for beauty.  The Dead Sea has a concentration of salt that is more than seven times greater than any ocean.  Fish seen fleeing from its waters in the giant mosaic at Madaba, are therefore unable to survive. 

You’re standing at the lowest point on earth … this is how fascinating the experience is of visiting the Dead Sea.  As the name suggests the sea is really “dead,” devoid of all kinds of life due to its extremely high content of salts and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and various chlorides. It is this quality that gives the Dead Sea its’ cherished and highly demanded therapeutic value.  Seaside facilities include modern hotels with health spas, restaurants and swimming pools.  The environment is ideal for medical treatment, a soothing mud massage, or a relaxing float in the salty water for anyone, and we mean anyone, since there is no risk of sinking in the salty waters. 

Only an hour’s drive north of Amman lays Jerash, the famous Roman city known as the “Pompeii of the East” or the “City of a Thousand Columns”.  It is the best preserved Roman city in existence and widely regarded as one of the most beautifully preserved ancient cities in the world, nestled at the bottom of a green valley which in ancient times was covered in thick oak, pine and pistachio forests.

To conjure up the past splendor of Jerash, one only needs to walk along the colonnaded streets and visit the imposing arches, the temples of Zeus and Artemis, the Oval Forum and the Public Baths, testimony of a remarkable chain of human occupation.  Jordan today has brought the city alive with an annual festival of the arts held in July.

Follow the famous, magical King’s highway to Petra.  Most treasured and Jordan’s pride and joy, Petra stands proud and erect in the south of the Kingdom.  The soul-stirring, mind-blowing, rose-red city of Petra is the legacy of the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled in Jordan more than 2000 years ago. The city of Petra was lost for 300 years, only to be re-discovered in 1812 by the Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.  Today, Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its art revered and respected, its architecture admired, its vastness awed, its beauty eternally famed. From the main entrance, you walk through the siq (chasm), which ripped through the rock in a prehistoric quake, only to be taken aback by beauty and immensity when your eyes first land on Petra’s most famous monument, Al- Khazneh (the Treasury).  This towering facade is only the first of Petra’s secrets.  Treasures are scattered around the city in abundance, from buildings, facades, tombs, baths and funerary halls to temples and haunting rock drawings. The majesty of the site of Petra will be etched in your mind forever.

“Vast, echoing, and God like, that is Wadi Rum” in the words of T. E. Lawrence who was based there during the Arab Revolt.  With its awesome stretches of reddish sand, Wadi Rum is a vast, silent place that is both romantic and starkly beautiful.  Massive mountains and rocks, in strange shapes and colors, seem to come out of nowhere everywhere you look.  Engravings on the rocks and inside the natural caves indicate that the area was inhabited since the earliest known time.  Today, this desert, overwhelming with its indescribable beauty, is home to several friendly, hospitable Bedouin tribes where you could spend the night in a tented camp or sleep under the stars.

Nestled on the ancient caravan routes from Egypt to Syria, Kerak is most famous for its massive, imposing Crusader Castle built in 1132 AD by the Crusader King Baldwin I. Dominating the walled city, with five thousand Christian knights defending it, the castle fell to Saladin’s forces after fifty years of fighting in 1188. The fortress is a maze of galleries, arched chambers and fortified towers.

Add in Desert Castles, the Dana Nature Reserve, sea side port of Aqaba and the fact that the country is ruled by a King and his beautiful Queen means Jordan has much to offer.

Jordan is a safe, affordable and unusual destination.  You can spend at least a week visiting the main sites of this magnificent country or as an extension after a visit to Egypt.

Travel Advisory

 

Getting there: 

Egypt Air operates daily flights from Johannesburg to Cairo and Cairo to Amman.  011 880 4126/9

Tour operator: 

Local agency Nile Travel will be able to help with all your travel requirements.  Call Kim Lings on 011 788 3823, kim@nile.co.za, www.nile.co.za

Best time to visit:

Between September and November and February to April.  Temperatures rage from 20 to 35 degrees Celsius in summer and 4 to 12 degrees Celsius in winter. 

Accommodation: 

Anything from the Marriott’s and Movenpick in Amman, Dead Sea and Petra to tented accommodation in Wadi Rum

Food: 

Mensaf is a Bedouin specialty made from boiled lamb with yoghurt served on a bed of rice.  Better known specialties include lamb or chicken kebab and falafel (balls of spicy chickpea paste).  Vegetables, pulses, fresh and dried fruit and nuts are also widely available.  Deserts are normally pastry soaked in honey syrup and rosewater.

Shopping: 

The best place to buy souvenirs is the souks and markets of Amman and Petra.  Haggling is normal.  Typical products include hand-woven carpets and tapestries, spices, bottles of coloured sand, Dead Sea cosmetics, pottery, cushions and bags and silver items sold by weight.  It is illegal to buy or sell coral, or to export antiques over 100 years old.

Currency: 

Jordanian Dinar, divided into 1, 000 fils.  JD1 is equal to approximately R10.  US dollars is the best currency to take but banks and hotels will accept any hard currency.

Visas: 

Visas are required for South African passport holders and are issued free of charge by the Jordanian Embassy in Pretoria 012 342 8026 or issued on arrival in Jordan.