Jordan – day trip sites within the Holy Land

We spent 3 weeks in Jordan, much to the anxiety of friends.  The world is in turmoil and what is being sold is fear.  I am not ever proposing getting in the thick of the mess, and being in immediate danger, but at the same time, if we succumb to all the fear, they have won.  It is not possible to go anywhere these days without the chance of something happening.  Needless to say, Jordan was incredible safe.  It is a beautiful country, with very friendly people. We could easily have just hung out there.  Would we go back…in a heart beat.

I must admit, that I enjoyed listening to the call to prayers, especially the 11 am call. The calls were incredibly musical and touch the soul.  You do get to the point where you do not always here them. I have not heard call to prayers that were as hauntingly beautiful as Amman.

We did have more interaction with men, as the majority of woman have opted for the stay at home job.  It is customary for the women to stay at home and only work if the husband is unable too. If you see a woman in hospitality, they are usually expats, or their husband is unable to work. Not once did I ever feel “threaten” by unwanted advances from any of the men.

We stayed in the old quarter of Amman – downtown – located on the side of a hill. This was our base.  We were walking distance to a fabulous vegan restaurant called Hashem.  They have a limited menu – falafel, humous, fries, salad, humous sandwich.  I could buy dinner and have leftovers for breakfast for the two of us for $5-6 JD.

Day Trips

All the day trips are usually travelled by the King’s Highway. It is the oldest continuously used communication route and it is mentioned in the bible.  I think the fact that we were actually in the holy land, places mentioned in the Bible, that really had the greatest impact on us. The scenery is diverse and beautiful but there is a scarcity of trees.

Cross on Mt. Nebo

Cross on Mt. Nebo

 Mt. Nebo

This is where Moses died after seeing the promise land.  It is possible to see Jerusalem and the Dead Sea from this point, but alas we had a dusty day and visibility was limited.  There is a small museum that you enter first before going out to the view point. The cost is 1JD.

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Madaba

This town is mentioned in the Bible and has a couple churches with fantastic mosaics plus a Roman street.  The cost is 1JD which includes all of the places.

Church of St. George houses the most famous mosaic – Map of Palestine – of the holy land. It originally measured 25 x 5 meters.

Church of the Apostles is a Byzantine church dating to 578 CE.  It is currently being restored and has the mosaic called the “Personification of the Sea”, which shows a woman emerging from sea surrounded by sea creatures, rams, bulls, parrots and vegetation.

Mosaic of Madaba

Dead Sea

It is possible to find hot springs that do not cost and will not have any facilities.  More than likely you will go to a public beach with a pool, showers, concession stand and mud.  This is expensive at 20JD for the day.

We had so much fun in the dead sea.  We stayed for a couple of hours.  We did not take a formal mud bath but used the sea bottom mud to rub on our bodies.  Many people were doing that too.

The white is salt

The white is salt

We found it extremely hard to swim forwards as the sea was always pushing your body backwards.  It was just much easier to float on your back.  If you went far enough out to where it drops, you do not sink.  Magpie was so shocked to see that he was staying straight up without having to tread water. Our shoulders were always outside of the water.  It was really cool – temperature wise it was not cool but not overly warm either – and fun.

Jerash

It is north of Amman and one of the largest and best preserved Roman ruins of a town with a temple to Artemis and to Zeus, outside of Italy of course.  The circus colonnade is in good condition.  Like most of the ruins in Jordan, climbing is okay.  It is an extensive ruins with the temples, the circus colonnade, the street and businesses.

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There are parts of Jerash that has ruins of settlements dating back to the Neolithic Age.  That means humans occupied this area for more than 6500 years.  I do believe that is older than Stonehenge.

The entrance to the ruins is through a bazaar.  The cost is 8JD.

Ajlun Castle

Not far from Jerash is the castle.  You see it on the hilltop driving to it.  It seems so far away but it is only 20 mins, depending on traffic conditions.  The castle is well preserved and is fun to explore.  The view is great and you see the balls of rock for the catapult and realize just how strong the men were to be able to lift them. It is named after a Christian monk who lived on the mountain in Byzantine times.

It is built over the ruins of a monastery which has been discovered in more archaeological excavations.

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Within the castle are a couple of small museums displaying the artifacts found within the castle excavations.  We liked not having to go to a different museum to see the artifacts.

It was a strong hold during the Crusades. It was one of many castles in a chain that stretched from Turkey to the Egyptian border.  It was obviously for defence. All I can picture is Lord of the Rings with the fires in a domino affect.  Supposedly by having the castles within site of each other a message could be passed from Aqaba (down by Egypt) up to the Turkish border within 12 hours.  Too bad our mail system isn’t that quick.

It is a beautiful castle and the views from the towers are definitely worth the hike.

Desert Castles

There is a nominal fee that gets you entrance to all the castles.

Qasr al-Harraneh

To get here you are driving on a highway that leads to Syria and Iraq.  That left an interesting feeling in my gut.  I knew I would here about it, given the conflicts at the moment.  The scenery reminded me of Bosnia – 20 years ago – with lots of rocks very little vegetation.  I had to remind myself that we were in a desert.  Just not what you think of a desert. The path was marked off, which really through me off to Bosnia.  I was not sure if I should be worrying about what would happen if I stepped off the path.  It did not help that we could not see any other people visiting this “Castle”.  Our driver, Rakan, was having a smoke and saw that I was not comfortable.  He said he would meet us there.  We carried on. I, making sure Magpie and I stayed on the path.

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It was a circular route and we could not understand why, but when we were in front of the door we were not sure if we could go in, until we finally saw someone else inside.  That did it, we were in and taking photos.  For Magpie, it was a climbing frame.  It is well preserved, but does not seem like a “castle”.  We decided it was more like a roadside tavern with rooms.  It is possible to climb and stand on the roof. Rakan did come to find us and went back when he saw we were good.  I was over the past memories.  It helped when we saw a group of men bypass the scripted path and march in a linear route to the door.

We carried onto the next castle down the road, continuing on the road to Syria and Iraq.

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Quasayr Amra

This “castle” is more of a hunting lodge and is a World Heritage Site. It was built in 705 CE. It reminds Magpie of Star Wars, specifically Luke Skywalkers home.  I had to admit, that it was a good likeness. Magpie wondered if it had been filmed here. I knew that it had actually been filmed in Tunisia.

Could it be Luke Skywalker's home?

Inside the lodge are some great mosaics. Some were restored and others were in the process of being worked on while we were there.  Magpie noticed that one end was actually a bathhouse. He remembered from the tour in Bath, England.  I was so pleased.

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What  is interesting to remember, is the area of the hunting lodge is now a desert, it really isn’t that hard to forget. Which means at one time the area had to be somewhat lush to provide food and shelter for the animals that were hunted.

Jordan at one time had a very big forest. Does that mean with the de-forestation came the desert?  More than likely that is true, in my opinion, anyway.

Qasr al-Azraq

This castle is more of a big fort.  It is made of black basalt rocks. It dates back to the 13 century CE. It was redesigned and expanded upon over the years and was the headquarters of Lawrence of Arabia during the winter of 1917, when he was fighting in the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.  We saw a lot about Lawrence of Arabia in Jordan.

Arches still standing with no mortar.

Arches still standing with no mortar.

This fort is in so-so condition.  Still a great climbing frame that can also give a parent a heart attack, but it adds to the learning experience.

To see the doors, and arches used in the building of the fort is still really impressive given how old the fort is. The entrance door is actually a single slab of granite that swings open. Of course Magpie wanted to close the door. I wasn’t keen on that.

Citadel

The citadel was walking distance for us from our hostel. It was all uphill, and reminded us of Cusco.  It was fun navigating as the crow flies – which meant going up side stairs – instead of the zigzagging path of the road. Once at the citadel you have a great view of the downtown city area.  The entry fee in nominal 2 JD and under 12 are free.

The Citadel is well laid out with maps and signage along the way.  You can take a tour guide if you want, but we did not.

The Citadel has numerous Roman, Byzantine and Islamic ruins.

The best preserved include the Temple of Hercules and a small Byzantine basilica.  There is also a small museum on site that once held the Dead Sea Scrolls, alas they were moved to a different museum and we were not able to see them. It was a serious drat moment.

The Temple of Hercules also includes – which is seen in all the posters – a piece of hand from the demi-god himself.  Tourism posters lead you to believe that the hand is quite big.  Unfortunately it is a play with perspective when the picture was taken.  Don’t get me wrong, as much as I was a little disappointed, it was still neat to see and when you start really thinking of how everything is relative, that was a big statue.  The hand is bigger than our heads, which means…well you can imagine the size when you look at your hands and compare.

The hand of hercules

The hand of hercules

The Byzantine basilica was very simple, yet very beautiful.  The mosaics that were created so long ago are really impressive to see, with the work and time involved in creating them and the fact that they are still around thousands of years later.

Roman Theatre

Across from the Citadel is the Roman Theatre.  To reach it from the Citadel you can either take a taxi for 2JD or walk down hill, which we did.  It costs 1 JD to enter and it is well preserved. Magpie enjoyed running up the seats to the top for the view.  This time I did not.  I was about done with the volume of people.  I sat and watched the people and tried to keep an eye on Magpie. Attached to the ampitheatre is a small museum of the costumes.  Behind glass cases are the actual clothing worn by the men, women and children through the ages.  All of it very ornate but simple and with lots of color.

After leaving the ampitheatre we headed back up the main street.  Crossing main roads can be challenging as it does not seem that crosswalks are respected per se.  We always cross with locals, within reason.  We go to a freshly squeezed fruit juice place to have a snack on the walk back.  It is only a 15 min walk back and we have gone full circle.

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