Jordan - The Desert Kingdom

Amman, Jordan - SkylineJordan, throughout history was a crossroad between east and west. Ancient roads through the desert connected civilizations like the Greeks, Nabataeans, Romans and more recent states like the Umayyads and the Ottomans.

In modern days, Jordan still strives to connect western style economy and culture to more traditional Arab and Muslim values. The result is an eclectic melding of cultures that makes this desert kingdom unique in the world. 

Another great attraction for visitors is the political stability in Jordan. The kiKingdoms one of the few Arab states that remain peaceful and inviting. Another big attraction is the temperate weather. It is not as warm as the Gulf States and not as cold as most of Europe. 

Amman, Jordan - ABDALII started my recent visit by flying to Amman the capital. The new terminal at Amman International Airport is ultra-modern and spacious with lots of restaurants and duty-free shops. Passing through passports and customs is very easy and makes you feel welcome right away. 

As soon as you leave the airport and enter the city you will start noticing the mix of old and new - east and west. Along the airport road you will notice some old buildings with small shops and you will see large modern stores like Ikea or Safeway. Also along the way you will see several universities. Jordan is known for its large population of young college educated citizens. One could say that the workforce is one of Jordan’s exports. Many of them end up working in the Gulf States or overseas bringing much-needed cash to their families.

Amman, Jordan - At NightAs you enter the city you will notice the different styles of buildings. You will see contemporary architecture competing with Roman and Greek amphitheaters and Muslim Umayyad styles - all connected with modern highways and narrow alleyways.

Amman’s curse and blessing at the same time, is that it is built on top of many hills and mountains. The hills make it look very beautiful with great views. The hills also provide the fitness minded with goods places to hike. Many neighborhoods can only be reached via a series of steps and stairs. 

But because of the hills, traffic is a nightmare and getting from place to place is always a challenge. The hills also give Amman a strange phenomenon: Weather can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Some places get heavy rain and others get none. Some places have snow in winter and other places rarely see any snow.

Tip: If you don’t live in Amman don’t try to rent a car. You will get lost or get very friendly with another car or bus. Take a taxi or a bus. Hire a van for long distance travel. 

Amman, Jordan - Jabal Al-QalaaTalking about friendly, the people here are very nice and helpful. Most speak English and will be happy to direct you to your destination or even walk with you to show you the best route. Also don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations to attractions or restaurants. 

Jordan as a whole is full of must see places. Some of the main attractions are: The Roman Amphitheater;  Temple of Hercules; Downtown Market; Rainbow street; Petra; Wadi Rum; Jerash; Ajlun Fortress; Pela; Madaba; and Karak.

 Within the city you can go at your own pace. You should start with the Roman Amphitheater and visit the visitor center located next door. You can grab maps and useful information. 

To venture outside of Amman you probably need a tour guide. One way to accomplish this is to book your tours ahead of time. Those tours are usually expensive and you have to follow a grueling schedule. 

An alternative is to book your tours with a local outfitter. You will save a lot of money and you customize your tour. This is much cheaper than booking your tours from the US or Europe. 

Downtown 

Amman, Jordan - New AbdaliThe best way to experience Amman’s culture and history is to start in Downtown Amman. You can spend hours walking the narrow streets and shopping for souvenirs. Haggling is expected so the first offered price is never the final price. While there visit one of the traditional coffee shops and enjoy a water pipe (Hooka), coffee or tea – along with out of this word deserts. Try kanafa or Baklava. If you are not ready for desert then you must try the traditional dish called Mansaf. It is mainly rice and lamb meat with a yogurt based dressing. 

Close to the shops you will find the Roman Amphitheater which was built in the 2nd century BC. It is one of the largest Roman theaters in the world and used to seat up 6000 spectators. 

Amman, Jordan - MarketAfter you pay the entrance fee go exploring and try to climb the steep stairs to the top. From the top you will have a commanding view of downtown shops and the old town buildings covering the hills. 

At the bottom of the theater to one side you will see the museum which boasts a collection of Bedouin artwork and some roman artifacts. 

Next to the museum our guide and photographer took some pictures of my wife in traditional Bedouin attire. Wearing the traditional dress and posing for the pics was a great experience for my wife. Meanwhile, the kids and I were running up the stairs exploring every corner of the theater and admiring the views. 

On top of the highest hill in Amman you will see a citadel and a Roman temple. This hill is called Jabal Al-Qalaa. To get to this Citadel and Temple you can walk across the street from the theater and climb some steep steps to the top. If prefer, you can take a taxi to the top.

Amman, Jordan - RainbowAt the top you will see evidence of Bronze age, Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad civilizations. The most intact and impressive of them, is the Umayyad Palace which was built around AD 749. Not far from this palace you will find the Roman Temple of Hercules.  

Next to the temple you will find The National Archaeological Museum where you can view 6000-year-old skulls from Jericho, Umayyad artwork and examples of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Close to downtown you can visit some popular spots like: 

Rainbow Street: a charming little street with shops, cafes and bars. Many cafes have a commanding view of the city. 

Tip: Go into one of Cafes in the late afternoon and stick around until dusk. You will witness the city lights come on and listen to the calls for prayer. If you are lucky you will catch a great fireworks display.

Darat al Funun (or “House of Arts”): it is located within 3 old villas and houses both permanent and visiting art collections.

Gardens Street: a famous shopping area with lots of shops and restaurants. 

Amman, Jordan - City MallCity Mall: If you already missed shopping at malls, then head to city mall – one of the largest malls in Amman. 

Wakalat Street: A pedestrian only street in Sweifieh full of big western stores, restaurants and cafes. Lots of benches along the way for resting and people watching.

Royal Automobile Museum: If you like cars and would like a quick history of the Royal family, this is a good place to visit. 

Ahl Al Kahf: Whether it is the true location of the story about the sleepers – or not, it is an intriguing place to visit. All three main religions mention about the 6 or 7 who slept for many years and woke up in the distant future.

Reem Al Bawadi Traditional Restaurant: Although I did not visit this time, people are raving about the food and the atmosphere. I will definitely try it next time. 

Finally, my visit to Jordan was short – only one week. It is not enough time to experience all the culture, history and foods of the kingdom. I definitely intend to visit again and explore the places I missed. 

I also want to invite the readers – especially residents of Jordan – to contribute articles about their favorite places. You can send your articles in English or Arabic. I will translate Arabic into English for you. Go to the contact page at www.i-wish-you-were-here.com/contact or submit directly through email to bwzain@i-wish-you-were-here.com. You can also post an article to the website at www.i-wish-you-were-here.com/node/add/book but you will need to register first. Please add or send photos to accompany your stories. 

Away from Amman

Jerash, JordanVenturing away from Amman, you will come across a melange of cultures and history. In the following pages read about the Lost City of Petra, the Roman Ruins of Jerash and the Umayyad castle of Ajloun.

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  • Some of the photos in this article were downloaded from Wikipedia under the Wikimedia Commons license.
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Ahloun, Jordan

Ajloun, JordanJordan, throughout history was a crossroad between east and west. Ancient roads through the desert connected civilizations like the Greeks, Nabataeans, Romans and more recent states like the Umayyads and the Ottomans.

Read the main article about Jordan in general and the capital Amman here.

A 2-hour trip from Amman will take to this city perched on top of highest hills in Jordan with an intact fortress from the Crusades era.

Ajloun (Ajlun) is a northern town close to the borders with Syria and Palestine (Israel). Due to the elevation, Ajlun is always cooler than the rest of the kingdom and the hilltops are covered with forests – a rare view in Jordan.

Ajloun, JordanAs you drive up the winding roads through the mountain you will start getting glimpses of this magnificent fortress atop one of the highest peaks. The fortress was built by one of Saladin’s commanders to protect the country against the advance of the Crusaders. Read more about Ajloun's history here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajloun_Castle

Once you pay the fee and enter the fortress you can explore on your own. Climb every set of steps and enter every room. One of the rooms hosts a small museum with some artifacts from the various time periods of the region.

Make sure to climb all the way to the roof for a commanding view of the town of Ajlun, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. 

Ajloun, JordanThe town of Ajlun is famous for its flatbread. Stop at one of the bakeries and order a loaf or two. The loafs are huge and very tasty - best eaten with goat cheese or yogurt cheese (Labaneh). 

While at Ajlun you can stay at the Nature Reserve and go on guided hikes. You can rent cabin tents with fridge, kettle, shower with hot water and an oil stove. The hikes are strenuous. You should be fit and wear proper hiking boots and clothes. 

Other landmarks in Ajlun:

  • Tell Mar Elias
  • Great Ajlun Mosque Ajloun
  • Holy Spirit Church
  • Shrine for Al-Khadir (St. George)
  • Birthplace of the Prophet Elijah.
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Jerash, Jordan

Jerash, JordanJordan, throughout history was a crossroad between east and west. Ancient roads through the desert connected civilizations like the Greeks, Nabataeans, Romans and more recent states like the Umayyads and the Ottomans.

Read the main article about Jordan in general and the capital Amman here.

An hour's drive from Amman, Jordan, you will find this well preserved ancient city right in the middle of its modern counterpart. Jerash was originally established by Alexander the Great around 331 BC as Gerasa and later annexed to the Roman Empire. Around  AD 129 the Roman emperor Hadrian visited Jerash and the famous triumphal arch (or Arch of Hadrian) was built to celebrate his visit.

Read more about Jerash history here.

Jerash, JordanAfter you pass through the entrance plaza the Arch is the most prominent feature you will notice. It is imposing and mostly intact. 

As you walk in and to the left you will come across the circus (hippodrome). This is where the Romans held their chariot and horse racing tournaments. The Jerash Heritage Company holds daily ticketed performances of the Roman Army and Chariot Experience at the hippodrome. Check Visit Jordan website for more details.

Further down you will see one of the southern amphitheaters and Zeus Temple. At the theater you can enjoy some music and drum beats by a Bedouin band and you can explore the steep steps and various passages. From the top steps you will have a commanding view of the whole ancient city.

Jerash, JordanOne of the most striking features of this ancient city is the large Oval Forum surrounded by a colonnade - a long circular sequence of columns. Another important feature is the main street (Cardo) lined with another long colonnade. This street runs through most of ancient Jerash.

Along the main street you will see other important ruins like the Agora; several churches; an Umayyad mosque and the Archaeological Museum. Don’t miss the museum. It has a very nice collection of Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad artifacts. It even includes ancient theater tickets made out of pottery.

Towards the north end of the city you can visit Two baths; more churches; another Amphitheater and the temple of Artemis.

Jerash, JordanOn the way back you can stop at the souvenir shops at the entrance plaza. If you are hungry, stop at "Jerash Resthouse" restaurant which is right at the entrance of the ancient city.

The food is very good and the location is convenient. They have an area for Bedouin style seating. The prices are more expensive than average due to the location. You should ask for the traditional "Mansaf" dish which is a Lamb and Rice dish with a very flavorful yogurt sauce.

Close to the ancient city, many shops sell Jerash's famous goat cheese. Make sure to stop and sample some of the best cheese in Jordan.

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Petra, Jordan

Jordan - Petra - The Treasury

Jordan, throughout history was a crossroad between east and west. Ancient roads through the desert connected civilizations like the Greeks, Nabataeans, Romans and more recent states like the Umayyads and the Ottomans.

Read the main article about Jordan in general and the capital Amman here.

The lost city of Petra was founded by the Nabataeans in 321 BC as the center of their trading empire. Although the Nabataeans were nomadic in nature, they managed to use their trading wealth to build this amazing city into the rocky mountains.

The Nabataean civilization declined and the city disappeared from history for a long time until it was rediscovered in 1812. You can read more about Petra history here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petra

Our trip to Petra was both exhilarating and exhausting. We packed some snacks and lots of Jordan - Petra - On the waywater and started on our way at 8 am. In hind sight I think we should have started much earlier or spent the night close by. In Fall and Winter the sun sets very early and makes for a much shorter day for exploration. 

The trip from Amman to Petra takes from 3 to 4 hours depending on your stops. We like to stop a lot on the way to rest and explore. Our first stop was at a Falafel place to pick up breakfast. It is probably the best falafel in Jordan. What distinguished “Abu Jbara” restaurant is the variety of falafel sandwiches, toppings and breads available. You can basically custom build your Falafel experience. If you like spicy food, ask them to add Shatta (a very spicy sauce). 

Along the way we stopped at a souvenir shop to use the restrooms and buy hats for the tour. Our guide mentioned that the sun is usually blazing in Petra. He also suggested using a lot of sunscreen. We ended up buying much more than hats. Prices were reasonable compared to the expected high prices in Petra.

Outside the ancient city of Petra you will come across the town of Wadi Musa. The town has Jordan - Petra - Siqgrown dramatically in recent times due to the importance of Petra as a tourist destination. You will find many hotels and restaurants. Some tourists prefer to spend the night in the region to visit Petra and Wadi Rum. 

On the outskirt of  Wadi Musa, we stopped at a fresh water spring called Ain Musa. Legend has it that the prophet Moses stopped at this location – on his way to the Promised Land - and struck a rock to produce the spring for his followers. The spring has been running continuously since those ancient times.

A little further down the road from the spring there is a commanding view of the mountains in which Petra was carved. You can see strange formations reminiscent of Mount Rushmore – but it is all natural. 

Once we arrived at the entrance plaza we bought our tickets and started our journey through time. 

Tip: Wear old tennis or hiking shoes. Most of your walking is going to be on soft red dirt that clings to shoes. 

It is an amazing feeling to walk into the Siq (Gorge) and be surrounded by huge cliffs from both sides. The cliffs are as high as 260 ft. and can get as narrow as 9 ft. – they can block the sunlight and give a brief refuge from the heat. 

As you walk through the Siq notice the irrigation canals carved through the walls. The Nabatean’s carved those canals and built dams along the way to catch and redirect rain water.

Important Tip: Watch out for carriage and horse traffic – try to stay close to the walls. The riders sometimes hurtle around the corners and threaten pedestrians. 

Jordan - Petra - The TreasuryAt the end of the Siq you will start seeing hints of the most famous Petra building “The Treasury (Al-Khazneh)”. As you exit the Siq you will have a full view of the treasury that commands a large clearing in the middle of the mountains. 

The treasury was built by the Nabateans the first century AD as mausoleum and crypt – contrary to popular myth that it was used as a place to hold treasures. 

Petra's history is mired in mystery and myth. It started as an Arab Nabatean settlement with Greek and Egyptian influences - but was absorbed later by the growing Roman Empire. There is conflicting evidence about who built what. 

Regardless of origins, the rest of Petra is as breathtaking as the famous Treasury. Most visitors just hike through the Siq and admire the treasury then turn back. 

Don’t be one of those tourists. Keep going and experience the various tombs and residenceJordan - Petra - Tombss etched into the mountains. Admire the colors of rock formations – which oscillate between various shade of red and pink. Visit the amphitheater which was designed in a way to overlook the largest collection of tombs and don’t miss Qasr Al-Bint which was built as a temple. Ask about the legend of Qasr Al-Bint also known as the Temple of the Winged Lions.

Tip: If you don’t have a guide with you, hire one at the entrance plaza. The prices are reasonable and they can provide valuable information about the sights and history.

Jordan - Petra - Tombs and Colonnade If you have the time and the stamina, plan on climbing close to 800 steps to the Monastery (El Deir). The climb is hard but it is worth the effort. If you are not up it, you can hire one of the Donkeys to take you all the way to the top - although I am not sure which one is more risky – climbing the stairs or riding the Donkey.

Tip: Before you start climbing the steps, visit the restrooms at the restaurant situated next to the museum. You can also take a break at the restaurant and have some snacks.

I don’t want to spoil the surprise for would be adventurers, so I am not going say a lot about the Monastery itself. The Monastery was built by the Nabteans as a temple to one of their Gods but possibly used Jordan - Petra - The Monistary later by Christians. No one knows for sure.

Tip: All along the way you will have opportunities to ride a horse, a carriage or a donkey to your destination. Each operator has boundaries they can’t cross. Agree ahead of time on the destination and the price. As usual, you can negotiate the price.

By the time we made it to the top of the stairs and enjoyed the view it was getting dark. So we had to hustle back down and all the way out of the Siq before it really got dark. There is no lighting at night in Petra – unless you arrive during one of the special nights when they light up the city with candles. Check the Visit Jordan website for candle light schedule . There is a separate fee for those events. 

See a map of  Petra at http://www.atlastours.net/jordan/petra_map.html.