Jerash, The Other Gem of Jordan

Today, I joined a tour to visit the North of Amman with four Germans and one Norwegian. My main point of interest was Jerash but it was nice to see the Decapolis city of Umm Qais (Gadara) and Ajlun Castle.

Umm Qais

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Umm Qais is quite large and has some nice monuments. The most interesting part for me was some Roman statues hidden in one of the rooms of the visitor center.

Ajlun Castle

Ajlun Castle had a nice cool feeling to it but nothing memorable. As it was the case for Karak earlier in Jordan, I think I have seen too many castles before in France to be moved by the ones in Jordan! They look more like fortresses than romantic castles ;). The “memorable” part is when the driver got lost in between Umm Qais and Ajlun and we ended up driving for 100km of curvy mountain roads in place of the 20km it should have taken. “Maalesh” I told him.

Jerash

Not without loosing his path again :), our driver finally got us to Jerash (Gerasa), another of the ten cities of the Roman Decapolis. Jerash is just an amazingly well conserved and restored Roman city. It is huge with some great monuments.

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I visited by myself and it was quite an experience to walk alone in the middle of this full city trying to imagine how busy it could be almost 2000 years ago with chariots and people walking down the amazing colonnaded street making there way through the shops, cooling down by the beautiful Nymphaeum (very elaborated fountain) or engaged in heated discussion in the middle of the enormous forum square.

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Other impressive monuments are the hippodrome where they sometimes reenact chariot races and the two amphitheatres where spectacles are still offered during the Jerash festival every year during summer.

The procession path to the temple of Artemis was also impressive and the temple of Zeus must have been quite a place with its 15 meters high columns. This last temple is actually being heavily restored right now and it will definitely look fantastic once it is finished.

And the mind boggling part is that some of the old city is still lost under the current city!

Jerash is the kind of place that can keep me interested and entertained for hours and hours. I would definitely love to come for the festival.

Jerash is the other gem of Jordan and it should definitely not be missed. Rod might say “NYAFRC” but since I have not seen that many of them before, I loved it!

This is all for my exploration of Jordan. Next step is Syria starting with Damascus.

Mosaics A Go-Go

Today, I decided to visit Madaba and Mount Nebo that are easily accessible on a day trip from Amman.

Madaba

Madaba is famous for its Mosaics that have been found all over the city and surroundings.

I decided to go by myself so I took the minibus to Madaba with the locals and it went all well except I did not know when to exit and ended up at the out-of-town bus station and got to walk back downtown.

Well, not too long as a shared taxi picked me up after 5 minutes and took me to the right place for the visit :).

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The most famous of these mosaics is the map of the holy land located inside the Saint George Church in Madaba. The book was raving about it, people I had met were raving about it… so I went and I got very disappointed. It is very damaged and only a small portion is left. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very fine mosaic with great representations of famous sites (Especially old Jerusalem with its walls and some of its most important sites) and offered a lot of information to historians and archaeologs when it was more complete. I think the buzz killed it for me!

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There are also two archaeological site very close by that present great mosaics. I enjoyed these more than the map one actually.

Mount Nebo

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After lunch, I went to Mount Nebo located close by that is supposed to be where Moses was showed a view of the promised land by God and were God buried him later on.

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There are great views of the surrounding landscapes from the top of the Mount. The church of Moses has been well restored by the Franciscans with some great mosaics.

The only thing is that I could have done without the tourist herd and their loud Shepperd (I mean guide) as I was trying to get a feel for the place :(.

Philadelphia’s Amphitheatre

I finally decided I had seen enough mosaics for a day and got back to Amman. It was even hotter than the day before but it was already too late to be worth paying for access to a swimming pool so I resorted to find a nice place to relax and read some of my book.

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As I had done before in Petra, I went to the old Roman amphitheatre as I knew it would offer enough shade. Also, you can seat high and have a good view of the surrounding area and the tourists visiting the place always offer enough animation to keep you entertained for hours :). The amphitheatre is nice but you might want to think before paying the entry fee if you only want to see it and go.

On the same topic of value, I would only visit Madaba and Mount Nebo if you have time after Petra, Jerash, Amman and the Dead Sea.

Old Philadelphia

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Today, I visited Amman itself starting by the Citadel. This was the center of Philadelphia, one of the cities of the Decapolis under Roman rule.

The Spanish-Jordanian team of archaeologs has been doing a great job there and they have been able to reconstitute a lot of the site.

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There is an interesting and well restored Omayyad period palace and a roman temple (Dedicated to Hercules if I remember well).

The most interesting part of the visit is definitely the Jordan national museum that is located on the same site (entry fee included). It is a small museum but it is very well organized and packed with great objects. Following a chronological progression from the Paleolithic to the Islam period, the presentation is clear, well lighted and well documented. It is definitely one of my favorite museum so far.

Maybe because it is small enough to not exhaust you and diverse enough to keep you interested.

Then, I decided I had visited enough for the day and the heat (well over the 40C) was killing me so I found my way to the best big hotel swimming pool in Amman. Definitely worth it too ;).

A good easy day.

Floating like a cork

Today was a transition day as Rod and I were traveling from Petra to Amman.

On our way, we stopped at Karak to visit a castle built by the crusaders. Not much to say about the castle as it is very comparable to castles built in France at the same period. The nice thing about it is that it is built very strategically close to the King’s road that was the main commercial way at that time and offers great views of the surroundings including the Dead Sea.

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Our second stop was at a public beach (The Amman beach) on the shores of the Dead Sea. This was a compulsory stop in my trip as everybody I spoke to told me I had to swim in it if I was going to Jordan or Israel. Yes, you actually float very well as the pictures that are coming soon show. Seating, bouncing, walking and practicing yoga positions are activities that then replace the usual swimming. It is also really very salty as I was able to taste after splashing the water a bit too much :). It was also very hot out there so we did not stay too long. After two hours, we were back on the road.

We finally made it to the capital, Amman. It is a big city so it is difficult to get a good feel about it in one evening but so far, I qualified it of Cairo meets Hong-Kong. I will let you make up what it means for now ;).

Roaming in the streets of Petra

Petra

Since I started to organize my trip, Petra has been figuring high up on my list of places to see with Ancient Egypt. So it was with no lack of excitement that on my first day, I hiked the 30 minutes necessary to go from the entrance, through the famous Siq, to the even more famous monument of Petra: the Treasury (Al-Kazdneh).

While walking through the Siq (a very narrow path in the mountain at the bottom of a crack), I could not resist and heard myself whistle the song of Indiana Jones thinking of the scene in the holy grail where he is in Petra. Don’t repeat that though! The Siq in itself is quite a sight and to think it is completely natural is mind boggling! As in the rest of Petra, the colors of the sandstone are beautiful and intertwined in complex random patterns giving the rock a never ending appeal calling for picture after picture. I was quite trigger happy the first day so I had to control myself the following two days I was roaming around Petra.

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At the end of the Siq, the Treasury appears progressively in front of you. It is just massive! The refinement of the carving and the size of it cannot leave you insensible. The almost perfect rose color of the whole piece adds to the dramatic look. I was in awe!

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But this was nothing after all as this is just one of the many other great places that you can see in Petra. Petra is a complete city with hundreds of cave habitations, tombs, an impressive amphitheatre, places of sacrifice located at the top of the neighborhood mountains, churches and a monastery. It was created and modified over many centuries from the Nabateans to the Romans.

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It even had suburbs like Sabra located 7kms away that I visited on my first day. This was my first long hike that took me through climbing two low mounts as I had lost my path and was relying on my compass to find the place. Sabra is not usually visited by the tourists because it is out of the way and requires a long walk to reach it. It was interesting for me because it turns out Bedouins still leave in some of the caves/monuments there and it shows how Petra must have been not so long ago before it became a tourist attraction.

For my second day in Petra, I was joined by Rod. For the record, I met Rod in Dahab around 2 weeks ago. He is a cool Aussie, hey! And since we had a good time hanging out in Dahab and we were kind of going the same way, we decided to travel together for a bit. Since I knew Rod would join me in Petra, I did not do the main hikes on the first day. We hence visited the main city and did two of the main hikes that day. The first one was to one place of sacrifice located to the top of the mountain facing the Amphitheatre from where you get a great view towards the main city and also over the Treasury. I actually had done that hike the evening before but I did not mind seeing the view in the morning.

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On our way down, we crossed the path of a goat herd that was going up the stairs toward the top of the mountain without any human intervention. As I was walking by the last goat, this one bigger than the others and that might have been the alpha buck looked at me with a “what are you doing on my territory look?”. I starred back but soon realize I was on the wrong side of the staircase meaning not on the mountain side! Hum, I was a clear winner (don’t you think?) and just ran downstairs to celebrate the victory as this looser just continued climbing in the other way. OK, OK, goats 1 – David 0.

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Our second hike was to the second most famous monument in Petra: the Monastery. It is a monument similar to the Treasury that was carved at the top of one of the mountains but even bigger: 40 meters high by 47 meters wide with a facade carved at least 2 meters deep! The monument is very impressive and as the Treasury, it is very well conserved since protected of the wind by its location.On the third day, Rod and I went for a hike through a canyon going from the entry of the Siq to the main city. It is a little tricky at some points but it was very rewarding with cool spots and great stone colors all over. We also hiked to another place of sacrifice located on a mountain top at the left of the amphitheatre from which you get a 360 degrees view of the place.

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On our way down, we crossed a small herd of goats (again!?!) but did not get into any kind of confrontation ;). Actually, very soon after, we started hearing the cry of a goat coming from a hole in the rock. This kind of hole is plentiful in Petra and I think they were simpler tombs. Anyway, a goat that looked pregnant had gone down inside the hole and seemed not able to get out. We debated a while about the best way to get it out and finally, a girl that had joined us offered to drop big stones on one side of the hole so as to provide a step to the poor goat. We dropped some stones and encouraged (read pushed!) the goat to get out. It did not want to move but thinking this would be enough and not knowing what else to do, we decided to retire and leave it alone. Soon after, it had got out and came to the edge of the stairs to say thanks to us! OK, maybe not but let me dream for a second :).

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Beaten down by so much hiking and climbing, we ended up chilling at the top of the amphitheatre that overlooks the main street and provides an ever ending attraction with the Bedouins offering camel and donkey rides to the tourists as well as overpriced souvenirs or drinks.

Three days were enough for me. I did not see everything in Petra but I had a good feel about the whole place and visited the most important sites. It is not an easy visit if you do not use the donkeys or camels as it is a very wide place and covering it all requires walking a lot. Walking from the main gate through the Siq to the city center can become boring (hence the hike through the canyon on the third morning!).

After all, my favorite place has to be the amphitheatre because of its feel and its location in the city as well as its coolness in the afternoon when it provides you with a more than welcome shade while offering a great view on the rest of the site and the people.