Travel consultant focused on cultural travel in the Middle East & Mediterranean
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan can take the contemporary traveller by surprise. People expect to be impressed by Petra, but are often unprepared for the other delights this country has to offer – the magnificent desert scenery, the great depth of culture taking in biblical, Roman, Arab and Crusader sites, the unspoilt nature of the country, the thriving Bedouin culture and the welcoming attitude of Jordanians.
The modern capital city of Amman has a fascinating Roman theatre and ancient hill-top Citadel, and is a great place to buy gold jewellery, but it mainly serves as a base for exploring the region. In nearby Madaba with its long Christian history and tradition of mosaics is the famous mosaic Mappa Mundi, the oldest known map of the Middle East, with Jerusalem at its centre. Moses died within sight of the Promised Land at Mount Nebo, where the Franciscans have restored the spectacularly sited ancient church, and where we may glimpse Jerusalem on a clear day.
Jordan was an important province for the Romans, who left us the extensive and beautifully preserved city of Jerash. This is the best and most evocative of all the ancient Roman cities, and one that stands comparison with Ephesus in Turkey. In my opinion, Jerash gives us a clearer picture of what a ceremonial Roman city actually looked like than Rome itself.
The country was a major battleground during the Crusades. The Crusaders built the huge Castle of Karak, and the Saracens quickly absorbed this new form of architecture and responded with the Castle of Ajlun. These picturesque sites are on dominating hills, and their beauty gives no hint of the violence that created them.
The surface of the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, and the Sea’s density is extraordinary, so a swim (or rather, a float) is an experience not to be missed. We usually stop at a resort on the banks, cover ourselves in therapeutic black mud, and attempt to float in dignified positions. (Note: this is always very enjoyable but never compulsory)
Imagine an entire ancient city carved out of the soft pink rock and set in a range of mountains, acessible through a narrow defile that emerges into a vast area of temples, tombs and public buildings; and there you have Petra. Recently voted one of the Wonders of the World, Petra has had all sorts of superlatives heaped on it, and the city never fails to live up to its promise. We usually spend a full day there, and leave feeling that it’s not enough.
The magnificent desert scenery of Wadi Rum was the setting for the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia. We approach this wonderful place more peacefully – a gentle drive over the pink sands studded with grey rocky hills gives us a glimpse of the serenity of the desert, and our Bedouin guides show us the age-old hospitality of their culture.
If time permits, I usually try to fit in some of the less visited places, such as the biblical town of Gadara, now known by its Arabic name of Umm Qais, or the Dana Nature Reserve, a rare national park at the head of a long valley, or the charming and laid-back port city of Aqaba on Jordan’s tiny coastal strip.