Jordan – The Switzerland of the East

“Today, I am in Jordan, the land sanctified by the presence of Jesus himself.” Pope Paul VI, when he visited in1964.

Introduction

(SGW is grateful to have another of Allen Lai’s excellent travelogues. In this one, he visits the country of Jordan).

Jordan is a peaceful modern country filled with sights and sounds as old as time. Hospitality is a legend in Jordan. It has been called the Switzerland of the Middle East. Travelling is mostly along the King’s Highway, the very same highway that brought Moses and his people out of Egypt as they wandered to the holy land. The wise men crossed over this highway on their journey to Bethlehem. It’s a land of colourful epochs and biblical history.

Before the kingdom was founded in 1946, the Pharaohs, Assyrian kings, and Persian monarchs once fought for this land. The Nabataean, Greek, Romans, Byzantine, Crusaders, and Ottomans, all left traces of their presence.

Let’s start our journey from their Capital, Amman.

Amman

From Greco-Roman ruins to a flourishing street art scene, Amman is a fascinating old-meets-new city well worth exploring. Atop the hill of Jabal al-Qala, lay traces of inhabitants from the Bronze age. The historic Citadel includes the pillars of the Roman Temple of Hercules and the 8th-century Umayyad Palace complex, known for its grand dome. Built into the hillside, the Roman Theater had a capacity of 6,000, a 2nd-century stone amphitheater offering occasional events.

The Citadel
Umayyad Palace Complex
Madaba

A half hour’s drive and 30 kilometres away, is the city of Madaba. Housed in the Church of St. George there’s a 6th-century Byzantine Mosaic map on the floor. Created by over 2 million tiny tiles, and measuring 21 by 7 metres. It’s the oldest depiction of the holy land. You can see the Church of the Sepulchre, the Jordan River (you can refer to previous articles, Travels in the Holy Land Part 1 and 2), and other holy sites. The church has been a focal point for pilgrims throughout the ages.

The Church of St. George
The Byzantine Mosaic Map
Moses Spring

A short distance away is Moses Spring. Now we come to an interesting part of history. Legend has it that sometime around the 14th-century BC, there was a water crisis, and God commanded to Moses to draw water from the rock. Moses failed to sanctify God’s name and struck the rock (twice) instead. God punished him by not allowing him to enter the Land of Israel. So here we are, there’s a small modern three-domed building with a rock and a spring inside. Supposedly, this is the rock and this is the water. However, my research shows that there seem to be several locations also claiming to be the site. So …

 

Moses Spring
Mount Nebo

A few minutes’ drive away we reached another holy site, Mount Nebo. As the story goes, after 40 years of leading the headstrong Israelites through the desert, Moses stood on the windswept summit of Mount Nebo and viewed the Promised Land of Canaan, a land filled with milk and honey. Legend has it that he died at Mount Nebo at the age of 120. But archaeologists have never discovered his tomb. Standing on top, one can see the Dead Sea, and as far as Bethlehem and Jerusalem. In between, is about 100 km of sun-baked desert.

On Mt Nebo looking towards Jerusalem
The Moses Memorial Church

To commemorate the death of Moses, a church was constructed and then redeveloped into a basilica, and boasts a number of mosaics dating back to the year 530.

Mt Nebo Moses Memorial Church
The Brazen Serpent

A Brazen Serpent sculpture is a symbol of Mt. Nebo. It represents a cross and Moses’ Staff which he used to part the Red Sea, strike the rock for water and assist him in his travels. Remember what SGW tells us, don’t leave home without a trekking pole.

Mt Nebo Brazen Serpent
The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea needs no introduction. 30 minutes from Mount Nebo, it lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, and its main tributary is the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptised (you can refer to previous article, Travels in the Holy Land Part 1 by clicking on the link above). The lake’s surface is 430.5 metres below sea level, making its shores the lowest land-based elevation on Earth. This saltwater lake is completely devoid of life. There’s no seaweed, fish, or any other creatures found in or around its turquoise waters.

We stayed at the Dead Sea Spa Resort, a 4-star resort. Grand and beautiful, walking down to the private beach, we passed through 3 tiers of swimming pools. Stepping into the lake is a really interesting experience. The buoyancy is so strong, that one can hardly walk on the bottom. Getting the balance is the trick, as getting any saltwater in one’s eyes will ruin your day. It really hurts and especially so if you have any open wounds. Having said that, once you mastered the balance, it can be really fun, floating aimlessly, reading travel brochures, and enjoying the setting sun.

After that, covering your body with Dead Sea mud is another entertainment. From the brochure: The mud helps restore moisture and relieve symptoms, soothing dry, rough, irritated skin, provide anti-ageing benefits by tightening and toning skin, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, shrinking pores, improving blood circulation, and stimulating skin cell turnover. The list goes on and apparently it is good for everything but curing COVID I guess. Well, it’s free, or I should say, no extra charge. So I am not going to complain.

Petra – the Highlight of the Trip

A three-hour drive brought us to the famous lost city of Petra. I could write a book to tell you about it.

The route from Amman to the Dead Sea

Two persons in history really promoted this place. The Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, rediscovered it in 1812. And Harrison Ford aka Indiana Jones introduced it to the world in 1989.

Petra was inhabited as early as 7000 BC. Its location is in the middle of the ancient incense trade route. The Nabataeans, a tribe of nomadic Arab Bedouins were experts in trading, stone carving, agriculture, and most important of all, harvesting rainwater. They built dams, cisterns, and water conduits to handle flash floods.

Petra was built around 500 BC, and around 300 BC, it was the capital of Nabataean. The city was flourishing in the first century and it is estimated that it housed 20000 to 30000 people. For reasons unknown, it was abandoned in the early Islamic era, 762 AD. Only in 1812, did the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, disguised as a Bedouin, rediscover the place.

The Siq

To reach the city, one has to travel through a dim, narrow gorge. In some places, it is no more than three metres wide and winds its way for approximately 1.2 kilometres. It is called the Siq. A natural geological fault split apart by tectonic forces; worn smooth by water. The walls that enclose the Siq stand between 91–182 metres in height. At the end of it, as a surprise, the Treasury appears. It’s a tomb, carved in rock, and it is where Indiana Jones found the Holy Grail. While we stood in awe at the sight before us it was just the beginning.

Entering the Siq
Petra the Ancient City

Further down the path, the valley opens up. There you have more tombs, a street of facades, the colonnade street, a pool and garden complex, and the massive theatre that once held 8000 people. The monastery is further up the hill. Despite the damage caused by a massive earthquake in 363 AD, still what remains is very, very impressive. I didn’t see any residential buildings and was told the nomadic Bedouins lived in tents and moved around frequently, hence, the reason for there being no residential houses.

Now Petra is a desert with vendors, stores, and Bedouins offering camel, horse, donkey rides and lots of ruins. Yet, one can feel the beautiful city it once was. The rock formation is rose red and in some places it was rainbow-like. It’s just amazingly gorgeous.

The Treasury
The Colonnades
The Facades
The Tombs
An Interesting Argument

There is a interesting argument that Petra is the Mecca of the Quran. And Mohammed was actually Nabataean and spent his childhood here in Petra. The historian, Dan Gibson, pointed out that, based on the Quran, the place where the prophet lived, had a parallel valley, streams going through it, had clay loam, trees, and olive trees which do not match the present-day Mecca. Gibson further pointed out that today, all mosques face Mecca. However, his research showed that the earlier mosques built shortly after Mohammed died, between 624-772 AD, all pointed toward Petra. Of course, this is a very controversial theory. But he did his research and certainly raised some concerns.

Gibson’s research to show that the 1st Century Mosques faced towards Petra

Remember we spoke about Moses Spring earlier? They also said Moses struck the rock here, and that’s why Petra has water to sustain lives in the middle of the desert. I loved these arguments. It makes traveling more interesting.

I could spend weeks in Petra and never have enough of it.

Petra – Before and Now

Here are two depictions of what historians believed the city may have looked like.

Wadi Rum

Continuing south, after two hours, we reached Wadi Rum.

Archeological evidence shows that the Wadi Rum Desert has been inhabited since prehistoric times. A recently excavated site to the south indicates a settlement at least as early as 4500 BC.

It is a beautiful and breathtaking desert. First known to the western world in 1962 when David Lean arrived to film his world-renowned “Lawrence of Arabia”. Filmed on site here in Wadi Rum, the film won seven Academy Awards. The story about T.E. Lawrence during the Arab Revolt of 1917 revealed for the first time, the dramatic landscapes.

Wadi Rum from the back of the pick-up truck

To a lesser degree, the 1980s marked the arrival of renowned British climber Tony Howard. Inspired by the film’s stunning backdrops, he came to publish the region’s climbing routes. Still being a climber at heart, Wadi Rum has been on my bucket list since then.

A first ascent?

I traveled the desert in the back of a Toyota pickup truck, ate in a Bedouin tent, climbed a cliff face, (most likely a first ascent), and watch the sunset in the middle of the desert. How romantic that can be.

Sunset over the desert
Conclusion

Jordan is a land of colourful epochs and biblical history. If you choose to visit all I can say to you, is what the last crusader said: “YOU HAVE CHOSEN WISELY!”

Stewart Goes Walkies is very grateful to our friend, climbing partner, and mentor, Allen, for his wonderful presentation on Jordan. The amount of work and research he puts into his presentations is much appreciated.

Thank you for visiting Stewart Goes Walkies. I hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to leave a comment and, if you would like us to publish an adventure of yours, you can contact us here:

 

 

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Published by stewartgoeswalkies

Happily married man to a wonderful lady. Living in Hong Kong. In my younger days I enjoyed hiking, camping and rock climbing. I've trekked in the Himalayas and climbed Mt. Kinabalu in East Malaysia.

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