Jordan - the Small State that Offers Cities, Deserts, Beaches and History

by Maritravel

A quiet country surrounded by noisy, fighting neighbours from hell, is how one Jordanian described his country to me. And you know what? He's right.

Everyone thinks of Petra when they think of Jordan but it would be a shame to miss the two towns of Amman and Aqaba and the vast expanse of Wadi Rum just has to be experienced if one is to know Jordan. It is a land of mesmerizing beauty, from the golden stones of the ruins on Citadel Hill in Amman to the remote desert canyons. Explore desert castles, be awestruck in Wadi Rum, and bathe in the waters of the Dead Sea.

Modern Jordan was founded by King Abdullah I after World War I and was subsequently ruled over for 46 years by his grandson, the late King Hussein, until his death in 1999. His son, King Abdullah II, now reigns over this modern nation that has enjoyed a remarkable measure of peace and economic growth in recent decades.

Citadel Hill, Amman
Citadel Hill, Amman
 
Roman Pillars in Collonaded Street, downtown Amman
Roman Pillars in Collonaded Street, d...
Mari Nicholson

Amman

Capital of Jordan

Amman is bewilderng, absorbing and infuriating but it worked its magic on me and I was seduced within a few hours of wandering its streets.  It is not your sterotypical Arabic city, lacking carts piled high with lemons, souks, beggars, Old City, and no famous mosques.  But if it didn’t have these traditional Arabic fixtures, then neither did it  have the pseudo-ophistication of Cairo or the noise.Tea Server in Gazelle of the Desert Restaurant, Amman

 

What it does have is a vibrant contemporary arts scene with a delightful National Gallery of which they are rightly proud (www.nationalgallery.org) plus various arts centres not more than a short walk away where current trends can be noted.

As you stroll around town look out for the delightful town houses, many dating from the 1920s, and if you want something older, then check out the huge Roman theatre built around AD170 that used to hold 6,000 spectators and the mightly Temple of Hercules that is atop jabal Qai’a (Citadel Hill).

Shopping is fun in Amman, from the jewellry in the Gold Souk to brass and copper items at any one of the shoppings along Wakalat Street.  Then pop into a restaurant , like The Gazelle of the Desert, for afternoon mint tea

Treasury Facade, Petra
Treasury Facade, Petra
Mari Nicholson

Petra

Boy on Donkey in Petra

What can be said of Petra that hasn’t already been said?  What praises can one heap upon the giant red mountains left behind by another race, the mausoleums and tombs, the streets and market plces and the red-rose sandstone of the Treasury, the building that has come to be recognised  as the symbol of Petra itself? 

Nothing prepares you for this amazing place. It has to be seen to be believed.             

A UNESCO Heritage Site, Petra is a vast, unique city. It was carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2000 years ago.  The city grew rich from its trade with China, India, Egypt, Greece and Rome, as it was on the junction for the silk and spice routes.  It was first established sometime around the 6th century BC, by the Nabataean Arabs, a nomadic  tribe who settled in the area and laid the foundations of a commercial empire that extended into other parts of the Middle East.

                                                                                  Is he laughing at the tourists?

Entering Petra

You enter the city through the Siq, a narrow gorge over 1Km in length with soaring cliffs flanking either side and come out in front of the Treasury (Al-Khazneh), an awe-inspiring moment.  The Treasury is a massive façade, 3m wide and 43m high that dominates everthing around it, its dusky pink rock-face carved in the 1st century as the tomb of an important Nabatean king.  

Approaching the City Through the Siq

 

Once you have gazed your fill on the magnificence of the rose-red building, you can explore the rest of the Petra valley with its architectural gems.  There are literally hundreds of elaborate rock tombs with carvings, a Roman theatre which could seat 3,000, temples, sacrifial altars and colonnaded streets.

As you wander the site wrapped in thoughts of the past you will have to put up with the the attentions of the local sellers of beads and bangles who can be very persistent.  Just remember that this is their only way to earn a few pence: you buy, he eats: it’s as simple as that.

Mini-History

The Pink City of Petra near the Royal Tombs

Petra was occupied by various tribes and nations and there is evidence that caravans stopped there in the 13th to 15th centuries.  The city was eventually abandoned and this once magnificent place was forgotten entirely by the western world until it was rediscovered in 1812 by the Swiss traveller, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.

There are two Museums within the site, the Archaeological and the Nabataean which offer an insight into Petra’s past. 

If the heat is too much, and believe me, the heat inside the city is intense, there are other methods of exiting the place.  There are horse-drawn carriages, you can mount a horse, a mule, a donkey or a camel all of which have handlers who follow designated routes through the site.  

Seven Pillars of Wisdom (2 on other side), Wadi Rum
Seven Pillars of Wisdom (2 on other side), Wadi Rum
Mari Nicholson

Wadi Rum

WADI RUM

For those of a certain generation or for film buffs the world over, Wadi Rum will always be associated with the film Lawrence of Arabia, as indeed is Amman and Aqaba.  Wadi Rum is where Prince Faisal Bin Hussein and T.E. Lawrence had their HQ during the Arab Revolt against the Turks during WW1.

In Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence described Wadi Rum as ‘vast, echoing and God-like’ and indeed that is exactly what this stupendous place is, where the winds and weather have carved the rocks into towering skyscrapers. 

 Wadi Run                                   

These pink and ochre rocks rise 1,750 m from the desert floor,  a  magnificent sight when the setting sun turns them blood red and then russet before darkness takes over and only the stars seem alive.  It is possible to camp in the desert and this is an opportunity to be grasped if at all possible as the still and the starry skies are unbelievable.  But desert nights are cold so don’t attempt this without warm clothing as the temperature which may have been 32 during the daytime can drop to 4 at night

The area is still inhabited by the Bedouin  who are extremely  hospitable and often invite visitors to sit and enjoy a coffee or even a meal.  However,  always remember to ask permission before taking photographs of them, whether eating or just talking outside their goatskin tents.  

 

Aqaba

A brilliant place in which to chill out after sight-seeing, Aqaba has a golden, sandy beach, the Royal Diving Club, marine life darting among the coral reefs of the indigo waters of the Red Sea in which you can swim, snorkel and sail.  Tourists are a mixture of Middle-East, Europeans and North Americans with scantily clad Europeans relaxing alongside burka’d Arabic ladies. 

Aqaba is blessed with good weather for nine months of the year winter, spring and autumn but summer can be very hot.  The reef is healthy and the most pristine on the Red Sea and with careful planning they will be preserved for the use of tourists for many years to come.  In among the sea grass darts garden eels, clownfish, Picasso triggerfish, goby, sea anemones, parrotfish, and the rare archelia, a tree like specimen found at great depths. 

If you haven’t worn yourself out with sight-seeing, then Mamluk Fort at the end of the corniche may grab your attention, or the castle of Saladin.  Many readers will remember the film Lawrence of Arabia and will remember the famous ride to Aqaba to wrest the port from the Ottomans.

Street scene Aqaba
Street scene Aqaba
Mari Nicholson
Pool at Royal Diving Club (faces blurred out)
Pool at Royal Diving Club (faces blur...
Mari Nicholson
Updated: 09/16/2013, Maritravel
 
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Maritravel on 07/02/2014

I fervently hope that the turmoil in the Middle East can be sorted out soon as I want to visit so many places in that fascinating region before I am too told to do so! Syria, Iraq and Iran have to top anyone's list, but Jordan is still peaceful and there is still time to visit if you've a mind to.

ologsinquito on 07/01/2014

The Middle East is so fascinating. I like this article about Jordan, as most travel articles on this country focus on Petra.

cmoneyspinner on 10/09/2013

The Middle East is a fascinating place, isn't it?

Maritravel on 09/16/2013

Thank you Elias. I hope people do visit as they need support as they try to survive in that area.

EliasZanetti on 09/16/2013

A well written travel article and a very interesting suggestion for a visit.

Maritravel on 09/16/2013

Thanks for that. It really is a lovely place and as they themselves say, a quiet peaceful country living among squabbling neighbours! And now, of course, they have all the refugees so travel won't be so pleasant until things sort themselves out there again.

jptanabe on 09/16/2013

Great article. The desert looks so beautiful, in a strange kind of way. Not sure I'd do well in such a hot climate, but I'd love to visit some day.

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